Paula Werrett, ION’s head of undergraduate provision, talks about how the nutritional therapy sector has developed over the years, and how her own knowledge has also grown. This Nutrition in Practice interview was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Optimum Nutrition. 

How did you become interested in nutrition? 

“I had some digestive problems and went to see a nutritionist which really helped. Then a chance conversation with a friend who was also thinking about doing the same thing made me realise that this was what I wanted to do.” 

Why did you choose ION? 

“Mainly because it had a good reputation and the ethos of the college really resonated with me.” 

How has your nutrition knowledge progressed since graduating? 

“I think it has progressed a lot, through clinic work and CPD [continuing professional development]. I’ve done a functional medicine module and quite a lot of short courses and conferences, plus I’m always listening to podcasts and webinars. Then there’s all the work I do at ION, which has helped develop my knowledge, too. 

“The collective knowledge about a lot of subjects has also increased enormously, and some things have just completely changed direction. For example, I work a lot with digestive health, and years ago everyone was talking about Candida, but now the conversation has moved on to SIBO [small intestine bacterial overgrowth], which wasn’t really on anyone’s radar back then. It has been interesting to see how the learning within nutrition has moved on.” 

What did you do after leaving ION? 

“I never really left as I went back to work there! That’s my full-time role, but I do still see clients occasionally in the evenings, too — this helps me to stay connected with things that are happening within the profession.  

“I’m also an NTEC accreditation officer and was a BANT [British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine] supervisor for a while, and I’m also a profession-specific board member for the CNHC [Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council, a UK voluntary regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners].” 

What do you enjoy about working at ION? 

“I love working with the ION team — we’ve got such a fantastic team of dynamic, well-qualified practitioners and it’s great to be able to collaborate on things and share our knowledge and experience.” 

In what way has the profession changed since you graduated? 

“I think the profession has grown up in some ways and has become more professional. One recent change is that if you’re coming in as a new practitioner, you will have to be qualified to degree level if you want to join BANT, our professional body. I feel there’s a lot more regulation and a higher professional standard, which I think is to be welcomed — it helps us to hold our own with dietitians, nutritionists and general practitioners.  

“Naturally these changes affect course providers, too, as we have to adapt to them. So, for instance, ION now offers a degree top up for those who did their nutritional therapy course a while ago, when the profession was diploma only — the course is only a year and a half and you come out with a degree, how cool is that!” 

What’s the best thing about developing courses for the next generation of practitioners? 

“I think it’s really exciting as you have an opportunity to help more end users than you would working one-to-one — because you’re training up a group of nutritional therapists who then go out into practice. And it’s lovely to be able to impart all of the enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, nutritional therapy, and to put all of that into a course for people to learn from.” 

What would be your advice for those thinking about studying nutritional therapy? 

“I’d say if that’s your passion, go for it. I think you have to be clear on what you want to do with it — you have to have a good business plan. If you’re prepared to get behind promoting your own practice, if that’s what you want to do, there are lots of opportunities to make a good living out of it, and it’s a really worthwhile occupation because it’s rewarding to see people improving their health by eating well.”  

Do you have a particular food philosophy? 

“I believe that people shouldn’t restrict what they eat too much. Whilst it may be necessary to take some foods out of the diet in certain circumstances, I’m more in favour of adding things in, and have a more moderate approach. In my experience, restrictive diets are hard for people to stick to long term.” 

Finally, what are your go-to meals? 

“Lunchtimes are often salads — I just throw lots of different ingredients together, like avocados, carrots, radishes, hummus, falafels, and maybe peas and fruit out of the freezer. Breakfast is pretty similar each day — oats, a bit of granola, some flaxseed and chia seeds, and fruit and berries. Dinner is varied, but usually includes loads of veggies plus protein. I don’t follow a particular diet but I suppose it’s quite Mediterranean style.” 

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