A typical day:
I’ve always been interested in food (my mum was a home economics teacher) and I loved science too. So after my A levels I enrolled on a four-year nutrition and dietetics course at the University of Surrey, which incorporated both. It involved studying everything from biochemistry and physiology to anatomy and food science, as well as spending nine months as a trainee dietitian in hospital. I loved working with patients and developing my people skills – I quickly learnt there’s a fine balance between being caring and sensitive, and ensuring they actually listen to your advice too.
I stayed with the NHS for three years as a dietitian before completing a PHD in [TO COME] and moving into public health (developing campaigns and strategies similar to ‘five-a-day’). Now I work from home, where I live with my husband and young two boys, as a freelance dietitian. I prefer being known as a ‘dietitian’ than ‘nutritionist’ because it’s a recognised qualification approved by the HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council), whereas anybody can call themselves a nutritionist. Working from home means I’m usually up by 7am to get the kids ready for school and fix breakfast – usually something simple like porridge or eggs on wholemeal toast. I’m not a fan of anything too fiddly.
As a freelancer, my day varies. If I don’t have meetings planned, I might be testing out meals for my upcoming recipe book or giving quotes on new health trends. I hold most of my individual consultations at home. When it comes to losing weight healthily, the key is balance and flexibility. It’s important to incorporate a realistic plan into a client’s life – you can’t be too prescriptive.
My consultations involve everything from writing shopping lists to showing clients how to prepare meals! But sadly there’s no magic wand where weight loss is concerned – I tell clients it involves hard work, self-determination and lots of discipline, as well as very specific goals. I always incorporate one ‘treat meal’ in clients’ plans each week though – the thought of /never/ having pizza can be too daunting!
Lunch is usually a chicken salad with brown rice or a stew – 80% of the time I’m very healthy. In the past, I’ve worked with lots of household names, from Ewan McGregor through to Chelsea FC. I’ve noticed a lot of sports people can be superstitious about food, which is funny. If they’ve drunk a banana smoothie before winning a race, it often means they’ll want a banana smoothie every single time they compete.
When I’m working to a tight deadline, I’ll put the kids to bed and carry on working – sometimes until midnight. Other days, I finish earlier and go to an army-bootcamp class or running club. If I’m out for dinner with friends, every conversation usually starts with, ‘Ooh, what are you having?’ as people always want to know what I’m ordering. Most of the time it’s actually pretty boring!
I love the variety – one minute I’ll be putting together a presentation and the next I’ll be on TV talking about celebrity diets!
It can be frustrating when people without any qualifications in nutrition think they know better than you. It’s also worrying that people can Google anything and label themselves an expert!
Qualifications: I recommend studying Sciences at A level then taking an integrated degree in nutrition and dietetics, or a degree in nutrition and a post-graduate diploma in dietetics.
A dietitian in the NHS starts on around £21,000, but as a freelancer I earn around £50,000.
Key skills: A love of science and food is important, and being empathetic and understanding helps too.