How many times have you gone to your health care provider’s office only to leave with more questions than you came with? Or felt as if you couldn’t get a word in edgewise about your autoimmune experience? Or even worse — had the provider regurgitate everything you already read on the internet about your symptoms and their unknown cause?
Navigating the world of health care professionals can be daunting, but we are here to tell you that there is a specialized sector of nutrition experts who let you do the talking, listen to you and your body’s signals, and work as your partner in creating optimal health outcomes.
These professionals are called nutritional therapy practitioners, or NTPs, and are well versed in the healing power of food for the body and immune system. In this piece, you’ll learn exactly what NTPs can do and how they differ from dietitians and nutritionists — and there will be a healthy dose of helpful acronyms along the way. Let’s get started!
What Is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner?
An NTP is a trained professional in the area of holistic nutrition. The key word here is holistic — balancing body chemistry by addressing nutritional deficiencies, supporting healthy lifestyle choices, understanding the importance of nutrient-dense food, and even seeing how social and personal factors influence your health are all areas that an NTP supports through mindful listening and individualized interaction. (Source)
A functional nutritional therapy practitioner, or FNTP, takes the skills of an NTP a step further by learning a set of hands-on skills and an assessment protocol that allows them to evaluate how your body systems and organs are currently functioning. The results of the assessment provide you with a unique set of tailored recommendations that are designed to support your health goals. (Source)
The focus of working with both NTPs and FNTPs is to bolster your individual health and wellness with an approach centered on whole foods and promoting a healthy lifestyle. That aim is aligned with what we do here at WellTheory, where you have the opportunity to work with an autoimmune specialist to assess your health and create a personalized roadmap for your autoimmune journey. Whether you’re working with an NTP or FNTP, your goals and concerns will be kept at center stage as your autoimmune health is considered with the whole picture in mind.
What Conditions Can a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Help With?
Because NTPs and FNTPs are not licensed nutritionists or dieticians, they cannot diagnose or treat autoimmune conditions, and are not able to give medical advice. So, when you’re talking with an NTP, it won’t be like a typical health care appointment where the provider is offering her advice and abundant medical terminology for your condition. Instead, you are treated as a unique person who has individual needs based on your current state of health. (Source)
Nutritional therapy practitioners can help you by utilizing a powerful professional tool called the Nutritional Assessment Questionnaire (NAQ). This standardized questionnaire allows the NTP to properly analyze your symptoms, identify your nutritional needs, and focus on the areas of your body that could benefit most from holistic nutritional intervention. The personalized data that results from the NAQ helps the NTP develop a well-suited plan to get you on the path to your optimal autoimmune wellness. (Source)
When you work with an NTP or an FTNP, you can be assured that the focus will be solely on receiving foundational support for your wellness by being treated in a wholesome way that is unique to you, your autoimmune condition, and your lifestyle.
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The Difference Between Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, Nutritionists, and Dietitians
Nutritional Therapy Practitioners
As we’ve discussed, NTPs take a holistic, patient-centered approach to nutritional deficiencies and overall health goals. They are able to provide care once they’ve earned their title of either NTP or FNTP through the Nutritional Therapy Association’s (NTA) training program.
NTPs go through 325 hours of nutritional curriculum in an online learning environment. Subjects range from the endocrine and immune systems to how food is sourced, culinary skills, detoxification, and even dives into emotional wellbeing, among other lifestyle factors. Training to become an FNTP also requires a minimum of 65 hours of hands-on skills training and an additional 6 hours of testing, including a practical examination. (Source)
The NTA started as a vocational nutrition school in 1997, and has since trained many health care professionals on the importance of healing foods for vibrant health. Their NTP program is approved and recommended as a holistic nutrition education program by the National Association of Nutritional Professionals. (Source, Source)
Nutritionist is a general term for someone who has studied or trained in the field of nutrition. Depending on the state, qualifying as a nutritionist may require a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, a Master of Public Health degree with a focus in nutrition, or even self-study in nutrition. That’s the tricky part with this term — you don’t technically have to be board certified or obtain any professional credentials in order to be a nutritionist. It will depend on what the individual has invested their time and resources in, as there are many nutrition programs available to anyone interested in this field. (Source)
There are various credentials that nutritionists can obtain, one of which includes becoming a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). This is the most advanced certification available for nutritionists who provide personalized nutrition services. (Source)
Dietitians, also referred to as registered dietitians or RDs, require extensive training and credentials. Registered dieticians typically go through a 5-step process to be fully ready to engage in their field:
completion of a bachelor’s degree in clinical nutrition, dietetics, or another related area that is accredited by ACEND, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics
completion of at least 1,200 hours of a supervised internship that may also be done alongside graduate studies
successful passing of the Commission on Dietetic Registration exam
application for state certification depending on location of employment
maintenance of the RD certification through continuing education credits and renewal of state certification when necessary
The state that the RD plans to practice in may have additional requirements. And you may be curious as to why some RDs call themselves RDNs, which stands for registered dietitian nutritionist. It’s an optional credential RDs can use which doesn’t affect their licensure, but is simply more inclusive in communicating the broader concept of wellness in their title. There is no difference in their meaning. It’s a personal choice the practitioner makes when emphasizing the nutrition aspect of their training. (Source)
The main takeaway from learning about these nutrition credentials is that all registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists or NTPs are registered dietitians. An NTP falls under the umbrella of a nutritionist, but has undergone the necessary specialized training to obtain that title.
When you’re deciding how to tackle your nutrition to benefit your autoimmune health, it will be necessary to learn about the backgrounds of your care team and see who provides the right fit for you. Each nutrition professional may have different values or focuses, but should ultimately make you and your unique needs the top priority when working together.
The Bottom Line on Nutritional Therapy Practitioners
Nutritional therapy practitioners can make great allies for your autoimmune journey. With their deep knowledge of bodily systems and interactions, they have the tools to assess the root causes of symptoms and address what holistic changes will most benefit your health. Registered dieticians and nutritionists also have nutritional education and training, but may have a less holistic approach than an NTP. Nutritional therapy practitioners operate within their scope of practice and can supplement the conventional health care you receive, but they do not replace your primary care provider or any other medical provider on your care team.
Because real food has the power to heal, nutrition is an especially impactful area of your health when managing your autoimmune condition. Enlist the help of a certified NTP from WellTheory to gain more nutritional insight and get a personalized nutrition, lifestyle, and supplement plan as the next step on your healing journey.
If you’re searching for a personalized and holistic approach to your nutrition and lifestyle, an NTP can provide the support and encouragement you’ve been looking for — and your autoimmune system will thank you for it.
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