How to Become a Nutritionist

Vogue, Glamour, Yahoo!, the New York Daily News: hardly the first media sources that spring to mind when thinking about genius nutrition practice. All the more credit, then, to Tammy and Lyssie, the Nutrition Twins and their unmistakable gift for making health and wellness seem relevant for almost every niche. Their wisdom shared in this interview shows how committed, lifelong learning can reap delicious dividends. 

Can you all recall the moment when you decided to enter the fields of nutrition and personal training as your careers?

Lyssie: I think we knew for a while where it was heading. We knew in college that we wanted to be in either fitness or nutrition. We met someone at school who told us about the nutrition program.

Tammy: We were really athletic in high school growing up. We always wanted to know what we could eat to make us run faster and perform better. That experience triggered our interest to begin with. We also grew up in a really healthy household, where my mom would give us really healthy foods, and we’d go to soccer breakfasts with lots of sugar. We made the connection that what we were eating was affecting us on the field.

Then at college, we met someone else who was a nutrition major, and that helped [enlighten] us as to what we wanted to do.

Lyssie: I think that people probably knew it more than we did. At our five-year high school reunion, most people believed that we’d be owning our own health food store, or something to that effect.

Did internships, apprenticeships, or other forms of on-the-job preparation play parts in your careers? 

Tammy: We did have to do internships before our hospital residency training and also another internship before we could even apply for a major dietetic internship. These interships endowed us with a solid foundation [for our careers]. One was required, and another was for us to build our resumes, to learn more about nutrition before applying for our medical internship.

Lyssie: And also, after my official internship in North Carolina (my hospital rotation), I was able to work with the dietitian of my choice. I followed her around, and I noticed how she ran her business. I was also able to attend a series of luncheon lectures, themed on [various aspects of sports nutrition]. They really allowed me to see how nutrition careers could take place in the entrepreneurial world.

Which college or high school courses do you feel have proven the most helpful for your careers today?

Tammy: It’s the whole foundation. For nutrition, a medical background is a firm requirement. You need a lot of chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology, etc. From that background, I can’t single out one course. Each class is a building block for the next step. Lyssie, how about you?

Lyssie: Well, while taking classes in college, a lot of the science classes didn’t feel very practical. It wasn’t until we were much further along in our schooling where we actually able to put it all together. I think there’s a lot of questions in the beginning about, for example, how biochemistry relates to nutrition. Until you’re able to put all of the coursework together, you don’t understand why you’re learning certain things.

Certification and continuing education in dietetic practice groups are very important component of your careers’ success and longevity. How do these learning forms away from a college campus continue to fuel your knowledge?

Tammy: I think maybe you’re referring to continued education for the American Dietetic Association. For us, we love that part about it, that we actually are required to continue to learn, because you get stuck in your ways and really never learn anything new. But as dietitians we really have a lot of different opportunities to learn and go past what we normally would do on a daily basis.

For example, Pinterest: We really wanted to learn about it, because all the social media networks have become so big within every business. We can even get continuing education credits for that. It’s really across the board and can include anything, like tube feeding – we get to learn about it, and we don’t work with tube feeding on a normal everyday basis, but we get to learn about that, and all of the science that goes into it, and some other neat things just via the continuing education. That’s really something that we feel lucky that we are able to do.

Along the lines of Pinterest, how has social media assisted your career aspirations and kind of maintained your status?

Tammy: The thing that we found that should be the most helpful was Twitter. We work with a lot of companies who are entrepreneurs. We would’ve never found the PR companies working behind them otherwise – which has given us other opportunities to work with companies that we do spokesperson work for – because they found us through Twitter. They started following us and we thought, “this should be a good company to team up with.” Had Twitter not existed, we wouldn’t have known about those companies and, very likely, they wouldn’t have known about us… It’s really added a whole new dimension into our business.

Could you outline a typical day that you might experience on the job?

Tammy: We usually like to start by exercising in the morning. I drop my daughters off at school and then exercise. It’s not really our job, but it is kind of part of our job because we have to know what we’re doing any time. We have to stay in shape, so it’s an extra job. And then we start entering emails and getting back to some of the companies that we’re working with. We’re working on negotiating a book deal right now, so we’re back in touch with our literary agent several times.

We had an audition for a TV commercial where they wanted a nutritionist, which is not an everyday thing, but that happened to be today. And then from there we went to meet with our agent who negotiates our deals for spokesperson work, because we are about to launch a new campaign. He’s helping us with that and some of our book opportunities. Today we met with him for several hours and that took us, to 6 o’clock in the evening.

It’s just one of those days [that’s so] busy. We did a lot of meetings and appointments and casting. And then, we just came back and had a couple of phone calls and answered emails. We’re trying to still work on some deals with some PR companies. We work a lot, actually, with companies on the west coast. When we got back at 6, they were still mid-swing [in the workday], so we had come back to a bombardment of emails from people who wanted things and had questions for us.

Lyssie: And also, we would like to team up with some companies to help promote our next book, because we think it’s a good opportunity to do that. So we’re reaching out to companies about that. Some, as Tammy said, we meet on Twitter.

Do you think it would be possible for a student to gain expertise on nutrition through the internet alone through online learning, or do you think it is better for them to go through traditional in-person education in order to gain that knowledge?

Tammy: In terms of undergraduate education, I think a lot of it could be achieved online. But the internship is something that has to be a hands-on experience, where you need real case studies, where it is not just relying on what would happen theoretically, but what happens in real life. Would you agree?

Lyssie: Yeah, I can see the undergrad portion of one’s education being completed online. I really did get a lot of value with the internship. The hands-on experience is very important, being with and around people and having the one-on-one communication, about even communicating with people about changing their diet. It is really an art form.

You both volunteer at the Gladney Foundation, which is devoted to women, children and adopted families. How have your careers allowed you to explore such avenues and correlations of wellness?

Tammy: I think with anything, all of us by nature want to give back. There are so many good charities out there, and this is one that we really felt like we could use what we’ve learned to help these people that really need nutrition counseling. It isn’t always about donating money. It is about giving back and really being able to help these families that are in need, who don’t know much about nutrition, or those who are coming malnourished from third-world countries.

Lyssie: There are also instances where these parents are adopting kids for the first time, and they don’t know what the kid should be eating. It is new and scary for them. There’s so many great charities and you try to decide which one will do more than the rest. That’s really our part there.