HOW MUCH DOES A NUTRITIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST MAKE AND HOW DO I BECOME ONE?

A Field Guide to Nutritional Psychology: Education, Salary, and More

Introduction
The Center for Nutritional Psychology (CNP) is a non-profit organization tasked with developing the field of study referred to as nutritional psychology. While a substantial body of evidence supports the existence and development of such an area of study, many questions exist regarding this field’s placement within the psychological and nutrition sciences. The information presented on this page and all of the content available on this website is considered to be an accurate reflection of the history, development, and future direction of nutritional psychology.

What is nutritional psychology?
Nutritional psychology is the emerging field of study encompassing the relationship between nutrition and all aspects of human psychological health and functioning and involves the exploration of the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR) in its entirety. Nutritional psychology exists at the intersection of nutrition and psychology and fills a previously unaddressed gap in research, education, professional practice, and public knowledge.

Within the umbrella of NP, all aspects of our psychological, behavioral, cognitive, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial experiences in relation to dietary intake patterns are examined. Specific areas considered within the purview of nutritional psychology can be found in the CNP Research Libraries.

Elements Characterizing the Field of Nutritional Psychology

The Diet-Psychological Relationship (DPR) characterizes the interrelationship between our dietary intake and our psychological experience. This includes our moods, emotions, and affect (e.g., happiness, sadness, irritation, well-being, life satisfaction).

The Diet-Behavioral Relationship (DBR) characterizes the interrelationship between our dietary intake (what we eat) and how this intake influences our food-related behaviors. Key concepts illustrating this relationship include anticipation, availability, conditioning, palatability, hedonic eating, satiety, behavioral control mechanisms, hunger, craving, and reward, among others.

The Diet-Cognitive Relationship (DCR) characterizes the interrelationship between our dietary intake patterns and all aspects of our cognitive functioning. Core concepts include memory, attention, learning, reasoning, and decision making. The DCR is inextricably linked with the DBR, and together they play an enormous role in our dietary intake.

The Diet and Sensory-Perceptual Relationship (DSPR) characterizes the interrelationship between our dietary intake patterns and our sensory-perceptual processes. This involves the translation of information from our senses (e.g. sight, smell, sound, touch), and its influence on our food preferences, choices, and overall food intake patterns.

The Diet-Interoceptive Relationship (DIR) is characterized by our awareness of the internal sensations we experience in relation to the foods we eat. The DIR considers the bidirectional nature of our emotions and internal bodily sensations, and plays a major role in how we regulate our eating behaviors. A major concept within the DIR is interoceptive awareness, which we can use to approach our dietary choices with more intention.

The Diet-Psychosocial Relationship (DPSR) is characterized by the role that psychosocial factors play in relation to our dietary intake patterns. Examples of these factors include family, culture, community, society, values, and economic circumstances.

Is there evidence to support the field of nutritional psychology?

Yes. There is an extensive body of research that supports the link between dietary intake and all aspects of the Diet-Mental Health Relationship (DMHR). CNP consolidates this research into several distinct research libraries. View an Introduction to the CNP Research Libraries or visit any of the five in our collection:

CNP uses peer-reviewed research to inform and guide the development of the field, and uses this evidence base to inform the development of NP education and tools to improve the DMHR. The specific NP tools, methods, and concepts used within nutritional psychology have not yet been been validates, which is a goal of CNP to further the development of the field.

Aren’t most mental health professionals and nutritionists educated in most aspects of the diet-mental health relationship and the field of nutritional psychology in general?

No. Although mental health professionals address the psychological, behavioral, cognitive, and psychosocial skills and education necessary for promoting psychological wellness and mental health, most receive little-to-no formal training in the DMHR. Few mental health professionals have adequate training in nutrition.

A recent study on the literacy of nutrition knowledge, education received, and learning opportunities among psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists showed that most mental health professionals did not have any training in nutrition. Yet most believe that mental disorders are associated with poor nutrition, poor dietary choices, disordered eating behaviors, and nutritional deficiencies.

The field of nutritional psychology is developing in response to a growing need to equip mental health and nutrition professionals alike with knowledge of how dietary patterns interact with and influence all aspects of psychological, behavioral, cognitive, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial behavior, functioning, and experience. CNP intends to meet this growing need by equipping mental health and allied professionals with the skills and understanding they need to understand the role that dietary intake plays in all aspects of psychological functioning for the purpose of benefiting mental health outcomes.

How can I become a Nutritional Psychologist? Can I obtain a license in nutritional psychology?

The formal title of “Nutritional Psychologist” does not yet exist. The creation of this title will require university-level education courses and degrees, creation of a formal licensure board, development of educational and training requirements, specific scope of practice guidelines, and continued expansion of NP’s evidence base. Figure 1 below shows a timeline of how NP and CNP have developed, as well as our goals for the near future. A licensure path for “Nutritional Psychologists” is currently a target for the year 2027.

Figure 1. The history and development of nutritional psychology.

How much do Nutritional Psychologists make?

Because there currently exists no formal professional title of “Nutritional Psychologist,” no wage or outlook data for this profession currently exists. Generating an understanding of the wage and position openings for such a profession and title would therefore, at best, be theoretical. As a starting point, the following sections review current wages and job outlooks for psychologists and nutritionists.

Psychologists

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, growth for psychologists is expected to be 8% from 2020 to 2030, with 13,400 openings for psychologists each year. The median annual wage for psychologists in 2020 was $82,180. Due to the effects of the COVID-19 and its impact on mental health, one can expect the demand for mental health care to increase in the years to come.

For example, since those statistics were published, there was a 34.1% increase in prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications, a 18.6% increase in antidepressant prescriptions, and a 14.8% increase in insomnia drugs in the United States alone (America’s State of Mind, 2020). These occurred within a one-month period at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, 1 in 4 adolescents globally is now experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms, while 1 in 5 is experiencing clinically elevated anxiety symptoms.

The employment of marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 16% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is also projected to grow significantly — 23% from 2020 to 2030. These projections reflect the rising rates of people seeking counseling for various aspects of mental health.

Dietitians and Nutritionists

The median annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists in 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics was $63,090. Employment for dietitians and nutritionists is projected to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average. About 5,900 openings for dietitians and nutritionists are projected to become available each year, on average, over the decade.

A study published in The Lancet estimates that 1 in 5 deaths globally — equivalent to 11 million deaths — are associated with poor diet, and that diet contributes to a range of chronic diseases in people around the world.  They also purport there is an “urgent need for coordinated global efforts to improve the quality of human diet,” and that “given the complexity of dietary behaviors and the wide range of influences on diet, improving diet requires the active collaboration of a variety of actors throughout the food system, along with policies targeting multiple sectors (The Lancet, 2019).”

Increased demand for healthy living, the retirement of current nutritionists, heightened awareness of the connection between nutrition and health, plus the shift of nutritionists to different occupations fuels the numbers listed above. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also attributes this growth to “the role of food in preventing and treating diseases, such as diabetes.”

Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that those close to retirement age are demanding more nutritional services. Assisted living facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, and private clinics are expected to add more positions in this field. This need is consistent with research connecting diet with age-related brain disorders.

Job Outlook for Nutritional Psychology

While statistics for employment and wage outlook are easily available for both nutritionists and psychologists, answering the question ‘how much does a nutritional psychologist make’ does not yet have a clear answer because no such formal job title or profession yet exists. For either psychologists or nutritionists however, having an expanded skill set and knowledge base through which to further affect positive change in mental health is undoubtedly beneficial.

Nutritional psychology offers an innovative approach to alleviating the immense economic, societal, and individual burden of mental illness. Dietary intake interconnects with every aspect of our mental health, including our psychological experience, well-being, and mood, cognitive function, brain processes, behavior, internal sensations, pain, resilience, stress, and performance in the workplace. Thus far, however, the psychological and nutrition sciences have been devoid of formal education and training in the DMHR, which evidence is showing is a valid and significant piece of the puzzle in addressing issues in mental health.

Training in nutritional psychology is increasingly necessary for nutrition, mental health, and allied health professionals. If you fall into one of these categories, augmenting your skill set in this way can increase your ability to provide services to your clients, and therefore boost your desirability, demand, and revenue.

NUTRITIONAL PSYCHOLOGY

Q&A

What is the current scope of practice for those trained in nutritional psychology?

The intended scope of practice for NP is dependent on the accompanying certification and/or license of each individual practitioner (e.g. Nutritionist, LCSW, LPCC, MD, Licensed Psychologist).

Here at CNP, we are developing the evidence base, concepts and “psychonutritional” tools and education that professionals can incorporate into their practice. It is critical to understand that at this time, nutritional psychology provides education, rather than intervention, assessment, treatment, or diagnosis.

Training or certification in nutritional psychology do not provide professionals with the ability to provide dietary, psychological, or psychiatric advice or interventions if they do not already have a license to do so. If you do not have a state-sanctioned license then you must work in conjunction with a professional who has the appropriate scope of practice in order to provide intervention, assessment, treatment, or diagnosis.

Anyone receiving knowledge and education in nutritional psychology can 1) provide information to others about the general interconnections between dietary intake and psychological processes, and 2) use psychonutritional concepts within NP to increase another’s awareness of their DMHR.

Professionals can currently educate clients in that…

  • A strong evidence base exists showing the many ways that what we eat influences how we feel from a psychological health and wellness standpoint
  • Each individual is engaged in a diet-mental health relationship (DMHR), and this relationship is unique to them
  • Diet can play a role in making positive change in how one feels not only physically but mentally
  • Dietary intake patterns influence our psychological, cognitive, behavioral, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial experiences, processes, and can even influence our clinical outcomes

Can nutritional psychology be used to cure mental disorders?

No. Nutritional Psychology is designed to be used for educational purposes rather than for intervention, treatment, and/or diagnosis purposes. For individuals who possess an appropriate license to diagnose and treat mental disorders (and those who don’t), NP educational tools will be applicable for use within the clinical and professional environment for professionals within their scope of practice*.

This information and tools from NP provides a piece of the puzzle for positively supporting mental health, but is never to be used as a substitute for psychiatric, therapeutic, or medical interventions provided by a licensed professional.

For more information, see “What is the current scope of practice for those trained in nutritional psychology?” above.

*CNP’s Certification in Nutritional Psychology will include a scope of practice course required for professionals who want to incorporate NP education.

Can a professional with nutritional psychology skills provide dietary or mental health treatment and/or intervention?

No, nutritional psychology training alone does not qualify professionals to write nutrition-focused treatment plans or implement specific nutritional interventions. In order to do so, you need to have the appropriate license and any other required credentials. For more information, see “What is the scope of practice for those trained in nutritional psychology?”

Does nutritional psychology give me the ability to diagnose or treat mental health problems?

No. Nutritional psychology does not provide intervention or diagnosis. Rather, it provides psychonutritional tools that support individuals in understanding the relationship between their dietary intake patterns and their mental health. For more information, see “What is the scope of practice for those trained in nutritional psychology?”

Where can I get a degree in Nutritional Psychology?

There is currently no undergraduate or graduate degree program in nutritional psychology. However, these are both goals CNP is actively working towards. One of our mission goals is to foster the development of such programs within colleges and universities worldwide. Although there is much work to be done, many major milestones have already been hit.

In 2008, the first university-level continuing education (CE) course for mental health professionals became available at John F. Kennedy University, followed by a second CE course in 2009. These courses evolved into a seven-course Certificate in Nutritional Psychology, which was completed by hundreds of mental health professionals, nurses, and counselors. This certification program ran through 2020, when it was retired to make way for an updated curriculum.

NP 110: Introduction to Nutritional Psychology Methods is the first course to provide a methodology for conceptualizing the diet-mental health relationship. This course lays the foundation in the field of study referred to as nutritional psychology. This course will eventually comprise a Certificate in Nutritional Psychology and will be a prerequisite for future courses. NP 110 meets the qualifications for 8 hours of continuing education credit for LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs, and/or LEPs as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, and for licensed psychologists through the American Psychological Association (APA). CNP maintains responsibility for this program and its content.

If there’s no NP degree yet, how can I pursue a career that’s related to nutritional psychology?

Although there is currently no official title, license, or degree associated with this field, students interested in NP may look into pursuing one or more of the following:

  • A four-year degree program consisting of electives and core study courses relating to nutrition, psychology, counseling, social work, or mental health
  • A graduate-level degree in psychology, counseling, nutrition, or a related health science
  • Formal education in nutritional psychology (available through CNP)

Please note that you do not need to belong to any specific discipline in order to learn about and benefit from NP. Bearing that in mind, students and professionals who are most involved with NP at the moment typically have backgrounds in one or more of the following disciplines: Psychology, Counseling, Health Studies, Health Coaching, Nutrition, Nutrition Education or Consulting, Dietetics, Social Work, School Counselor, Wellness Coaching, Substance Abuse Counselor and more.

Is there currently a Certificate in Nutritional Psychology available for mental health professionals?

No, but it is in development. The first Certificate in Nutritional Psychology (the NP 110 series) is expected to be available in 2023:

NP 100 Series (Theoretical Focus)*: These courses will focus on theories, concepts, definitions, and research findings informing nutritional psychology. Beginning with NP 110, they will lay the foundation necessary for a university-level curriculum for placement within the psychological sciences that characterizes the diet-mental health relationship.

The second Certificate in Nutritional Psychology is applied and is expected to be available between 2023 and 2024:

NP 200 Series (Applied Focus): These courses will focus on the applications of nutritional psychology: tools and techniques to help mental health, nutrition, and allied health professionals build the skills necessary to educate clients on the DMHR.

See our Education page for more information on CNP Education.

Who can get involved with nutritional psychology?

Anyone can benefit from understanding NP and the DMHR, regardless of education level and professional background.

In terms of professional applicability, nutritional psychology is most relevant to people with backgrounds in psychology, counseling, marriage and family therapy, dietetics, health coaching, nutrition, nursing, or other health-related professions.

Is nutritional psychology different from health psychology?

Yes, nutritional psychology is distinct from health psychology.

Nutritional psychology examines the psychological, behavioral, cognitive, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial factors that occur in relation to human dietary intake patterns. NP is aligned with principles of integrative health, and the newly emerging transformational approach to health and well-being referred to as ‘Whole Health.’ Whole health empowers and equips people to take charge of their physical, mental and spiritual well-being, and live their lives to the fullest.

Health psychology specifically examines how biological, social, and psychological factors influence health and illness. Health psychologists use psychological science to promote health, prevent illness, and improve health care systems.  Those within health psychology or any psychological sciences or nutrition sciences are certainly primed to explore the diet-mental health relationship.

What recommendations do you have regarding incorporating nutritional psychology into one’s practice?

Professionals incorporating Nutritional Psychology into their practice will likely have two or more of the following:

  • Formal training in NP (available through CNP), which includes understanding the relationship between dietary intake and psychological, behavioral, cognitive, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial functioning.
  • Advanced knowledge commonly found in a Master’s degree or other higher education in the social or health sciences, which includes advanced coursework in psychology, anatomy, and physiology.
  • Formal education in nutrition in the form of certification or license from a credentialed program.
  • Demonstrated competency in how NP education can be incorporated into their work in a manner that is consistent with their profession’s scope of practice. They must also demonstrate awareness of competencies that extend beyond their scope of practice and determine when a referral for a psychological or nutritional diagnosis, intervention, or treatment is necessary.

What does the future hold for nutritional psychology?

All areas of specialty that can benefit from nutritional psychology training are experiencing projected rates of employment growth faster than average, including jobs such as psychologists, counselors and therapists, dieticians, health coaches, nutritionists, nurses, and other health-related professions.

For nutritionists and dietitians, The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) expects the field to grow by 11% by 2030, which is faster than average. The BLS attributes this growth to the role of food in preventing and treating illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease. This projected growth is also undoubtedly to address the most recent NHANES findings on obesity in the U.S. adult population (42.4%). (NHANES is a cross-sectional survey designed to monitor the health and nutritional status of the civilian non-institutionalized U.S. population.) Dietitians and nutritionists will be needed to provide care for patients in improving their overall health.

Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that those close to retirement age are demanding more nutritional services. Assisted living facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, and private clinics are expected to add more positions in this field. This need is consistent with research connecting diet with age-related brain disorders.

Employment of psychologists is projected to grow 8 percent by 2030. This projected growth is due in large part to the demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies. There has also been a recent demand for psychologists due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals’ health. Job prospects should be best for those who have a doctoral degree in an applied specialty.

Employment of marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 16 percent by 2030, which is faster than average. Growth is expected due to an increasing use of integrated teams for treatment, in which these therapists work with other counselors to address patients’ needs.

Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 23 percent by 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling, and is also due to the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on many individuals’ mental health.

A 2019 study published in The Lancet estimates that one in five deaths globally — equivalent to 11 million deaths — are associated with poor diet, and that diet contributes to a range of chronic diseases in people around the world. This study also highlights the increasing need for coordinated worldwide efforts to improve diet quality — efforts that need include a variety of individuals, organizations, governments, and policies (Lancet, 2019).

Future Education and Training Benefits in Nutritional Psychology

In answering the question ‘how much do nutritional psychologists make’, we see that projected employment statistics for both professions are increasing, as is the rise in chronic conditions related to diet and mental health, indicating that nutritional psychology education will only continue to increase in relevance for professionals in these fields.

Research demonstrates that diet is playing an increasingly important role in mental health around the globe. The continued development of nutritional psychology provides a much-needed lense through which to address mental health, as well as a rewarding career extension for those working in aligned fields. CNP believes that Nutritional psychology belongs in the future of mental healthcare.

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