So you want to eat healthier, but you’re not exactly sure how. You can start at the food pyramid (not a bad resource, but influence from industry lobbyists makes it far from objective). Then there’s the endless array of food philosophies—raw, plant-based, paleo, ketogenic—each of which come with its own caveats, promises, and ideal meals. But where does that leave everything else that goes along with food choices, like your lifestyle, your health, and your values?
Enter holistic nutrition, a philosophy that takes a broader approach to healthy eating. It’s rooted in the idea that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding an effective diet. Rather, it aims to help people build a healthy relationship with food that takes into account their personal preferences, spiritual beliefs, health needs, and lifestyle choices.
“Holistic nutrition looks at the body as a whole rather than individual pieces, and we try to address root causes, rather than offer band-aid solutions, to help people rebuild their relationship with food from the ground up,” explains Emily Gough, a registered holistic nutritionist.
Wondering whether holistic nutrition can have a positive impact on your health? Read on to learn more about this whole-person approach to eating and how it can apply to your life.
What is holistic nutrition?
There are countless voices out there telling us what to eat to look and feel our best. But is there really just one approach that can work for everyone? Well, yes and no. Holistic nutrition can apply to anyone’s life for a very unique reason: It treats every single person as an individual and aims to develop eating plans that fit their personal lifestyles, whether they love to spend hours in the kitchen or they’re always on the go.
“One thing conventional approaches to nutrition tend to ignore is the psychological side to eating,” says Gough. “Holistic nutrition takes everything into account when looking at the impact food has on our bodies and how it affects us emotionally.”
The goals of holistic nutrition aren’t necessarily to help you go down in dress size or to put you on a very restrictive eating plan. Rather, holistic nutritionists believe that the path to optimum health through food will vary for every individual and that the goal of any healthy diet should be to help you feel your best.
“Holistic nutritionists look at big-picture health issues and how you’re eating. They’ll help you determine what’s working for you in your unique body and what isn’t. It’s about taking the time and putting in the effort to really determine what’s going to work best for you as an individual,” says Gough.
It’s not about being perfect or dropping a certain amount of weight each week—instead, it focuses on building sustainable eating habits that will improve how you feel while helping you meet your goals.
Applying Holistic Nutrition to Your Life
Think holistic nutrition is the right approach for you? The best way to get started is by working with a qualified holistic nutritionist. Set up an appointment with a professional who has a holistic nutrition degree or certification. Generally speaking, health insurance doesn’t cover holistic nutrition counseling—so check with your benefits provider to see exactly what your plan offers and whether you should expect to pay out of pocket for services.
Your first holistic nutrition consultation will go in depth into your health history, eating habits, and goals, taking about 60 to 90 minutes.
“I have a full intake form that goes through everything from how you’re sleeping to your stress levels. I want to get to know you, too, so I’ll ask about your relationship, your work, and your health. Most importantly, I want to understand why you’re coming to see me and what your goals are,” explains Gough.
The most common goals for people seeing a holistic nutrition consultant are to lose weight, sleep better, and reduce stress. Your nutritionist will certainly keep those specific goals in mind but will likely approach them from the broader perspective of helping you feel your best and build a healthy diet that you can sustain long-term.
“Even for someone who wants to lose weight, I try to get them to refocus their energy on improving their overall health and building a healthy lifestyle. A lot of people have gone through life with food making them feel a certain way for so long that they have no idea how good they could feel if they made some changes,” says Gough.
After a holistic nutritionist understands what you’re hoping to achieve, they’ll then suggest specific changes to your diet and lifestyle that take your preferences into account. For example, if you absolutely hate cruciferous vegetables, your holistic nutritionist is not going to suggest adding steamed broccoli to every meal as the change wouldn’t be sustainable long term. If you already adhere to a particular food philosophy, they might encourage you to become a little more flexible to see if it improves your well-being.
“If someone’s eating a totally vegan diet and we’re doing what we can to sustain that, but she’s still feeling really crappy after a while, I may suggest adding a little bit of fish or an egg to see if it improves her health,” says Gough. “It’s great to have a value system, but you have to look at how your individual body will react.”
For holistic nutrition to be a success, you need to approach it with an open mind. Your holistic nutritionist will suggest making gradual adjustments to your diet during weekly meetings (either in person or by phone) over the course of three to four months. They might also ask you to document your transition to a holistic nutrition diet through food journals, mood trackers, and sleep logs to better understand how what you’re eating is affecting your overall health.
“Our measurement for success is whatever your specific goal is. There’s no single approach to holistic nutrition, and the way you get there will be tailored to the individual,” says Gough. “We need to see what’s working for you, and you need to be honest with your holistic nutritionist.”
Interested in becoming a holistic nutritionist?
Perhaps you’ve always had a passion for health and wellness, and you’ve found that holistic nutrition has improved your life so much that you’re ready to spread the good word to others. How do you become a holistic nutritionist?
The path varies depending on your background and location. In general, it’s a good idea to undergo formal nutrition education, such as by earning a bachelor of science in nutrition. Then, you can enroll in a holistic nutrition certification program.
For Gough, that meant attending the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. The National Association of Nutrition Professionals also offers a list of holistic nutrition programs that can help get you trained in this field. Holistic nutrition training takes one to two years and will include science- and nutrition-based coursework, along with requirements to conduct case studies on real people. Once you earn your holistic nutrition certification, you’ll be able to pursue a license to offer your services in your particular state or country.
So after all that training, how much can a holistic nutritionist expect to make in a year? That’s a tough question to answer, says Gough.
“Salaries for holistic nutrition professionals vary widely, depending on what you’re willing to put into your business and how you go about it. Most people start at about $100 an hour, and that would only increase as you gain experience and undergo additional training. But as for your annual salary, it depends on how many hours you choose to work each week,” she says.
Overall, holistic nutrition can be a comfortable, fulfilling career option for people who are deeply interested in helping others adopt healthy lifestyles.
Whether you use it to improve your own life or go on to offer counseling to others, holistic nutrition aims to give people the tools and habits they need to develop life-long health and wellness. The idea is to find food solutions that work for your mind and body on an ongoing basis—and sometimes that means allowing for the occasional cupcake or cocktail.