Graduate story

Kate Cook on the art of communication in nutritional therapy, and how her career changed direction after looking for a 'little' course 

What drew you to nutritional therapy?

“I was working as a manager of a top London art gallery, and my boss at the time was sick. He did a massive amount of alternative therapies (as well as conventional), one of which was nutrition. So I thought I would like to try and understand more by doing a ‘little’ course. Little did I fully realise the undertaking and commitment of the ION three-year course [now four and a half years] and the change in mentality from arts to science! But as it turns out, I think having an arts background is useful in many ways. It is not just about what you know, but how you communicate what someone needs to know. You can have the best protocols in the world but if you can’t inspire someone to adopt them, it’s obviously a waste of time.”

What issues do you commonly come across in relation to corporate wellbeing?

“There can be issues like tiredness or illness... But the biggest block from most people achieving any nutritional aim is that four letter word: time. Making information bite-sized and easy to adopt, I find is the key. I never dumb down what I am going to say and just try to inspire people through fact and humour. A big topic in companies currently is mental health. The connection between physical and mental health is one that I really have to draw for people. Companies look at mental health as a head problem; that the gut could be involved is stunning.”

What does a typical day look like?

“Day to day is very different. I might be in a company doing ‘a gig’ or a programme or having endless cups of tea nurturing relationships with people in corporates who want to know what I do — which might never actually lead to anything. Luckily I like tea, and am genuinely curious about other people. Liking people and being liked is probably the best way to get business. Otherwise, the business doesn’t land in the lap, it is a near constant stirring of the marketing pot!”

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

“I love the presenting side of what I do. When I am presenting I have a bit of a ‘Marmite’ style; either the audience is going to love it or hate it but as long as I am true to myself, I find that normally isn’t a problem. If you water down the message, the passion disappears, you go through the motions.

“I like making people laugh and having fun and I am having my most fun when I am presenting. However, it is a balance and I have to (or want to) keep myself absolutely up to the minute on any and all topics, technical or otherwise, relating to nutrition, and the health that surrounds it, so I can provide all the references to anything I have said. I probably spend at least three hours a day either reading, listening to podcasts or on preparation. I especially try to listen to both sides of an argument to get a balanced view.”

Is there anything you still want to achieve as a nutritional therapist?

“I think the most amazing thing is here I am 20 years later, still making a career from nutritional therapy! But I am currently undertaking an MA in anthropology — to extend the conversation around food and nutrition… and to look at the systems failure responsible for poor health, poor food, food systems, and inequality in food accessibility from farming and agricultural problems to marketing from huge food giants. I won’t abandon my NT roots, but I want to put them in context.”

What would be your go-to meal?

“A family roast! The commensality of the family meal is priceless to me. Best quality of course and all organic (that’s why I don’t go on holiday!).”

How has the nutritional therapy profession changed in the last decade?

“The Functional Medicine approach has really taken off since my training. On the one hand I think that is really exciting, we are able to dig deeper into health issues; but on the other hand I think we have to be careful not to lose our practitioner roots and make it too complicated. Sometimes the very easiest and straightforward, seemingly basic advice might make a huge difference. Obviously, just improving diet and lifestyle can make a difference without having to do all the fancy footwork, however clever it looks. Using your instinct, however unfashionable that is, is sometimes the very right thing to do. Instinct is not as unscientific as it sounds and is born out of practice.

“When I was seeing clients in clinic I saw about 7,500 face-to-face, not nearly as many as some! In that everyday practice comes wisdom, and that part shouldn’t be ignored in my opinion.”

What advice would you give to people embarking on a similar career path?

“Follow your own path and don’t look at what everyone else is doing. Keep flexible and adaptable. Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to get paid what you are worth. Don’t do if for the money, but if you don’t get paid what you are worth, you will have to quit, and then you can’t serve your patients or your community.”

Click here to visit Kate's website

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