Scope and Standards of Practice

This course will give you a very good basic grounding into nutritional science. By using these principals, you will be able to assist your client to use both exercise and healthy eating to optimise and enhance their performance or results. There are practitioners who are legally qualified in the field of nutrition to provide nutritional information to the public and these are Registered Dieticians (RD). A RD has undergone 4 years of intensive training in the field of nutrition. A RD is recognized as a nutrition and food expert and their credential RD can be used to denote their qualification.
In South Africa, we have various universities who offer the Bachelor of Science in Dietetics and it is always a 4 year degree, which is followed by a year of compulsory Community Service in a Government Hospital. The Health Care Professionals Society of South Africa (HPCSA) is responsible for the governing of the practicing of Dieticians in the field of Dietetics and all dieticians wishing to practice in South Africa must belong to the HPCSA. Accepting information from a practitioner that is registered with the HPCSA means that it can be trusted and that that practitioner has agreed to certain basic requirements to uphold the laws and regulations pertaining to that qualification. Many people claim to provide nutritional information and guidance however unless they are under governance, the information is never guaranteed to be accurate or suitable. Since a personal trainer is not registered with the HPCSA (unless they have undergone additional training) but are often a point of contact with a client regarding their diet.


By using the general understanding of nutrition principals and weight management, they are allowed to use this information to educate and guide clients however all personal trainers must understand and acknowledge their limitations with regards to their scope of practice. The provision of individualised nutrition meal plans, nutrition assessments, or recommendations for individualised nutritional therapy (especially that of allergies, chronic diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, as well as heart disease and cancer) are to be left to the RD or someone else trained in this field. The expertise required for this type of work is beyond the scope covered in this course. Learning when to refer is an important skill to master.
Ideas of what can be discussed with your client:

  • What are healthy snacks
  • The importance of water
  • Healthy food preparation methods
  • Ability to explain and discuss the food pyramid or food based dietary guidelines
  • What the basics are regarding carbohydrates, fats and protein
  • Basic of vitamins and minerals
  • Basic supplementation and ergonomic aids


Some individuals can become very preoccupied and focused with weight loss that it can result in adverse effects to their health and nutritional status. Some of these dangerous habits will be explained in the next section (“Disordered Eating Habits”). Other less dangerous but still ineffective weight loss strategies are detailed in the table below:

Ineffective Weight Loss MethodInformationRisks
Low Calorie (or Starvation Diet)A person following a very low calorie or starvation diet will restrict or limit intake of foods below what they require normally in a day.  To ensure weight loss, you must eat fewer calories (energy) in a day but going too far below the required amount, can result in a decreased metabolism. Something called a VLCD (very low calorie diet) is only ever recommended under nutritional supervision by a doctor and dietician.  This is whereby nutritional shakes and bars are used to replace food to encourage rapid weight loss, often prior to surgery.Higher risk of malnutritionLow energyPoor ability to perform physically at any required tasksOn VLCD: Fatigue, constipation, nausea or diarrhea.  Gall stones are also a major concern
Low Carbohydrate DietsA low carbohydrate diet can range from a large carbohydrate restriction to a minor carbohydrate restriction. See the table below depicting the carbohydrate content of various diets.  Low carbohydrate diets are promoted because of their perceived ability to cause the body to use stored fat instead of carbohydrates as fuel for the body, thereby decreasing body fat percentage.  By having a better understanding of carbohydrates and how they work in the body, you will be able to determine why they are still necessary and rather, in what amounts and what types would be preferable. See also the section on Carbohydrates for more information regarding the role of carbohydrates in the body.Major risk factor for this diet is ketosis and permanent damage to the kidneys. Other concerns for this type of diet:It is not an easy to sustain dietNot as effective as other weight loss strategiesIt can negatively affect mood, emotion & desire for physical activity.Possibly negative effects on heart health

The Table below shows the carbohydrate content of various popular diets.

Carbohydrate Content of Various Diets
% CarbohydrateDiet Name
<21% – Very LowAtkinsBantingKetogenic Diet
21  – 42% LowZone DietCarbohydrates Addicts DietAbs DietSouth Beach DietSugar BustersTestosterone DietDukan Diet
43 – 50% ModerateAverage recommended Diet
51 – 60% Moderately HighRDA Food PyramidMediterranean Diet
>60% HighDean Ornish Pritikin Diet


An eating disorder can be categorised into four different categories.

  1. Anorexia Nervosa
  2. Bulimia Nervosa
  3. Binge Eating Disorder
  4. Bigorexia

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Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is displayed in individuals with the following diagnostic signs
1. Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, and physical health.
2. The Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, unjustified influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.

 Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is another type of restrictive eating but is characterised and diagnosed differently.

• Recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by BOTH of the following:

o Eating in a discrete amount of time (within a 2 hour period) large amounts of food.

o Sense of lack of control over eating during an episode.

• Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain, often by purging.

• The binge eating and compensatory behaviors both occur, on average, at least once a week for three months.

• Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.

• The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of anorexia nervosa.

 Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is defined as the eating of definitely larger portions of food that most people would eat within a similar period of time under similar circumstances. This would be done in a discrete place and for a period of time (for example, within any 2-hour period). It is combined with an intense lack of control over eating during the episode.
It is characterised by any three of the following:

o eating much more rapidly than normal

o eating until feeling uncomfortably full

o eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry

o eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating

o feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards

For it to be classified as BED, there must be no associated other signs of any other eating disorders, such as purging or restricting. For this reason, BED sufferers are often overweight.
There can however be combinations of any of the above three disorders.


Bigorexia is a distressing or impairing preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in appearance. It is also commonly referred to as body dysmorphic disorder. Below indicates the nature of characteristics that cause for diagnosis of bigorexia:

o Preoccupation with a perceived defect(s) or flaw(s) in physical appearance that is not observable or appears slight to others.

o The preoccupation causes clinically significant distress (for example, depressed mood, anxiety, shame) or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (for example, school, relationships and household).

o The appearance preoccupations are not restricted to concerns with body fat or weight in an eating disorder

What to do if you suspect someone of having an Eating Disorder?

If you suspect one of your clients having an eating disorder, it is vital that you request that they seek a psychologist or their GP for further management. It is not recommended that you continue to train them.