Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT
FREELANCE WRITER, THE FUNCTIONAL NUTRITION LIBRARY & THE UNCONVENTIONAL RD
for something nutrishus
I don't remember exactly when I 'found' Erica on Facebook. I'm in an unconventional job and also seek out such non-traditionalists for this series, so I joined her community. Erica is very open about her entrepreneurial experiences and helping other dietitians to succeed. Businesses designed to help other dietitians seem to be more common than I thought, it's definitely a unique niche. Like Erica, I too jumped right into entrepreneurship out of internship, although she and I haven't met IRL and have different paths, we also have a lot in common, such as our pivot from 1:1 work.
Why did you become a RD?
I’ve really always been interested in food and nutrition, and probably would have pursued it as a career path right out of high school, but ended up attending a college that didn’t have a nutrition major. Whoops! So, I got my undergraduate degree in Psychobiology (a blend between psychology and neuroscience) and worked for a few years as a lab manager in a neuroimaging research lab.
During that time, I kept feeling the nagging pull to do something nutrition-related, so in 2011 I abandoned my original plans for a PhD in Psychology, and went back to school to get my masters in Nutritional Science and become an RD! If I’m being honest, I didn’t even know what an RD was until I decided to go back to school to become one. But after doing a bit of research online, it seemed like the most highly regarded nutrition credential with the widest career possibilities, so I just went for it, without fully knowing what I wanted to do once I became an RD.
What area of dietetics do you work in?
These days I work as a freelance writer and online entrepreneur, but it was definitely a winding path to get here. I’ve dabbled in many areas!
I currently write nutrition articles for Healthline: Authority Nutrition, run a membership site for dietitians called The Functional Nutrition Library, and write about my entrepreneurial ventures on my blog and Facebook group, The Unconventional RD.
How would you explain what you do?
I consider myself first and foremost an online educator. I spend most of my time reading research & distilling it into real-world practical advice for dietitians and laypeople, and I love it.
I also love to share my experiences and help other RDs figure out how to build income online, so I also run a free group for dietitians called The Unconventional RD Facebook Community.
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
I swear this changes every 6 months as I take on new projects and let others go. Currently, I spend 4 or 5 days each week working on freelance writing assignments, one day updating my membership site with new content and sending out my weekly email, and any spare time on “extra” stuff, like blogging on The Unconventional RD or working on a new website for The Functional Nutrition Library.
In a typical day, I wake up whenever I feel like it, brew some coffee, and spend some time responding to emails or comments in The Unconventional RD Facebook group. Then I’ll have some breakfast & dive right into reading & writing for a solid 6+ hours. I’ll close out my day with a 30-min workout & then dive into cooking dinner with some good music or trashy reality TV on in the background (my favorite way to relax!) Then I wake up and do it all again. :)
What has been your career path?
Oh boy, my career has had a lot of twists and turns over the last 4 years! I never had a “real” job as an RD, I just jumped right into entrepreneurship after passing the RD exam. My first year as an RD, I had like 5 jobs to keep afloat. I worked as a private math & science tutor, a food blogger, an assistant for another RD, a freelance recipe developer & photographer, and picked up side gigs in corporate wellness and public speaking whenever they popped up.
During this time I was also trying to start an in-person private practice, but that totally flopped because I didn’t have a clear niche yet. Then I became a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT) and started specializing in adverse food reactions. It was an amazing experience, and finally helped me niche down enough to attract the right types of clients.
I was eventually able to drop most of my side-gigs, and ran a part-time virtual private practice for about two years. However, in my gut, I always knew 1:1 client work wasn’t the right path for me. While I loved helping people in theory, in practice, I found that the sessions drained me immensely, and I had to put spacer days in between the days I saw clients just to recoup.
My real love was writing and blogging, and I wanted to find a way to lean into those education skills that I had developed from years and years of tutoring! I had been following leaders in the online entrepreneur space, like Pat Flynn, for years. I even had a food blog that I had been trying to grow and monetize, but without much success. I hadn’t quite figured out how to make the pieces fit for me yet, but my intention was to just keep trying!
In early 2017, I started The Unconventional RD blog and Facebook group, hoping to connect with other like-minded dietitians interested in making money online. And wow, I am so glad I made that decision, because the community is now nearly 3,000 people strong, and super active and engaged! Popping in there & connecting with other dietitians is probably my favorite part of each work day.
In mid-2017, I was feeling super connected to my RD tribe, and decided to build a membership site for them! So, The Functional Nutrition Library was born. It is basically a collection of all of the notes I used while building my practice over the last few years & have found to be completely invaluable. There are over 350 topics in the library, ranging from functional nutritional interventions for various health condition, a database of LEAP-friendly food products for CLTs to reference, help with interpreting functional nutrition labs, and a whole bunch of notes on nutrient deficiencies. To date, I have just over 100 happy paying members, and it’s growing each month!
I’m also no longer really seeing virtual clients 1:1, because in late 2017, I was fortunate enough to land a dream job - freelance writing for Healthline: Authority Nutrition. Yay! Over the last 6 months I have really been fortunate to be able to spend my time doing work that lights me up and brings me joy. So, that’s the long-winded story of how I got to where I am, and I’m sure my path will change again in the next 6 months as well!
What advanced education or special training do you have?
Since I already had a Bachelors in another science-related field, I just dove right in and got my Masters in nutrition while becoming an RD (so glad that was an option)!
I also did the Certified LEAP Therapist training to learn more about food sensitivity testing & therapeutic elimination diets. I LOVED it, and highly recommend. The community of like-minded CLT RDs is probably the most supportive I’ve found, and I am thankful every day to be a part it.
I am also thankful for the time I spent working in research before becoming an RD, since it helps immensely when combing through articles!
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
I would just love to see more RDs come into their own in the online space. There is so much opportunity for us out there. We just have to shift our mindsets a bit and realize that we have the knowledge and ability to be leaders and content creators online. People are waiting for what we have to offer, and I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years brings for the online RD community.
What tip(s) would you give to our readers?
I just want other dietitians to know that it’s okay to be different & follow your heart with your career path. If you don’t like a certain area, like say, clinical or food service, then don’t do it! Lean into what you enjoy and what you’re naturally good at. Play to those strengths & start setting yourself apart. The world is your oyster, and your career options are only limited by your own imagination.
More about Erica:
Facebook: The Unconventional RD
Pinterest: Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT
LinkedIn: Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT
Facebook Group: The Unconventional RD Community