Nutrition Therapists

Challenges and Opportunities for Nutrition Therapists due to COVID-19

Jessica Reader Blog

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Stay-at-home orders during the current pandemic have turned our lives upside-down and impacted every industry, including the health and nutrition field. With businesses shutting down, high numbers of people losing income sources and many uncertainties about the future, practitioners are adapting to maintain clientele and keep their businesses active. 

This situation has required practitioners to stay positive as they embrace a new perspective. Luckily, there are creative opportunities for building and maintaining a nutrition practice. Our graduates have shared their personal experiences of how their practice has been impacted by today’s social distancing and business shutdowns. Here is a summary of the challenges and opportunities practitioners are facing. 

Challenges

Business has been affected

As graduates and students of nutrition therapy, we know how important it is to support our health every day, but especially when we want to help our body fight off viral infections. The foods we eat can support or suppress our immune defenses. Unfortunately, at a time of crisis, people often fall back on comfort food, sugar, alcohol and not-so-healthy lifestyle habits – the habits we know are inflammatory, disrupt our microbiome balance and deplete our nutrients.

Expenses on nutrition services are not typically a priority when worried about job security, the safety of loved ones and the drastic change of routines. Because of this, business has slowed down for many practitioners. “People are unsure of their future and want to hold on to their money”, says Courtney Hardwick Ellis of Root Functional Nutrition. “People are afraid to spend money on something they unfortunately see as optional,” says NTI graduate Cathy McCann. As nutrition therapists, we know that self-care measures, medicinal herbs and a nutrient-dense diet are crucial in supporting our immune system.

“I think what clients need to understand is if they improve their overall health and chronic issues, their bodies are better able to manage new invaders. Sad that so many either can’t or are afraid to devote financial resources for this,” says Diane Bentsen Shepard, the Clinical Team Lead at Quicksilver Scientific . As future and current practitioners, we can continue to educate our clients, friends and family on the importance of supporting our health when our immune systems face a challenge.

A shift to virtual practice

It is important to create an adaptable practice method to ensure client needs can be met, even when face-to-face interaction is limited. “My practice was 100% virtual which should make it easier,” says NTI graduate Cathy McCann. Nutrition therapists can practice both in-person and virtually, providing flexibility and an opportunity to adapt.

An in-person practice typically requires the practitioner to work out of a professional office environment, and, of course, come into close contact with clients. As we have learned over the last few weeks, in-person meetings have not been an option. 

Practitioners working mainly with in-person clients seem to have been most affected by the crisis. Diana Healey Walley says: “My clients are used to meeting in person but my office suite closed March 12th. I do have a few clients wanting to meet virtually so that’s really nice.” Luckily, clients are open to trying virtual sessions. “My practice – 95% face to face – slowed way down early on and now folks are starting to come back,” says Kelly Pate Dwyer of Grow Nutrition. 

Adaptable practitioners have been able to continue practicing. “I interact with all sorts of practitioners and most are transitioning to virtual services [during this time],” says Diane Bentsen Shepard. 

Lost jobs

Having several streams of income is a common practice for nutrition therapists. In a crisis like this, having a few revenue streams can protect practitioners from a complete loss of income.

Building a strong relationship with your employer can be a benefit as well. “Luckily they are keeping me in their back pocket but I have zero income coming in,” says 

Courtney Hardwick Ellis about her employer. Additionally, businesses have learned that they might need to restructure common practices and services to become more adaptable. “I am trusting the clinic owner to do a practice re-vamp during this down-time that will make us stronger and more profitable when we re-open,” says Susan Barendregt of Balanced and Clear and Natural Unbridled Wellness.

Opportunities

Less distractions = more clients

Although many practitioners have seen a decrease in clientele, some practitioners have gained clients during this time. Amber Williams of Ambition Nutrition says:
“COVID-19 has actually affected my business in a positive way. I have had the pleasure of gaining 3 new clients so far during a time of shut down. Each one of them have said that they have known they needed to consult with a nutrition therapist and put in the work to feel better, but have always used not having enough time as an excuse. Now that there are no distractions, get togethers and parties, they have time to focus 100% on their health.” 

Supportive community

Even in the midst of a crisis, people can come together and create a sense of community. Practitioners are sharing foods and supplements that have shown to help with immune support, the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) hosted a Pandemic Panel Discussion, and some practitioners are sharing business advice with their peers.

Julia Zaslow at Unbreakable Practice is a business and marketing coach who is offering her support, experience and strategies to help practitioners get through these unprecedented times. “Unbreakable Practice is doing a fabulous free series for peeps like us. One of my great take-aways so far: clients need to connect – hear you or see you… so direct phone calls to check in, videos live or recorded, webinars, etc.,” says Kelly Pate Dwyer of Grow Nutrition. This is just one of the many valuable resources that demonstrates the incredible support in our health-minded community! 

Valuable content

Although practitioners are losing clients or struggling to take on new clients, nutrition education continues to be of utmost importance. “I’m trying to post helpful tips on social media to keep people engaged,” says Diana Walley . 

Sharing content with the public is a form of marketing for many practitioners, and in a time like this, it may be particularly important. “I’m putting out a ton of free content on social media – hoping they remember me when this is over,” says Cathy McCann.

Many clients may be unable to commit to a protocol for personal or financial reasons. “I am staying in front of them with my email list, social media and by texting and calling clients to see how they are doing and planting the seeds that I’m here if they need me,” says Rebecca Clegg Emery. Practitioners can continue to stay supportive and engaged while our world is turned upside-down. 

Business restructuring

Some practitioners feel they are finally getting to the tasks that there was never enough time for. “I’m ok with it because I’ve been thinking of overhauling my business and now is a GREAT time to do it!” says Courtney Hardwick Ellis of Root Functional Nutrition. When business is slow, it may be the perfect opportunity to cross off to-do’s and tackle projects that have been on the back burner. 

Positive mindset

A slower pace has allowed some practitioners to reevaluate their priorities and spend time doing what truly matters. “I’m actually enjoying the time to spend with my college aged sons who are both home. Cooking and cleaning up and repeating seems to be a full time job!,” says Lisa Matier Biederman of Vitality Nutrition.

Focusing on the positives is important in a time of crisis – and perhaps when these unprecedented times come to an end, we can take some of the lessons learned back to the “real world”. 

About the author

Daina Rasutis is a current student of NTI’s Nutrition Therapist Master Program. She plans to use her certification to spark a craving for health through movement, sustainable living and, of course, nourishing food. Follow Daina’s cooking creations and lifestyle tips at www.tabletocrave.com 

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