Interview with nutritional therapist Belinda Blake
Belinda Blake (DipION, mBANT, rCNHC) graduated from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION) in 2000 with a diploma in nutritional therapy. She tells us how her own health problems led her to her new career.
What drew you to nutritional therapy?
It was really a combination of my own health problems and a passion for food that drew me to nutritional therapy. In my early twenties I was diagnosed with endometriosis and explored many different therapies to help relieve the symptoms, including conventional medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture and nutritional therapy.
Of all the things I tried, nutritional therapy had by far the biggest impact, and this is what inspired me to take it a step further and study with ION. Understanding more about how certain foods and nutrients affect the way the body processes hormones and modulates pain was very empowering.
I would say that certainly within three months I had noticed significant differences in symptoms, and this gave me the motivation to continue and evolve my programme.
How long did it take to become qualified and what challenges did you have to overcome along the way?
Initially I embarked upon ION’s short science foundation course as I had never studied science subjects beyond GCSE level, and this certainly helped ease the way into the [then] three-year diploma course.
At the time, I was working full time, but was self-employed, which made it easier to weave in my study hours. As well as learning a whole new topic, I also had to learn to use a computer on which to complete assignments and research (yes, I really am that old!).
It was all consuming, and tricky juggling the work, study and family balance, but made much easier by the fact that the subject was fascinating and the teaching excellent.
How has your career path changed since graduating?
A lot has changed. At the beginning, like so many other graduates, my main focus was on building a client base and clinical work. However an unexpected bonus of the ION course was that I discovered I had a passion for teaching and this helped to strongly model the career path I have taken.
A couple of years after graduating, I returned to ION as a tutor and, in the following years, have had the benefit and pleasure of working alongside some amazing and talented people.
Whilst I do still enjoy working with clients directly, I also get a great deal of pleasure out of working with food in a more practical manner. This led me to develop a series of Fabulous Food ‘taster workshops’ at ION as well as food-focused workshops in the community.
These workshops bring food to the forefront of the discussion and allow participants the opportunity to actually taste the food and learn how to incorporate these ingredients easily into their own diets.
What does your working day look like now?
I am so lucky in that every day is different. Currently, I am still working with clients in a clinic setting, but also in the kitchen, teaching adults and children how to cook and to use healthy ingredients in a delicious way that will satisfy all tastes and build confidence.
Working with local charities has also allowed me to meet many people who would not normally see a nutritional therapist. This has been some of my most challenging, but rewarding, work. It is a real eye-opener as to the plight of some of the families living on the breadline in this country, and the importance of food banks. It also served as a useful reminder of how even small changes can make a significant difference to someone’s wellbeing.
My work has also presented opportunity for collaboration with other therapists, and my weekends are often spent in the company of a medical herbalist, leading foraging walks and workshops in our local area, feeding my own love of wild food.
What do you incorporate into your daily life from nutritional therapy?
As a family, pretty much all our meals are made fresh each day and incorporate loads of vegetables, herbs and spices. I think this is one of the easiest ways to ensure we are getting good nutrients in our diet.
I personally try to stick to a low-gluten diet and have long-since restricted sugar and refined carbs, and cut out caffeine and alcohol (I finally had to accept that I just really feel much better off these). However, balance is really important to me, and I want to practise as well as teach a more relaxed attitude to eating, focussing much more on what we put into our diet, rather than what we take out.
What ingredients are always in your fridge?
I will usually always have some coconut milk (for my favourite breakfast dandelion coffee mocha), fresh pickled onions (brightens up any meal), fermented beetroot and horseradish relish, or sauerkraut (there is always something slightly strange and fermented on the go!) and smoked mackerel (love this with a salad, roasted veggies or whizzed into a pate with cottage cheese).
I also cannot live without eggs and a good piece of parmesan, and I usually also have a jar of hummus in the fridge, which is useful for a snack or quick lunch. Plus, I always have loads of veggies from our organic veggie box.
What would be your go-to meal?
I’m a little egg-obsessed and love the ease and speed of an omelette (plus we have three obliging chickens who provide us with a regular supply of eggs). The content varies depending on what’s in the fridge, but a favourite is pea, spring onion, mint, nettle and feta, with a little rocket on the side.
At our cooking club, the children love making mini frittatas in a muffin tin, and fill these with sweet red onion, roasted red pepper strips, defrosted peas and sweetcorn and cooked sweet potato cubes, and then sprinkle with cheese. Really tasty hot or cold in a lunch box.
What are your hopes for the future of nutritional therapy?
It is so motivating that more GPs are now referring cases to nutritional therapists (NTs) and I would hope to see more a further development and commitment to this symbiotic relationship in the future. I would also like to see nutritional therapy becoming more accessible to a wider audience.
Having seen first-hand the benefit experienced by those who have attended nutrition workshops run in schools and pre-schools, I would like to see education providers being in a position to make a bigger commitment to supporting the health and wellbeing of their school community through teaching nutrition and employing NTs to do this. If NTs can make an impact at this early stage, the potential for change is huge.
The Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION) is a leading, independent education provider and registered charity based in Richmond, London.
In addition to a range of courses for the public and healthcare professionals, ION delivers fully-accredited courses, validated and awarded by the University of Portsmouth.