There’s many ways you can support your health, and sometimes you’ll need to rely on different health professionals both simultaneously and at various points in your life, for different types of support.
In this article we’re going to cover a little bit about each health professional, their unique attributes, and their fundamental differences to help you get a better steer on exactly which one(s) you can leverage at different times, for different purposes.
Doctors are the first people you turn to with regards to any health or medical concern or condition. They have the power and expertise to diagnose and treat medical conditions, as well as issue medication.
Your doctor is often the first port of call before being referred for further support with diet, although some people may choose to do this by their own choosing.
Doctors have access to diagnostic tests which can inform what treatments and approaches to take, pharmaceutically as well as surgically. They may refer to a nutritionist and/or dietician for dietary support around their initial recommendations.
Doctors can be the gateway to dealing with almost any health issue. Their knowledge (GP) is the most broad, and can refer to specialists who will hone in on particular areas that are relevant for a particular individual.
The only shortcoming of dealing with the modern health care system when it comes to GP visits are that they are often time starved, and have many patients to see. In order to understand the complex interactions that a patient's lifestyle has on their health, the lack of time doctors have is not able to sufficiently cater to many patients' needs. This is why other health professionals can be added to the mix to support the work of Doctors.
You’ll find health coaches in clinics often helping implement Doctors, Nutritional Therapists and Naturopaths recommendations. They also work in gyms, wellness centers and for companies.
The main role of a health coach is to support a client's desire to change their lifestyle. It is not their role to treat or diagnose anything, but rather guide a client to reaching their goals.
Nutrition is only one focus of a health coach, alongside positive behavioural change fostering better mental and physical habits.
Other areas include; spirituality, career, physical activity, relationships, diet, physical activity.
A health coach can still make low-key suggestions as to lifestyle change, including:
- Adding more whole foods to the diet
- Suggesting certain diets and dietary approaches to try
- Teaching self-sufficiency and developing a sense of one's own intuition
- Liaising with and supporting recommendations from clients Doctor and/or Dietician.
- Support around family issues, career, stress, self-esteem
A Health coach uses stepwise, gradual and incremental approaches to achieve goals.
Some examples of how a health coach may support a client:
- Adding in more whole foods to diet to help minimise cravings for junk foods
- Learning the basis for healthy relationships
- Evaluating feelings, thoughts and aspirations around career
- Fostering awareness and adoption of spiritual practices
They usually work independently, in food companies, in research or health-related industries.
They are typically trained in mechanistic and biological sciences that underpin effects of foods and food products on how the body functions, and how they may be able to address illness. They are typically rooted more in science than in the clinical setting, although many do translate their knowledge to practical applications.
Generally Nutritionists give evidence based recommendations to groups and individuals rooted in the scientific literature.
Nutritionists can specialise in certain areas such as in sport, public health and clinical cases.
A clinical nutritionist often works with a wider team such as Doctors to support treatment of a medical condition.
Nutritionists work with concepts based on macronutrients (energy), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and some work with functional medicine to help achieve certain goals as well as cater to medical conditions.
Some nutritionists have been taught to personalise recommendations to individuals based on functional medicine, and dietary preferences.
Nutritional Therapists (NT’s)
They are usually found in Nutrition clinics, self employed or within corporations. Usually part of a team of specialists who also support doctors.
They work with a holistic model of health and disease, using systems biology (that views the body as an ecosystem) vs allopathic thinking which sees the body as a bunch of separate parts as a machine).
Many use the Functional Medicine model, which can help to establish root causes of disease. Treatments are focused towards the root causes and not the symptoms.
They use independent lab tests to assess how each functional area (e.g. energy generation, immune health, hormonal health) is operating and contributing to disease and health states as part of the bigger picture.
NT’s are able to establish underlying causes, and apply specific foods and dietary approaches to address underlying mechanisms of disease with targeted nutrition and nutrients.
Very much based in the mechanistic sciences, as well as in evidenced based medicine using clinical trials as evidence to make decisions.
They take government guidelines into consideration, but apply thinking to the individual and add personalisation to specific individuals. By being rooted in the latest scientific evidence, they can often front-run outdated government concepts.
They work with Doctors recommendation of medications and cater to dietary changes in line with certain medications.
They can be found in doctors offices, food industry, within government and in roles of public health.
Dieticians closely with Doctors and their recommendations principally on the topic of diet and behavior around food.
They are able to diagnose imbalances via examining symptoms to come up with treatment.
They treat symptoms with diet and food, usually recommending a certain intake of measured doses of vitamins, minerals based on nutrition assessment results.
Dieticians work with elements of nutrition including calories and energy, macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) and micronutrients (minerals and vitamins).
Their dietary approaches are one size fits all and based on government guidelines and recommendations. These are usually based around typical goals such as blood sugar management, weight loss, blood pressure management, blood lipids (cholesterol) etc.
They take into account the use of medication with dietary recommendations. They are trained around principles of metabolism, biochemistry and allopathic models of disease (body as a machine).
Dieticians very much reflect the thinking and approaches of medicine in doctors offices, and is a profession strongly influenced by government and food industry.
There are many different health professional who can help you and each one is best suited to certain areas of wellbeing and healthcare. As a rule of thumb, your GP should always be your first point of call.
However you may find that your GP may refer you to other health professionals. Generally, this is what you can expect:
If your concern is on the food you consume or a blood test evidences a lack in certain nutrients, then the GP may refer you to a nutritionist.
If there's a weight management concern, then the GP may refer you to a dietician.
If there's medications and a treatment being prescribed, then the GP may refer you to a nutritional therapist.
If there's not any concerns but you would like to get fitter or start going regularly to a wellness center or a gym, then your GP may refer you to a health coach.
Here's a cheat sheet on the differences between health professionals, what their expertise is and how they can help you.
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