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  • Writer's pictureEmma Donovan

Why I Chose Holistic Nutrition and Functional Medicine Over Dietetics School

Learn about my rationale behind my decision to take the road less traveled in the nutrition space in this blog post.


Many people who want to work in the nutrition field who are serious about academics and want the freedom to work in a variety of settings will choose Dietetics school. Studying dietetics through the master’s level can put you on a trajectory towards becoming a Registered Dietitian, which many people consider to be the top nutrition credential. 


When I decided to enter the nutrition field, I strongly considered going to Dietetics school. After all, I love school, I am serious about learning, and I want to be taken seriously as a professional. I went as far as to speak with a local school about admission into a master’s program and came extremely close to applying.


However, there were a few things that gave me pause. One was the curriculum. I was not excited to learn about topics like “Food Science and Management” or “Medical Nutrition Therapy.” I was instead eager to take courses that I felt applied to what I intended to do upon graduation. Additionally, I wasn’t enthusiastic about doing an internship. Don’t get me wrong, I believe practical mentored experience is important, but many dietetics programs require internship rotations to take place in hospital settings, which I have no interest working in. 


I am also aware that the field of Dietetics has close ties with the conventional medical and agricultural systems. While I am grateful to both systems for many things (I will happily go to the ER if I break my wrist and I am grateful the supermarkets are stocked with most of the things we can ever want), I gravitate towards more holistic and natural ways of eating and self-care. 


Our modern medical system is, in my opinion, not so much healthcare as it is sick care. In an insurance-based system where doctors are overworked, they are able to spend little time on “smaller” issues that cannot be easily diagnosed or medicated. I have spent many years telling doctors about non-life-threatening symptoms, only to be told to take over-the-counter pain relievers or that there was nothing to be done.


Doctors themselves often receive little nutrition education despite the fact that most of the chemical reactions that happen in our bodies depend on the foods we eat, and referrals to dietitians in hospitals are generally rare and for more serious issues. While I am happy to know that people with serious health problems are being referred to dietitians who can help them, I feel certain that this is not the job I am called to do. 


Our conventional agricultural system also leaves much to be desired. Our soils are depleted, farmers are often overworked and underpaid, questionable man-made chemicals that have been banned in other countries are often used, our diets have become much less diverse, our soils are nutrient-poor, and most farm animals (even the ones advertised as “free range”) live in abysmal conditions. On top of that, large food companies spend a lot of money lobbying for their own interests and paying for questionable studies that argue that their products are safe and healthy. The shortcomings of our agricultural system are evident in the nutritional deficiencies that abound even in “healthy” people - over 90% of Americans are nutrient-deficient in something!


For these reasons, I wanted something different. I want to take a more holistic route that aligns with my values, with the future I want to see come to fruition, and what I believe deep down actually helps people. 


I believe in eating nutrient-dense whole foods that are ideally diverse, organic, clean, local, and ethical. So when I looked for nutrition programs, I was happy to find the Nutritional Therapy Association who trains Nutritional Therapy Practitioners. The NTA program includes holistic education on topics like fatty acids, minerals, digestion, whole foods, food preparation, stress, sleep, movement, cardiac health, detoxification, hormones, and more. I liked that the program simultaneously held the importance of evidence-based practice, ancestral wisdom, and practical application with clients. This program also prepares students for Board Certification as Holistic Nutritionists, which appealed to me. 


I have since completed the NTP training. In addition, I am also enrolled in a Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine program at the University of Western States. It is my dream program! I ran an online search for “nutrition and functional medicine masters program” because that was exactly what I wanted, and was so pleased to stumble upon UWS’s master’s program. Every single class on the list fascinated me, with classes like “Whole Food Nutrition and Supplementation,” “Hormone and Neurotransmitter Regulation and Imbalances,” and “Immune Imbalances and Inflammation.” These are all of the topics that I spend my free time learning about, and they are the topics I find most applicable to the clients I most want to help. All in all, I will actually spend more years in nutrition school than I would have had I gone the Dietetics route.


When I took the StrengthsFinder assessment several years ago, my top strength was “Futuristic,” and I believe this suits me well. I spend a lot of time thinking about the future I want to create, and I jump at the chance to bring that future forward. I believe that nutrition and functional medicine are immensely powerful, and have the ability to not only cure but also prevent many diseases. They can help people live full, rewarding, vibrant, and fulfilling lives. When I imagine the future, I don’t just want to help people go from “sick” to “coping.” I want us all to get to thrive. I believe a better connection with our bodies, earth, and planet will get us there, and holistic nutrition and functional medicine are important tools to make those connections.

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