Out of all the different careers out there, nutrition is the one that is least talked about as a career yet it has been making all the buzz when it comes to diets and losing or gaining weight. We wanted to learn more about Nutrition as a career, so we talked to Rawan Atiyani. Rawan studied her Masters in Human Nutrition at the University of Surrey in England after finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Bahrain. We asked her about what made her choose this major specifically and all about the changes that came with it.
What made you decide to study nutrition?
“I struggled a lot with my weight growing up, and well into my 20’s. While I went to more nutritionists than I can remember, I always ended up leaving their offices feeling worse about myself than I did when I entered.
I did not understand my body, how nutrition affected it, that I had disordered eating habits or how to fix it. I was always told I needed to eat less, and was indirectly blamed for not having the will-power to follow a certain “healthier lifestyle”. This was assumed by people without having any insight into my eating or exercise habits. Just by looking at me. I reached a point of frustration and decided that after finishing my Bachelor’s degree in biology I would study human nutrition, and help people out of experience with a better grasp on the scientific aspect of it. I wanted to connect with my clients and make them feel understood, regardless of what their health goals were. This was the catalyst behind my decision to study nutrition.”
What was starting a career in wellness like? And what were the biggest challenges you faced?
“A career in wellness can be rewarding and exciting, but also scary. Although helping people understand their bodies, and teaching them how to be in tune with them is fulfilling, healthcare professionals always tend to feel responsible for their clients’ health. You have to make sure they leave with the tools they need to carry on without the need for consistent professional help.
My biggest challenge was people’s perceptions of me when I first started telling them I was a nutritionist. I do not look like the conventional image of health. While I have lost a lot of weight, am healthier, and exercise on a regular basis, that is not what people first see, which used to make me feel insecure, but not anymore. People also nearly always ask for meal plans and a quick fix. From experience, I know that this does not work. It is much more complicated than that. The issue is that the diet culture we are immersed in has us convinced that health equates to thinness, and that the only way to achieve that is restricting ourselves. This almost always ends up in failure, but in reality, it is diets that have failed us.”
What are some life and wellness lessons you learned along the way?
“One major lesson I learnt in nutrition was that our bodies are extremely smart and let us know when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat through different bodily sensations. For example, when we need to sleep, we feel sleepy, our eyes begin to shut and it is our body’s way of telling us to go to bed. It is the same with food, we have built in hunger and fullness cues that allow us to survive.
We have lost touch of these sensations because we either ignore them in the pursuit of weight loss, or we eat much more than we need to, and don’t actually ever feel real hunger at times. Delving into the world of intuitive eating has taught me a lot, and I now look forward to educating people in the Middle East on this. I have also learnt that people are different, and are complicated. There is not a single “one-for-all” approach to nutrition, or any field actually. Picking a career in wellness means that I have to really put effort into understanding my clients, and make them feel heard. Everyone comes from a different background that shapes their views on the world and emotional intelligence is a much needed skill.”
What would be your advice to someone looking to start a career in nutrition?
“If you are looking into a career in nutrition, make sure that you are picking it for reasons other than just financial rewards. You can do so much with nutrition, whether it’s helping clients one on one, public health and policies or being in the media, etc.
If you have a passion for biology, the human body, wellness and helping people, then it is exceptionally great. It takes a lot of effort, and as previously mentioned, your education does not stop at your degree. New research is continuously being published, and you will have to keep yourself updated with all the new governmental guidelines, and maybe sometimes even weigh in on it all.
It is not an easy job, but if you have a passion for it, then you will enjoy it to a great extent.
Also, make sure you gain an accredited degree in nutrition. A degree that would teach you more than just the fundamentals of nutrition, because everything is interlinked. One which would include the following:
- Nutritional and health assessment of different clients
- Clinical nutrition, with a focus on our internal bodily functions, and how nutrition impacts chronic diseases and could help reverse, or alleviate symptoms
- Epigenetics, which is the genetic basis in health and disease
- Sports nutrition
- Public health nutrition on a global perspective
You can then decide to specialize in one or more of the fields, with extra courses or certificates, or just personal research. Find your niche in the nutrition world, and enjoy it!”