How Nutritionists Work With You:
An Interview with Susan Testa, MS, RD, LDN
MUIH: You have been a very successful nutritionist for several years. What themes have you seen in your clients recently? What information is most in demand?
Susan Testa: A significant part of my client base is driven by physicians, who send their patients to me when they are not having success with improving outcomes in areas such as blood lipids, digestive issues, thyroid function, fatigue, low energy, or weight loss, or when patients are not feeling well overall.
However, it is important to understand that these are symptoms of underlying imbalances, such as glucose imbalances, adrenal insufficiencies, gut insufficiencies, and the inability to process certain carbohydrates. As these deeper issues are treated in my practice, patients naturally get better and the symptoms they originally displayed improve or even get eliminated.
Also, generally speaking, I find that most of my clients want to know what to eat and how to use supplementation to feel better and address their personal health issues.
How do you define healthy eating?
Generally, I believe people should be eating what I refer to as a “foundational nutrition plan.” This plan is founded on a plant-based diet with appropriate amounts of protein-type foods and essential fat-type foods.
In addition, each person has individual physiology and chemistry, and, therefore, individual function. So depending upon what his or her individual function is, each individual will require a different amount and type-quality of foods, perhaps along with supplementation, to restore, re-inoculate, and repair the body’s systems so that function can be improved to its potential.
As a nutritionist with an RD and an MS in nutrition, can you share your perspective on the differences between registered dietitians and nutritionists in terms of education and practice?
In terms of education, a registered dietitian must earn a bachelor’s degree, complete a supervised internship in a health organization, such as a hospital, and after completion, sit for the national board registration exam. In the state of Maryland, a nutritionist must earn a master’s degree. Each state has its own individual requirements for licensure. In Maryland and Virginia, the certified nutrition specialist (CNS) certification is required for licensure.
In terms of practice, registered dietitians mainly work within traditional health settings, such as dialysis and rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, public health clinics, and hospitals. Nutritionists generally practice in a variety of less traditional health-related organizations, or are self-employed in private practice or as consultants.
Both registered dietitians and nutritionists may follow conservative or more nontraditional practice philosophies, depending upon the type of training they’ve received. Generally, most dietitians have a more conventional approach than nutritionists. I have had both types of training and consider integrating a more holistic and functional approach with a conventional perspective to be the most effective.
What kinds of roles are available for nutritionists?
Roles for nutritionists can include those available in private practice; consulting; wellness; writing; public speaking; activism; community and public health; various health organizations; research, teaching, and extension positions; public relations, consumer affairs, and marketing; the federal government; and the food and health industries.
What do you see as 2-3 exciting trends in the field of nutrition and how will nutritionists influence or be influenced by these trends?
One major trend is that nutrition overall is becoming more integrated into the mainstream medical community, including insurance companies and major corporations.
The second trend is directly related to the national trend toward integrative medicine, as practiced by a growing number of physicians who have acquired a holistic and functional perspective in their medical training. Nutrition has become much more respected as a practice because it is the very foundation of integrative medicine.
To this end, a third trend I would like to see—which is happening on a smaller scale—is the mainstreaming of this more effective and holistic type of nutrition everywhere, and an increase in the number of nutritionists and registered dietitians trained in integrative nutrition to advance this trend. We need more academic institutions like Tai Sophia to change the current traditional nutritional model, and to be the driving force in a paradigm shift from a disease management perspective to that of a restorative health perspective.
Learn more about academic programs in nutrition at Tai Sophia:
Master of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health
Post-Master’s Certificate in Nutrition and Integrative Health (for health professionals)
Susan Testa is a licensed nutritionist in private practice in Baltimore, Maryland. She specializes in treating people with chronic diseases such as gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, cardiovascular and vascular diseases, depression, arthritis, allergies, and weight issues. Learn more at TestaNutrition.com.