What Is Health Coaching?
Health coaching is a relatively new (and quickly growing!) part of the American healthcare system. Health coaches may work in similar settings as other health practitioners, including doctors' offices, corporate wellness programs, fitness centers and community health programs. However, we provide a different approach and set of services.
What's the difference between a health coach and a doctor?
Simply put: doctors are trained in medicine and health coaches are trained in using food and lifestyle as medicine.
There are also differences in how doctors and health coaches provide services. Think about your last visit to your doctor: How much time did you spend with him/her? And, how long before that was your previous visit? Doctors are highly-trained specialty resources and, due to their busy schedules, can typically only spend 15 minutes (or less) per visit with each patient. Their primary goal is to evaluate, stabilize and get you on your way. Some doctors rely on prescription medication to treat patients quickly, rather than diving deeper into the root cause of a health issue (for example, prescribing blood pressure medication rather than discussing how diet and lifestyle impact blood pressure).
While doctors are an incredibly essential part of our healthcare system, they generally don't receive much training in nutrition (even by their own estimation), nor in working with patients on long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes. And that's where health coaching comes in.
What does a health coach do?
In contrast to a doctor, a health coach does not diagnose or prescribe treatment. A health coach is a wellness authority who serves as a guide in making positive, health-promoting food and lifestyle changes. Whether you'd like to lose 10 pounds (or more), sleep better, de-stress or naturally clear up acne, health coaches focus on helping you set and achieve health goals in a way that is integrated into your lifestyle so you can maintain your results long-term.
Health coaching is an interactive process. It's all about action, accountability and follow-through. Because of this, health coaching tends to be more program-based (meeting regularly over the course of several months), rather than a one-time visit in which you receive a diagnosis and prescription.
But to be very clear: Health coaching is not a replacement for regular visits with your doctor. Rather, it's a complement to other healthcare services you may be receiving, including working with your doctor, specialists or alternative healthcare practitioners.
Benefits of health coaching
Health coaching can be very effective for people who have minor health concerns or simply a desire for improved long-term health and well-being. Some of the common areas health coaches work with are:
Sustainable weight management // Stress & anxiety // Digestion & nutrient absorption // Allergies // Immunity // Acne & other skin conditions // Sleep // PMS & menstrual cramps // Autoimmune disease // Energy & mental clarity // Fitness routines // Healthy personal care & home products
Limits of health coaching
Health coaching is not your best bet for severe, complex or advanced conditions (like cancer, kidney failure, addiction, etc.). Some health coaches may be able to serve as a complementary service for people receiving proper medical treatment for severe or complex conditions; however, this should be discussed with the health coach on a case-by-case basis.
Health coaching is not a regulated profession, so look for coaches who have been trained by a reputable nutrition school, are a member of a professional association of health coaches, and who follow the guidelines of the International Coach Federation.
The Institute for Integrative Nutrition is the world's largest nutrition school. Graduates study over 100 dietary theories and coaching methods from some of the world's top nutrition experts. Integrative nutrition emphasizes four areas in addition to nutrition: physical activity, relationships, career and spirituality.
What about other nutrition-related professions?
In most U.S. states, the term nutritionist is not legally regulated, so can be used to refer to a variety of backgrounds and training.
A registered dietitian (RD) is someone who has completed a diet and nutrition Bachelor’s degree, residency and national exam. Registered dietitians typically work alongside doctors in hospitals or clinics, where they assist in treating serious medical conditions based on the nutrition policies of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Health coaching differs from the work of registered dietitians: as a regulated profession, RDs must apply specific national nutrition policies, whereas health coaches have more flexibility to work with a variety of approaches based on client bioindividuality.
Doctors, registered dietitians and health coaches all have unique and important healthcare roles. This article is meant as a guide to help you understand the differences between these roles and make informed decisions to meet your health goals.
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