What did I do before studying to be a Dietitian?
Before going back to Uni, I worked as the Deputy Cookery Editor (and before that the Cookery Assistant) at Good Housekeeping Magazine. I loved that job, and had the best boss ever. However, when she went on maternity leave, lots changed, and the pay was terrible. I moved to News UK in 2014 to help them launch a digital diet project while going to Birkbeck Uni in the evenings to complete my Chemistry & Biology A levels.
I’m now completing my Dietetics BSc – a four year undergraduate degree at London Metropolitan University.
How did I become interested in Nutrition?
I was training for my first marathon, eating everything in sight when I got back from long runs, and obviously, not losing any weight. In fact, I put on weight. So for my second marathon I started researching what I should be eating before, during and after running to fuel my body. It also scared me how calorie and fat dense some of the GH recipes were, which I didn’t think was morally responsible.
It was around this time that I started to become overwhelmed by the amount of information and misinformation out there. I was trying to include more nutrition advice within the magazine, sharing healthy swaps, but realised that without appropriate credentials I was as bad as the others out there.
Why Dietetics degree rather than a Nutrition Degree?
When I first started researching studying again, I thought that some of the nutrition degrees (especially those combined with sports nutrition) sounded more interesting than dietetics, and the nutrition courses were a year shorter than dietetics degrees. However, there were two key factors that changed my decision;
-Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are governed by an ethical code to ensure that they always work to the highest standard. In the UK, to be a dietitian you have to have completed a degree with hospital placements (it is similar in the US and Canada, with hospital internships), however nutrition courses vary wildy in credibility.
There are people with nutrition degrees that are very similar to dietetics, and there are online certificates that can be done in one day that still allows people to call themselves nutritionists. Personally, I worry a lot about some of the information that ‘nutritional therapists’ and ‘health coaches’ give out. I wanted to have the most scientific, most trusted credentials behind me to give me the best start in whatever I do with my knowledge down the line.
-Secondly, (and unfortunately was a big consideration) when I was applying, the Dietetics degrees were NHS funded, meaning I didn’t have to pay for my course and was given a stipend for expenses. Sadly they don’t do this anymore but it ended up saving me about £36,000 on University fees.
Tips for those wanting to make the switch:
- Find out what the course’s pre-requisites are. For most you need Chemistry and Biology to A Level standard, which you can often do through an Access Course (like the course I did at Birkbeck)
- Be prepared for the hospital placements. They are 12-14 weeks on the wards, working 8hr days, without pay. Sometimes these placements can be up to 2hrs commute each way (mine was 1hrs 15mins each way). These weeks can be brutal, especially for those with young kids. I loved them, but working 3 jobs was tough.
- Try to get some relevant work experience – it helps set you apart on your applications and with interviews. For dietetics degrees they really look for care experience as a lot of it is about dealing with patients. (I actually didn’t have any but used my experience working at Good Housekeeping and at a school).
- Try to save some cash before you start, and find a job that doesn’t interfere with your studies. Nannying has been amazing for me as it’s not labour intensive, I can often work while I’m there and I love the kids.
- Do your research into what your course actually covers. A dietetics degree is very clinical, if that’s not what you’re after then a nutrition or sports nutrition degree might be more appropriate.
How is it being a Mature Student?
I love it! Who doesn’t love having their student card, Young Person’s Rail Card and discounts back. I have been SO lucky to have found a couple of girls on my course that are the same age exactly as me that have become really good friends.
I would say our course is actually more heavily mature students, with only about a third of 18/19 year olds. This is perhaps due to the style of course but may have been skewed by the funding to allow more mature students the opportunity to study without financial burden.
The main struggle has been that there isn’t a huge provision for flexibility within the course, and we are sometimes not given a lot of warning to changes in our schedule, making it difficult for those with jobs and children.
How did I choose my course/University?
I’m going to be totally honest here, and admit that I ended up at London Met because I didn’t get the grades I wanted and needed to go to Kings College University. I needed a Distinction in each module of my Birkbeck course, and unfortunately missed it in one chemistry module. So after a LONG day during results day, begging Kings, they said no. I actually hadn’t applied for London Met originally, and was set to go to Kingston to study Nutrition with Exercise and Health which I think I would have loved, however could have been quite limiting in the future. And I panicked about the costs.
So I rang London Met and managed to get a place through clearing! It turned out to be one of the best decisions overall, as I don’t think I could have coped with the academia of Kings with the blog demands (not to mention nannying and commuting). However, I don’t think that London Met is the best course at the moment, and I find aspects of it very frustrating.
How has the workload been?
I actually haven’t found the coursework too intense, however I have struggled a little with exam revision. A lot of our exams have been in January, which is also the busiest time of year within the fitness blogging world, and I have struggled with the balance. Plus I have only just realised how to study for and pass the London Met exams. It is all about exam technique rather than learning the whole syllabus.
The hardest part is the hospital placements, which, as I’ve said, is like working an 8hr job, plus commute, for 3+ months without pay. I was working 3 nights a week, training for a marathon and trying to blog. It was hard! There’s also very little flexibility for time off, so I sadly missed a good friend’s wedding during this last placement.
What do I want to do when I qualify?
I’m going to give myself some time off after graduating to focus on blogging/freelancing/travel before applying for Band 5 Dietetics jobs within the NHS in January/February 2020. I think this will be full time for at least 18 months -2 years. But ultimately, I’d love to get a job share or part time job at one of the big hospitals near me or in West London, to work on Trauma or Intensive Care. I really loved my placements, especially placement 2, and would like to put my studies to good use in the NHS whilst also continuing to blog and develop The Runner Beans.
How has my learning affected my own diet?
I’m surprised that I haven’t changed my diet that much, in fact my course reassured me that my own principles were right for me. Eat REAL FOOD. Eat the diet that suits you most, and above all, it’s about balance.
I personally don’t count macros or calories. I eat pretty much everything, and try to eat carbs, fat and protein with every meal and snack.
I was asked a number of questions about nutrition for runners, so I’m putting a separate blog post on this next week. Let me know if you have any questions about my Dietetics degree, mature students or nutrition for runners…