ION graduate Victoria Hamilton, aka The Autoimmunity Nutritionist, came close to quitting her nutrition studies due to the demanding workload of her previous career; but she's grateful she didn't. She says that every day is a joy, as she's doing something she has always been passionate about.

What led you to nutritional therapy? 

"I was diagnosed with alopecia areata at seven years old and developed psoriasis as a teenager. My mum was training to become a nurse at this time, and she believed that a healthy diet could positively impact my symptoms, so even at seven years old, my breakfast was changed from cereal to eggs, and I was encouraged to eat foods high in vitamin C. 

"Many people in my family also had autoimmune diseases, so as I got older, I wanted to understand better what caused these conditions and what you could do to help manage and reverse autoimmune symptoms. 

"Even though I had a passion for English and history, I went on to study sciences during my A levels, and then I did a BSc (Hons) degree in Biochemistry and Immunology, focusing my dissertation on vasculitis, an autoimmune disease that affects the vessels and is systemic in nature. 

"During my degree, we learned much about the immune system, microbiology and genetics. Still, I didn’t have the skills or tools to put this information into practice so I could help those with autoimmune diseases. And just a couple of years after graduating, my brother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which motivated me even more to find answers to these conditions. 

"After a long detour into chartered accountancy and working for some amazing companies in London, I realised that my heart was still in science and nutrition. And in 2013, after attending a session on eating to beat cancer hosted by Christine Bailey at ION, I knew I wanted to train as a nutritionist, and that’s when I applied to ION, and I started my journey to become a nutritionist."

What does ‘personalised nutrition’ mean to you?

"Personalised nutrition means working with a person and their health history and symptoms rather than a specific diagnosis. Through my clinical experience and research, I see now that everyone has their own story, and following set protocols for specific conditions doesn’t always work. By taking a personalised nutrition approach, I make sure that I tailor my dietary recommendations and plans to my clients' unique characteristics, such as their genetics, gut health, stress levels, lifestyle and upbringing. By taking a personalised approach, I see my clients get better faster.

"In my own health, I spent 25 years trying different diet plans and lifestyle changes, but it was only when I started digging deeper, understanding my thoughts, gut imbalances, cellular issues and toxicity, did I really get to the heart of my issues and from that I was able to take strides with my health, and is likely why I live symptom-free today." 

What was the best thing about your ION experience?

"The best thing was the people I met during my training who I am still in contact with today. Even though I was part of the distance learning course, we supported each other every step of the way and still support each other today.

"The clinical training we received, albeit daunting then, put me in such a confident position to start my business as soon as I graduated. I felt fully supported by my tutors, and I still reflect on the feedback I received today, as I was provided with fantastic recommendations, which I still use in my clinical practice today." 

Do you have a message for people struggling with autoimmune issues? 

"My message is don’t lose hope. Everyone is in a different position, and some conditions are much more severe than others, but I believe you can feel much better by making positive lifestyle changes. I never make any promises, but I have seen phenomenal results in clients who take the advice on board and stick to their new healthy habits after working together. 

"Also, be patient. I work a lot with alopecia areata and hair loss, and due to the hair growth cycle, it can take time for the hair to grow back. I recently worked with a client with complete hair loss, who had accepted that it would never grow back, and now 12 months on, has a full head of hair. That doesn’t happen for everyone, but if you take small steps back to health, it pays off in the end." 

What are some of your career highlights

"It is hard to pinpoint specific highlights as every day is a joy as I am doing something I have always been passionate about, and I get to help others in a similar position to mine. 

"When I see my clients turn around not only their health but their lives as well, that can feel very special. I heard [integrative and functional medicine practitioner] Chris Kresser once say, ‘Once you have your health, everything else falls into place’ and I believe that to be true.

"I also felt very honoured to be able to share my story in The Sunday Telegraph last year, I never thought that my own health journey could be an inspiration to others, and that feels very rewarding."

Can you take us through a typical day

"My routine changes quite regularly just because I generally like to switch things up, but at the moment, I wake up early, have a cup of green tea, journal, or meditate, and then I write articles or blogs or write up client plans for a couple of hours. 

"After breakfast, I normally have client appointments and interact with my free group, The Autoimmunity Community. At lunchtime, I walk my two chihuahuas in the local park. 

"Then after lunch, I will work on separate projects, such as recording my podcast, The Autoimmune RESET, or new services in my business, such as corporate wellbeing, which is currently in development, and my group programmes. 

"I have started to do more in-person appointments, so one afternoon a week, I often see clients face to face. 

"I finish my day at about 5pm and will either go to Pilates or the gym, have a bath or do something I enjoy to relax, and then make dinner, before settling down for the evening." 

Which ingredients do you always have in the kitchen?

"I cook most of my food from scratch, so I normally always have lots of dried herbs, spices, and extra virgin olive oil - I would be lost without these. 

"I always have frozen berries, avocado and spinach in the freezer, as well as protein powder, chia seeds, and flax seeds for smoothies. 

"And we usually have eggs, tinned or jarred sardines, organic tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, wild rice, red lentil pasta and quinoa, which are great to have on hand if you need to make something quickly. 

"I will typically have tender-stem broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, rocket or butternut squash in the fridge, as these are easy to add to a meal for extra nutrient density."

What’s the best thing about being a nutritional therapy practitioner? 

"It may sound cliché, but seeing my clients improve and feel better about themselves is the best thing. Autoimmune disease and chronic conditions not only affect your physical health but mental health as well, and it makes me happy when I see my clients feeling more confident and happier in their lives.

"I also love to learn, and there is always an endless supply of new scientific studies, theories, tests and products regarding health and nutrition, which I like to learn about and investigate for my clients." 

Do you have any career goals or plans for the future?

"As someone who worked in corporates for over 14 years whilst living with chronic illness, I would like to work more with employees, corporates and well-being retreats to provide people with the tools they need to make simple changes to their lives today for a brighter tomorrow. I am working with another practitioner on this offering, and we plan to launch our corporate wellness services in the next few months. 

"I am also working on a book about inflammatory skin conditions, as I would like to share more information about how taking an inside-out approach to skin conditions can make the most difference to symptoms. I love to write, and it would be great to focus more on this in the future. 

"My podcast, The Autoimmune RESET, and my community, The Autoimmunity Community, will continue to be a priority. 

"And I am going to continue my education by doing an MSc in clinical nutrition, as I love to study, and I find the more I learn, the more I can help my clients." 

What would you say to someone who was considering a career in nutritional therapy?

"If you are passionate about health and helping people, this is the career for you. It can be challenging at times, and if you plan to set up your own clinical practice, then it takes time to build up your client base, but it is more than worth the effort. 

"At one point, when juggling a senior position at the NBA and studying with ION, I wrote a letter saying that I needed to drop out of the course as I was given extra responsibility at work and was struggling with the workload. Still, my tutors persuaded me otherwise. I am so grateful that they did, and I continued studying. It was a ‘sliding doors’ moment, and I am so glad things have worked out this way."

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