How to Become a Nutritional Psychologist

Overview

Nutritional psychology is an emerging field of work that is a specialization in the field of health psychology. Nutritional psychology is a relatively new area of practice within the realm of the likewise relatively young area of health psychology. Health psychology only emerged in the middle of the last century and has since grown rapidly in popularity. Increased interest in the prevention of illness and the role that diet plays in the development of illness have fueled the growth of nutritional psychology as well.

Despite unprecedented levels of material wealth, or perhaps because of it, we as people fail to live a healthy lifestyle. Fatty and sugary foods are difficult to resist, and the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems are the proof. Fortunately, there are ways to combat these afflictions. One way is to seek out a nutritional psychologist who can provide dietary advice and motivation. Tempted to become one? Here’s how to do it.

An old adage posits that we are what we eat. As a nutritional psychologist, it’s a no-brainer that you need to have a healthy diet if you want to lead other by example. However, that is not all. To pursue this career, you must be willing gorge on the mental nutrition of dietary information. Only that way can you learn about how food and the body are linked. You must read up on everything from vitamins and minerals, to proteins and carbohydrates, to cholesterol and calories. Couple this also with the required rigorous study of how different types of nutrition affect the mind, and it becomes clear. Becoming a nutritional psychologist takes effort.

Related: What is the Difference Between Health Psychology and Medical Psychology?

What is a Nutritional Psychologist?

Nutritional psychologists are primarily concerned with how one’s diet impacts mood and behavior. Many nutritional psychologists investigate how diagnosis and treatment of mental illness is affected by diet, specifically, misdiagnoses that might occur as a result of the dietary habits of people today. Nutritional psychologists are also part of a larger and rapidly growing movement to integrate mental and physical health care, especially at large government agencies like the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Individuals employed as nutritional psychologists focus their efforts on bridging the gap between physical health and mental health. Nutritional psychologists might focus on issues related to weight, body image, and how the foods we eat contribute to issues in those areas. There is also significant effort to establish a better understanding of the link between mind and body. As a result, some nutritional psychologists explore how stress negatively impacts the immune system, thus making physical illnesses more likely.

Other nutritional psychologists examine the physical manifestations of mental illness, such as the aches and pains often associated with depression. Once these mind-body linkages are better understood, nutritional psychologists go about devising appropriate strategies for improving the diet of individuals suffering from mental illness. With an improved diet, people have improved decision-making concerning food, as well as improved digestion and metabolic processes, which in turn have an overall positive impact on physical and mental health.

What are the Job Duties of a Nutritional Psychologist?

The duties of nutritional psychologists are many. They must use relevant discussions and assessments to map out dietary habits of patients. In some cases, they must suggest appropriate laboratory tests. The goal is essentially to track the progress that patients may, or may not, be making. This means follow-up meetings constitute a large part of the job.

Other than obesity, common patient problems are conditions such as ineffective digestion, bowel issues, and skin problems. Some patients may even be depressed as a consequence of bad diet. While educating these individuals is of great importance, you must also have the ability to inspire them. A knack for motivating clients is therefore essential.

What are the Education Requirements to Become a Nutritional Psychologist?

Nutritional psychology is commonly regarded as an area within health psychology. Health psychology in turn pertains to the clinical concentration (SAGE). Your best bet is hence to get educated in the clinical concentration. The completion of a Ph.D. in psychology, or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree, is what will get you there. However, just like any other field, you should start your journey with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

The Ph.D. is essentially a research degree, constituted by comprehensive exams, and an even more comprehensive dissertation. A one-year internship is a standard requirement of this doctoral program, but additional predoctoral or postdoctoral supervised experience, or a residency program, will give you an even greater advantage.

The Psy.D.is particularly focused on clinical aspects, and involves a lot of practical work and examinations, with no dissertation.It may hence be an even better avenue to become a qualified nutritional psychologist. Both options will, however, result in obtaining a license, which makes you eligible to begin practicing (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Some colleges offer introductory courses in nutritional psychology. If you’re still an undergraduate, jump at the opportunity to enroll in these. It will make it easier for you once you reach the graduate level.

What is the Employment Outlook for Nutritional Psychologists?

Increasing awareness surrounding diet and health is very likely to amass more job opportunities for nutritional psychologists. It definitely will not worsen them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in clinical psychology (to which nutritional psychology belongs) have a projected growth rate of 22% until 2020. This is the same as for psychology occupations in general and well above that of professions outside of the field.

As a nutritional psychologist, you may find work in any job sector, be it government, private, or even non-profit. Because the specialty is new and poorly established, many go into independent practice in the private sphere.

What are the Career Opportunities in Nutritional Psychology?

What is the Salary for a Nutritional Psychologist?

Nutritional psychologists (therapists to be exact) average $38,000 in income per year (simplyhired.com). This may seem low compared to the $68,640 that psychologists make on average (Bureau of Labor Statistics). However, it fluctuates quite dramatically.

Your exact salary as a nutritional psychologist will depend on where in the country you work (urban vs. rural area), your sector of employment (government vs. private business), and the amount of work experience you possess. Just as any psychologist, you can expect a pay raise as the years go along. Provided that you are willing to work for it, that figure will land at a very pleasing level. Essentially, it is all up to you.

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