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Jobs in nutrition are in high demand – a point reflected by the Australian Institute of Heath and Welfare’s: A picture of overweight and obesity in Australia. The 2017 report stated the amount of overweight or obese people in Australia made up one-quarter of children and two-thirds of adults.
Those rates are still rising, and unsurprisingly, careers in nutrition are expected to rise too, with around 5000 jobs expected to open in the next five years, according to Job Outlook. Yet, it seems that a job in nutrition is not as straightforward as it appears at first glimpse. It’s certainly not as simple as telling people what to eat to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The science, research and facts which form the basis of a reliable nutritionist’s knowledge only make up the skeleton of the job, according to nutritionist, Alison Tehan, who graduated from Deakin University with a Graduate Diploma of Human Nutrition in 2015. The real flesh of the role holds a vast range of skills and tasks, many of which Tehan says she would never have expected before becoming a nutritionist.
Tehan says that there are three particularly surprising aspects of her profession as a nutritionist:
Confidently stepping into each of these roles ‘has also required a lot of further research and study to make sure you are delivering the most up-to-date information,’ Tehan says. She also uses some unexpected skills: communication, coaching, creativity, and most importantly, ‘an understanding of your audience and what level of understanding they have around your topic’.
Many use the terms ‘nutritionist’ and ‘dietitian’ interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two, albeit related, professions. While a dietitian works mainly in a clinical setting, giving one-on-one advice to individuals, a nutritionist takes a far broader reach in the general population.
This is a misconception that Tehan also held before beginning her Graduate Diploma in Human Nutrition at Deakin. ‘I thought I would just be working mainly one-on-one with people and that would happen easily,’ she says. ‘I felt there was such a demand in society for nutrition guidance and counselling so I assumed people would be lining up for appointments.’
The blatant need for nutrition advice in Australia perpetuates such a presumption, but the fact is that people often don’t realise what they don’t know until they’re told. This places communication at the forefront of this profession.
‘I didn’t realise that I would need to go out and communicate the importance of eating well to large groups of people in a way that is easy for people,’ Tehan says. But since graduating, almost every aspect of her job requires some level of communication, from working one-on-one with individuals, to running workshops and presentations – it’s a skill which has proved to be useful in more surprising ways than one might imagine.
It has helped Tehan create her own brand, as well as getting people through her door. ‘People love to hear about nutrition but may not necessarily want to make a one-on-one appointment,’ she says.
A career in nutrition is as much about understanding people as it is about understanding the science behind a balanced diet. Tehan explains, ‘once I started working with people one-on-one I realised how much psychology is involved when it comes to eating well. It’s not just about lack of education; it’s also about motivation and priorities.’ She realises that ‘as much as you want to just tell people what to eat, the behaviour change needs to come from them for the change to happen.’
A passion for helping people understand themselves plays a large role in nutrition. Simply showering someone with facts and advice isn’t enough to create a change. To adopt a human-centred approach, Tehan undertook a coaching course to ‘help people tap into their own motivation and develop awareness around their behaviours’, like making bad food choices when stressed. Having coaching skills helps Tehan in ‘helping people overcome barriers and understanding what helps to motivate people,’ she says.
'As much as you want to just tell people what to eat, the behaviour change needs to come from them for the change to happen.'
As great as the need for nutritionists is in Australia, Tehan says ‘there are no jobs advertised so you need to create all of your own work opportunities.’ While this can seem like a daunting prospect, Tehan realises ‘the opportunities are limitless’. Especially when employing creative ways to ‘communicate good nutrition messages to people’.
‘It’s so great to be able to create your own style of workshop around a topic that you love to talk about, and hopefully that passion inspires others to feel the same,’ she concludes.
Keen to take an evidence-based approach to nutrition? Find out more about studying postgraduate human nutrition at Deakin.
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