Life Coach vs. Health Coach: What's The Difference & Which One Is More Useful?
What’s in a name? Well, a lot when it comes to health professionals. If you need help finding your ideal eating habits, you'd seek advice from a nutritionist. For those who want to improve their muscle tone and mobility, that nutritionist won't be quite as helpful (aside from giving you some pre-workout snacks) but a personal trainer would be.
But health is rarely a siloed issue. That's exactly why health coaches are becoming such a prominent part of the health care system. Here's exactly what health coaches do and how these professionals differ from other types of integrated coaches, like life coaches.
Health coaches help you reach your health goals
Health coaches work with clients to empower them to reach their unique health goals. These can be big picture, such as wanting to exercise more or eat healthily, and get very niche, says Leslie Duffy, R.N., a nationally board-certified health and wellness coach (NBC-HWC) and certified life coach who owns Sage Life Health, in Charlotte, N.C.
"I have a lot of clients who are perimenopause and are looking to lose weight as they go through all of these hormonal changes," she says as one example. Duffy adds that many people also seek out health coaches to help them find ways to get their inflammation in check.
For those who are feeling unmotivated, tired, or just off, she says consulting a health coach can be a logical first step in helping you set attainable goals that will help you feel better.
While they don't prescribe medication or run labs, health coaches use positive psychology principles to help clients make behavioral changes that will benefit their long-term well-being.
RELATED READ: What Exactly Is A Health Coach & What Makes A Good One?
Life coaches can help you adopt a growth mindset
When you feel better, you're more motivated to take on other areas of your life that you may have previously neglected. That's exactly where a life coach comes in. Take the example of that woman going through perimenopause, says Duffy.
"Once they start to feel better and have a grasp on their changing hormones, a life coach can take their progress one step further," she says. "Now they have the self-confidence and more energy, so a life coach may work with them on the next phase of her life, one that transitions away from the constant demands of children by learning how to set boundaries and change their mindset."
Similar to health coaching, which makes incremental changes and tacks on to them slowly over time, life coaching does the same with a mindset theory Duffy refers to as growth mindset. "A change journey can be different for everyone, but by improving your mindset a little bit at a time we create comfort in the discomfort," she says. "This allows a life coach to gather information or data, assess, and move on to the next phase."
How to decide what kind of coach you need
There's a good chance you could benefit from both. "We are whole human beings, which means you're more than how much you exercise or what you eat," says Duffy. But what these actions can give you is the confidence to push forward in other areas of your life, be it settings boundaries or changing your perspective.
Some professionals, like Duffy, are health and life coaches who can work with clients to move from one set of goals to the next. No matter which type of coach you're looking for, health coaches should be certified by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (learn more about why here). Life coaching doesn't have the same regulations. Some individuals may be certified through the International Coaching Federation (ICF), but there are many certified integrated life coaching programs as well.
Above all else, you want your coach(es) to be someone you really vibe with. "If you're a mother in your 30s and your coach is a 25-year-old with no kids, this may not resonate with you, or vice versa," says Duffy. Find someone who you feel comfortable sharing (and perhaps even sometimes failing) with so that together you can build and implement the right changes for you.
Health coaches are trained professionals who support and guide clients as they work toward physical or mental health goals. Life coaches tend to be more focused on helping people take positive steps in their careers or relationships. Both of them offer valuable services, but working with a health coach first might be a smart move. After all, laying a foundation of good health will set you up for success across all aspects of your life.
Colleen Travers is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition, diet, fitness, and wellness trends for various publications and brands. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, SHAPE, Fit Pregnancy, Food Network, and more. She lives on Long Island with her two kids, two rescue pets, and husband.