Becoming an Integrative and Functional Dietitian Nutritionist

There is a shift happening in the United States as more people realize that as a society we are over-drugged, excessively inflamed and undernourished. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 80% of chronic disease is caused by lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition. While the role of nutrition and lifestyle intervention is well-established, our medical model does not adequately help patients create health and use food as medicine.

While Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) are considered experts in nutrition, they are generally not given the full training on how to use a food is medicine approach in the conventional dietetic training.

Fortunately for all those current and aspiring dietitians, functional nutrition is a new and emerging field. There is more opportunity now than ever to use food as medicine and incorporate key foods and nutrients to modulate health and vitality.

Step 1: Become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

If you are interested in becoming a nutritionist and practicing medical nutrition therapy, which means providing nutrition recommendations or plans for those with disease states, I highly recommend becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). If you want to have a nutrition coaching business and work with people to create behavior change and reduce their sugar intake then doing an online coaching program would suffice. But there is a huge difference between those two paths and what you are then able to do as a licensed dietitian versus a health coach. One is not better than the other but they are two distinct paths.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are required to complete their undergraduate science and nutrition prerequisite courses like food science, nutrition therapy, chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, biology, etc. After completing the course requirements, RDNs apply to a dietetic internship where they spend one year doing their clinical nutrition rotations in a hospital setting. Many dietetic internship programs are now combined with a masters degree because the new expectation is that all dietitians maintain a minimum of a masters degree. The last step is completing and passing the national exam to become registered in the United States and licensed in your state.

While there are so many amazing aspects of dietetic training and learning how the body works, it tends to be a very conventional approach to nutrition and lacks a food is medicine focus. In school I was taught that  canola oil and margarine were appropriate for patients with heart disease and sugar-free cool whip was an option for patients with Type 2 Diabetes. Much of traditional dietetics training was focused on treating patients with heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, using very specific cut off points. In many ways, it puts limits on what nutrition is capable of doing for the body. The foundation of that nutrition training is valuable but there is an absolute need to enhance the education to embody more of a food is medicine approach to working with patients.

Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy

Step 2: Become a Certified Integrative and Functional Dietitian through the Integrative & Functional Nutrition Academy (IFNA)

The future of nutrition and the field of dietetics will include an emphasis on nutrigenomics and biochemical individuality. The field of integrative and functional medical nutrition therapy (IFMNT) and the concept of biochemical individuality has sparked a new way of thinking about the role of nutrition in chronic disease. IFMNT provides a new lens that allows RDNs and CNSs to work with patients using an individualized approach that is based on each person’s genetic and environmental needs. For those that are interested in diving into integrative and functional nutrition, I highly recommend the IFNA training and certification which is a year long, online program.

IFNA reaffirms that low calorie diets are not the answer for most people and more importantly, the power of nutrition goes well beyond counseling about weight. In fact, focusing solely on the connection between food and a person’s weight can lead to underestimating the role that adequate nutrition can have on every metabolic process that occurs in the body. Food impacts everything–from a person’s genes, metabolism, hormones, microbiome, immune system and more. This incredible IFNA training program, created by two expert dietitians in the field of integrative and functional nutrition, Kathie Swift, MS, RDN, LD and Sheila Dean, DSc, RDN, LDN, CCN, CDE, IFMCP, provides all of the information, resources and tools that you need to start incorporating IFMNT into your practice.

The IFNA program dives into getting to the root cause of disease, which IFNA refers to as STAINs (Stressors, Toxins, Adverse Food Reactions, Infections, and Nutrition). They build upon the foundation from dietetics courses and conventional training. They give you the knowledge and the tools to help patients nourish their cells, feed a healthy microbiome, fuel high levels of energy and physical activity, reduce inflammation, identify food sensitivities or reactivity, improve their quality of life and become more aware of how their body responds to various foods.

If you are already a dietitian or a student studying to be a dietitian, completing the program gives you a Board Certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition (IFNCP). Not only is this important from a credibility standpoint but also moving the field forward to create more awareness amongst other dietitians, healthcare practitioners and patients. IFNA is one of the most rewarding and stimulating opportunities that I highly encourage for all dietitians and certified nutrition specialists! Find out more about them here: