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Coaching as a career goes well beyond helping athletes win. You can now choose to work with a life coach, a wellness coach, or a health or nutrition coach. The same concept applies to all: a coach helps you set and meet goals related to personal development.
A coach is someone to cheer you on, but a professional coach does much more than that. They educate and inform; they guide realistic and achievable goal setting; they measure progress and adjust goals; and ultimately they help clients achieve their goals.
If you have struggled with health, nutrition, wellness, and lifestyle choices, a health coach could help you make positive changes and meet your goals.
A health coach, also often referred to as a wellness coach or even a nutrition coach, is someone who supports and guides clients in making better food and lifestyle choices to improve nutrition and health. Rather than putting every client on the same diet, they work with individuals to learn their strengths, weaknesses, and goals, and craft individualized plans.
Learn more: Coaches use different tactics when working with clients coming from a variety of health, nutrition, and fitness backgrounds.
Coaches are teachers. They provide guidance, plans, structure, and motivation, but they also teach clients about health, wellness, and food. Rather than simply giving you a shopping list for the grocery store, a good health coach will teach you how to shop and make smarter choices in the store. They will give you tips and tools to help you succeed long after you stop using their services.
You may seek out a coach because you want to lose weight or you need guidance making healthier food choices. A good coach does more than just give you a diet plan. They will help you understand the reasons you want to make changes on a deeper level.
This is important because it is where you find the motivation to make lasting changes. Simply wanting to lose weight is not enough to help you during difficult times, when you feel like binging on food. If your coach has helped you determine that your desire for weight loss is rooted in your self-confidence or wanting to be healthier for your children, you will be more motivated to persist.
Motivation is a huge tool for overcoming the roadblocks to making healthier choices. Coaches hear a variety of excuses and barriers from clients and need to know how to help clients move past them.
If your biggest issue with making positive changes is sticking with them, you can benefit from a good health coach. Think of your coach as an accountability partner. They will check in with you, monitor your progress, and push you to do better. On those days when you just feel like giving in to bad habits, your coach is there, in person or a phone call away, to get you back on track.
This is what it all comes down to: a coach is there to be a guide to lasting, positive health changes. They empower with education and by listening to and understanding your needs and challenges. They guide with information, accountability, and advice. If you struggle to make healthy changes in your life, you need a coach.
A health coach is not a medical professional. This is important to understand. They cannot diagnose medical conditions or treat them, interpret medical test results, or even recommend supplements. They do not diagnose or treat mental health conditions.
This may seem limiting, but keep in mind the main roles of any coach: motivation, guidance, accountability, and education. You still need your medical team for diagnosis, treatment, and medical advice, but they won't coach you.
The scope of practice of a health coach is very similar to what a personal trainer does for clients. The difference is that a trainer focuses on your physical fitness, crafting workouts and helping you set and achieve goals for weight loss or maintenance, muscle growth, strength, athletic achievements, or overall fitness.
Many personal trainers are knowledgeable about nutrition and general health and can provide some advice. If they do not hold a certification in nutrition or health coaching, though, they may not be the best person to guide your wellness and dietary goals.
There are a lot of professional titles that can be confusing. Understand the similarities and differences so that you know who will be best able to meet your needs. If you are considering a career in coaching, this can also help you determine the best course for your future.
The entire coaching category should be considered distinct from nutritionists. What all coaches have in common is that they serve as guides, mentors, and educators. They help you set and meet goals, provide motivation, and push you as needed.
The distinctions between health, nutrition, and wellness are minimal:
Nutrition coaching is, of course, focused on nutrition. If you struggle with finding the right foods to eat or feel that your diet could be better but you're not sure how, a nutrition coach provides focused guidance and expertise.
A health coach can do the same, and generally does. They may also include more broad lifestyle habits, though. A health coach can guide your diet and nutrition changes but also help you shift other habits related to health: sleep, stress, exercise, and more.
Again, a wellness coach provides much the same type of service as a health or nutrition coach, but they may expand the definition even further. Wellness coaching may include some aspects of life coaching, such as meeting career or personal goals that enhance your overall wellness. But often the terms wellness and health coach are used interchangeably.
The term nutritionist refers to professionals with a distinct focus on food and healthy eating habit with less credentialing than dietitians. Dietitians have four-year degrees, or even more advanced, and have certifications or are registered. Sometimes, the term nutritionist is used interchangeably or as part of the same profession, for instance Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Always check your coach's certifications and scope of work to ensure they fit your needs. For example, a nutritionist cannot diagnose or treat a patient for a medical condition or act as a mental health counselor.
There are no official requirements for training or licensing for wellness, health, and nutrition coaches. To become a successful coach does require some training and education, though. Never work with a coach without some type of credential. They should be certified in nutrition or health coaching. Many may also be certified personal trainers.
Nutritionist training depends on the state and how this career is defined. In some places, the role is the same as a dietician, which means that the nutritionist has at least a four-year degree in health sciences, nutrition, or dietetics.
In states that require certification or licensing for nutritionists, these professionals can provide many of the same services dietitians do, such as prescribing diets. If you are looking for a nutritionist, insist on seeing credentials.
All of this information can be a little confusing, but it comes down to a few important considerations. Hire a health or nutrition coach if you:
Need accountability and guidance in setting and meeting health goals
Want to learn more about healthy diet and healthy lifestyle habits
Would benefit from a motivating mentor to meet your health goals
Want to make lasting changes to your lifestyle
Health coaches play an important role in many people's lives, providing mentorship, education, and guidance. Although their roles are limited compared to some similar professions, they provide valuable and unique services. If you're interested in helping people make positive changes, but can't afford four years of college, consider becoming a health coach.
To learn more about what these coaches do and how to become one, check out the ISSA's Health Coach Certification program.