Health Coaches Are Rising In Demand — Here's What They Can & Can't Help With
There are so many different kinds of health care workers that you're forgiven if you aren't totally clear on what each of them actually does. From registered dietitians to nutritionists, each career path comes with its own unique set of skills they provide clients, and it's important to get clear on your own goals before determining who to work with on your health journey.
What a health coach can help with:
Setting actionable health & wellness goals.
The function of a health coach is to look at your life from a holistic standpoint that explores so much beyond the plate. This means taking a look at your sleep schedule, exercise routine, health concerns, and more to determine the areas of your life that may need to be adjusted in order to feel your best.
With this information, your health coach is uniquely qualified to help you set actionable goals that are both achievable and motivating. According to meditation instructor and certified health coach Pilin Anice, a good health coach "understand[s] there's no 'one-size-fit-all' and can encourage accountability and motivation through their depth of knowledge."
Motivating yourself to achieve your goals.
Once your goals have been set, your health coach will help motivate you to stay on track while using their knowledge of the health space to adjust your goals when needed. "It's important that a health coach continues to educate themselves and stay on top of the science in their field," mbg Collective member and registered dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, once told mbg of how you can identify a good coach.
Helping you decide on a meal plan (without getting too nitty-gritty).
A good health coach knows that not every diet is well suited to every person, so they will help you to identify the eating habits that align with the needs of your unique body—without enforcing a concrete meal plan. (We'll get to why they won't do this below.)
What a health coach cannot help with:
Creating specialized meal plans.
Unlike a nutritionist, health coaches are not qualified to provide specialized meal plans to their clients. "For starters, a nutritionist is someone who typically has studied nutrition through a four-year degree program and offers advice specifically around nutrition," Anice previously explained to mbg. "On the other hand, a certified health coach is more holistic and offers a much wider range of support."
Therefore, while they can make general recommendations and evaluate how certain foods may be causing irritation or discomfort, they cannot draw out a strict plan of eating with calories and macros included.
Outside of the scope of responsibility for a health coach is prescribing medication, as coaches generally do not have the medical degree to do so. That being said, they can suggest lifestyle tweaks that can help you get to the root of your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.
Providing a diagnosis.
Although health coaches may not provide an official diagnosis to patients, they can help to explain the implications of an existing diagnosis as well as the plan of care laid out by doctors. They can also offer holistic recommendations and management strategies that empower the client to take their health into their own hands.
Interpreting lab results.
Outside of a health coach's jurisdiction is interpreting lab results—instead, their primary function is to provide a wealth of information on existing interpretations to help the client better understand their current health standing. Again, as they are not licensed doctors, it's important that a good health coach will merely provide guidance instead of concrete solutions or diagnoses from lab results.
The demand for health coaches is currently on the rise as more and more people invest in their well-being from a holistic perspective outside of the basics of diet and exercise. Hiring a health coach with concrete, real-world knowledge (as provided by mbg's own Health Coach Certification) is essential for getting motivation and support while setting realistic goals. With the guidance of a trained professional, you will be able to pinpoint your unique health concerns at the source and finally start living the life you've always wanted.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.