Photo credit: Laura Kelly Photography
This is an informational interview I conducted for The Institute of Holistic Nutrition. Find out what a Holistic Nutritionist does and many more interesting insights. Enjoy!
KRISTIN JILLIAN SHROPSHIRE
is a Registered Nutritionist (IONC), Registered Acupuncturist (CTCMPAO), and Faculty Member emeritus of The Institute of Holistic Nutrition. Between 2015 and 2018, she taught Advanced Nutrition Research, Symptomatology 2, and Comparative Diets. Kristin also has a master’s degree in Natural Health Sciences, as well as certificates in Biofeedback and Advanced Tibetan Reiki. She has her private practice at The Glebe Health House. Her business website is www.kristinshropshire.com. Kristin focuses on stress and nervous system disorders, fertility and family planning, pain management, healthy aging, diet optimization, and meal planning.
What does a Holistic Nutritionist do?
“Simply put, a holistic nutritionist strives to advise people regarding what constitutes a healthy diet. Foods are considered for their individual nutrients, but also for their synergy. Foods are evaluated based on the quality of the nutrients they contain—not just the quantity.
A (w)holistic nutritionist seeks to support the health and wellbeing of the whole person by teaching them how to optimize their diet for their individual life situation. This includes—but is not limited to—age, activity level, metabolic type, food sensitivities, etc.). A holistic nutritionist understands that a healthy diet is rarely a one-size-fits-all proposition. He or she will, therefore, work together with their clients to design a healthy eating plan that will suit his or her clients’ health goals, as well as their lifestyle. I like to think that a good holistic nutritionist would also find a way to satisfy his or her clients’ taste buds along with meeting their health objectives.” (winks)
Why did you choose this profession?
“I was always very enthusiastic about health and wellness. At a very young age, I knew that I wanted to become a medical doctor. More specifically, I saw myself becoming a pediatrician. All of that changed when I was 14 after I suffered a severe side effect to a standard antibiotic. The results were swift and intense. After no more than 36 hours on the antibiotic, I developed symptoms of what was eventually to be diagnosed as anxiety and depression. My symptoms were extremely severe. For five years, I could barely step outside my front door without experiencing crippling panic attacks. I had to homeschool (in partnership with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board’s Visiting Teachers program) throughout the majority of high school.
After being told by my physician that there was nothing that Western medicine could do for me, I started to examine the healing options offered via alternative medicine. Holistic nutrition, in particular, caught my attention. While I credit numerous therapies with helping me to regain my health, including Chinese medicine, homeopathy, Reiki, talk therapy, etc., there is no doubt in my mind that holistic nutrition played one of the most vital roles in my recovery.
After suffering the way that I did, I decided that I wanted to dedicate my professional life to helping others reclaim their health. I still feel so much gratitude for those who helped me along my healing journey. One could say that I wanted to pay that kindness forward. Since holistic nutrition and Chinese medicine were two of the modalities that I found helped me the most, that is where I chose to focus my own education and clinical practice.”
Share an experience you had in dealing with a difficult person and how you handled the situation?
“To be quite honest with you, I have been very lucky and have not been faced with any particularly difficult clients thus far. That said, if I had to pick something, I would say that my greatest challenge has lain in finding the balance between giving clients good value for their money while respecting my own time and experience. For instance, should a client email me with pages upon pages of new questions that would take me in excess of an hour to answer, I might suggest that these questions be reserved for their next appointment. Certainly, I am happy to answer quick questions, such as, “What was that brand of bread you recommended to me?” That is a quick and easy answer. I love helping people but, over the years that I have worked in private practice, I have had to learn that it’s okay to love myself enough to set boundaries when I feel that someone is (often unconsciously) taking advantage of my time and genuine desire to be helpful.
Tell me how you organize, plan, and prioritize your work?
“I like to think that am a fairly organized person. When someone comes to see me for an initial nutritional consultation, it is my standard practice to generate a report following our meeting, detailing the health information that I feel will help to empower them to make the lifestyle changes required to attain their health goals. I also include a sample one week meal plan based on their health goals, dietary preferences, and so on. Given that it usually takes me at least three hours to prepare my client reports and I am committed to delivering completed nutrition reports to my clients within a week of their visit, this can take a lot of planning!
While I strive to work on my client reports at my earliest convenience, I have chosen to only rent out office space at Glebe Health House four days a week in order to give myself an extra day to catch up on any required paperwork. On Tuesdays, I work from home, prioritizing completing client reports, bookkeeping, and continuing education.
I am strongly driven by a desire for self-improvement. That is why spare time usually finds me with my nose buried in a nutrition or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) textbook. This is a regular part of my Tuesday work day. Continuing education happens on other days, too, but almost always Tuesdays.
I was blessed to grow up in a very supportive family. That said, I want to succeed based on my own merits. Part of that includes making enough money that I don’t have to be dependent on anyone. By virtue of well-structured planning and organization, I feel blessed to be able to do what I love, gaining a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment by feeling like I am making a positive difference in the world, without feeling financially stressed.
Life is all about balance. I strive to live a life I love while preparing for the years ahead. Plan for tomorrow, but live for today. If we can make a positive difference in the lives of those around us, while we do so, all the better.”
Provide an example when you were able to prevent a problem because you foresaw the reaction of a client?
“Whenever possible, I strive to warn my clients about the possible side effects of their lifestyle changes. For instance, if I have recommended that a client consider adding probiotics to their regime, I try to forewarn them that it is not unheard of for the body to respond to the new, beneficial bacterial cultures with symptoms ranging from bloating to gas to increased defecation. By educating my clients ahead of time regarding the possible side effects that their body might experience, while it adapts, I find that my clients and I are often able to circumvent problems that might have arisen from fear of the unknown. As they say, knowledge is power.”
How do you deal with “being a therapist”?
“While I think that there is great value in having clear, compassionate channels of communication with clients, I think that it is very important for holistic nutritionists to be aware of their scope of practice. A holistic nutritionist is not a psychologist. As such, when required, it can be very important to set clear boundaries. I have yet to ever feel the need to do so, but I always keep the possibility of recommending that a client consider seeking the professional help of a licensed therapist in the back of my mind should I feel that they need more help that I am capable of providing—help that cannot be solved by changing one’s diet.”
In your experience, what is the key to developing a good nutritionist/client connection?
“In my experience, the key here is, to be honest, genuine, compassionate, and kind, while allowing the client to make the final choices regarding what they feel is best for them. For instance, should a client tell me that they wish to pursue a vegan diet for ethical reasons, even if I think that they might benefit from consuming animal proteins, I will cede to their wishes and help them to design the healthiest strategy to optimize their health, while staying true to their ethics. It is my place to help offer education, not impose my own opinions onto others.
Listening is vital. While I might have my own professional opinions regarding best nutritional practices, it isn’t my place to judge anyone else’s choices. Unless I have walked a mile in their shoes, that would be unfair.
Likewise, I strive not to ever judge my clients’ “missteps.” For instance, I would never wish to make anyone feel bad by asking them what they thought they were doing by drinking this milkshake or eating that cheeseburger. Should they make the choice to consume such foods, I try to ask them why they felt compelled to indulge in the milkshake or the cheeseburger. I seek to understand their motivations so that I can better help to offer them a more healthful alternative. When I have a better sense of their motivations, I am better equipped to make recommendations that might help them to more easily implement the healthy lifestyle changes I am recommending.
At the end of the day, it is all about wanting to help my clients. I am not a tough love person. If someone wants that, they had best seek out another practitioner. I am all about education, empowerment, and celebrating every little victory. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I say, let’s celebrate each and every one of those steps.”
Describe the methods you use to develop and implement dietary-care plans and provide nutritional counseling.
“I like to work with each of my clients on a one-on-one basis. While I think that it is true that there are some global recommendations that can help most people, I find that I can best help my clients by tailoring my recommendations to them specifically. For instance, what are their favourite foods? Do they have any allergies, sensitivities, or foods they just don’t enjoy eating? What appliances do they have at home? If a client doesn’t have a blender, it isn’t going to do them any good to have me recommend a smoothie recipe. Likewise, if I don’t take a client’s likes and dislikes into the equation, they aren’t likely to enjoy my proposed dietary changes enough to stick with them for long enough to notice a significant change in their overall state of health and wellness.
I am a visual person. As such, when factual explanations don’t serve to adequately illustrate my point, I often rely on creative mental pictures to help explain things and get my messages across. For instance, while trying to explain why it’s important to prioritize healthy foods, I somethings explain that eating the “right” foods and the “wrong” foods can be seen as a “Good Team” vs “Bad Team” battlefield. Whenever we eat something “bad,” the enemy gets more ammunition. When we eat healthful foods, we are empowering our own army. The type of ammunition given out is influenced by just how healthy or unhealthy our choices are. For instance, if we eat too much fruit, we might be giving the “enemy” a slingshot to use against us. Lots of slingshots add up, but one isn’t really that big of a deal. If, however, we go out to dinner and eat a big, greasy pizza followed by a deep-fried candy bar, we might have just given the “enemy” a few cannons to use against us. Few people are going to eat perfectly all the time. The trick is to make sure that with are giving ourselves more “ammo” than we are giving the “enemy.”
What is the most challenging part of your job? Have your ethics ever been tested?
“I think that the most challenging part of my job is that I have to be an entrepreneur as well as a healthcare practitioner. One has to wear a lot of hats when running one’s own business. I love what I do, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that learning to balance all of the myriad aspects of my job has been stressful at times. I am not just a holistic nutritionist and an acupuncturist. I have to be a secretary, bookkeeper, and marketing manager, too. Thankfully, I am pleased to say that this has gotten much easier over the years.
My ethics have definitely been tested. On several occasions, I have been asked whether it might be possible to issue an acupuncture receipt for a nutritional consultation or vice versa. While my heart goes out to people who are just trying to optimize their benefits in order to improve their health, it’s against the Code of Ethics of my regulatory College to do so. As such, this is not something that I will do.
I consider it an honour and privilege to be entrusted with the health and wellbeing of others. As such, I will do everything that I can to support my clients in their efforts to get well. While I will not falsify receipts, if I have a client who needs more treatments than they originally thought they would in order to attain their health goals and they are struggling to pay for the treatments, if it is within my power, I will lower my rate in order to accommodate their need. It bothers me greatly when people can’t get the health care that they require because they can’t afford it. While I can’t afford to treat everyone for free, it brings me joy to do what I can to help others. After all, I know how much I would appreciate it if I ever found myself in a similar situation.
Please share an experience in which you taught (successfully?) a difficult principle or concept
“That’s an interesting question, as it depends on what each individual client considers to be a difficult principle or concept. That said, I would have to say that teaching clients about the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load falls into this category. I love the “Aha!” moment that I see reflected in my clients’ eyes when they have learned how they can successfully incorporate healthy foods that they previously thought denied to them, such as cooked carrots and watermelon, without unbalancing their blood sugar levels.”
Is there a trick to persuade a person to change their behavior or way of thinking?
“I think that it is important to recognize the importance of baby steps. Change doesn’t have to be extreme in order to be meaningful. In fact, so often, seemingly small things like drinking more water can make an enormous difference.
In my experience, long-lasting change doesn’t usually occur overnight. It is often enough to make slow and steady changes. To use the same example, if a client tells me that they only drink two cups of water every day, instead of suggesting that they jump right to trying to drink eight or more cups of water per day, I suggest that they aim to drink three or more cups of water per week. Once they achieve their goal, we celebrate the victory. We then move on to four, then five, then six, then seven, then eight or more cups until our ultimate goal has been achieved. Setting reasonable goals is a great way to keep people motivated.
I also find that clients benefit from having a solid sense of what is motivating them to achieve their goals. If their will to change their diet and/or lifestyle is strong enough, they will have the necessary motivation to overcome any and all obstacles that they encounter along the way.
Tell me about research you have planned, conducted, and/or evaluated? Please tell me about your teaching experience at IHN.
“I am not currently working on any particular research. That said, since one of my primary clinical focuses is fertility and family planning, I am always reading the latest research on the topic in order to improve my knowledge. The more I learn from different experts, the better able I am to devise more complex treatment plans (when required) in order to best support my clients.
I loved teaching at IHN. It made me ridiculously happy to share my knowledge and help to inspire a new generation of holistic nutritionists. That said, as I got busier in the clinic, it became too much to teach at the same time. I might rejoin the IHN faculty someday but, for now, I have chosen to place my focus on my private practice.
What is your top advice for me starting out my own business?
“I find that it is often prudent to have an alternate source of income when starting work as a holistic nutritionist. It is not easy to build a private practice. While it is possible to make a comfortable income working exclusively as a holistic nutritionist, doing so takes time, perseverance, and ingenuity.
In my experience, most students benefit greatly from leveraging their past experience and education. If possible, try to connect your previous work experience to find a niche that you are uniquely qualified for. Network. Use all of the connections available to you to politely request guidance regarding opportunities that might be a great fit, not only for you, but also for other people that they know.
If your past experiences and education don’t offer you appropriate job opportunities, I would consider adding additional certificates and diplomas. The knowledge gained in the holistic nutrition program at IHN is extensive, but I find that new graduates really thrive when they are able to combine holistic nutrition with something else. Sadly, for so many, certification as a holistic nutritionist alone isn’t enough to earn a comfortable wage.
In terms of work environments, I would recommend investigating available opportunities at popular medical and/or holistic clinics. While renting space might take a financial investment, working out of a location that already has a lot of traffic can help people to learn about you and the services you offer. This is of enormous benefit when starting a practice.”
How many clients do you see a week and do you have a final comment?
“I see about 15 clients in an average week. Holistic nutrition is a wonderful field. I certainly feel proud to be a part of it. Thank you for being interested in my opinions and insights into this field that I love so very much.”
Thank you so much, Kristin.