Exactly How To Become A Certified Health Coach

Food & Nutrition Writer By Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
Food & Nutrition Writer
Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A, is a journalist, IIN graduate integrative health coach, E-RYT 500 lead yoga teacher, and 500-Hour certified Pilates instructor.
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Becoming a health coach continues to be on the rise, given the collective increase of people prioritizing and tending to their well-being. Now more than ever, health coaches are at the forefront of a healthier, more integrated future, acting as skilled advocates of change and positive transformation amid today's evolving health. care landscape. 

By establishing lifestyle and dietary practices that support the body's internal functions and optimize overall wellness, health coaches help people find the tools they need to make better choices and achieve their health goals effectively. Further, health coaches' 360-degree approach to health enables them to work with clients comprehensively as they build self-care skills, habits, and healthy behaviors that help them thrive.

Whether you are drawn to serving others through education and behavioral facilitation or are looking to expand your existing wellness or clinical practice, keep on reading to find out what it takes to become a health coach.

How to become a health coach?

According to the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), a plethora of institutions offer health coaching certification opportunities ranging from private sector organizations to academic programs. Although the content, contact hours, syllabus, and overall requirements may vary, these coaching curricula are often rooted in behavior-based, nutrition, and lifestyle science—all with the goal of facilitating sustainable change and positively affecting others' health and well-being. 

Functional Nutrition Coaching

Launch or expand your own business as a Functional Nutrition Coach.

Functional Nutrition Coaching

Following a training program, which can last between three to 24 months, health coaches must pass a final test to become certified, and in some cases, apply for the national board certification examination.

"Great, but do I need a degree?" you may be asking. The answer varies. Some schools may require an associate's degree or higher, but that's not always the case. However, be sure to do your research beforehand and identify a program that meets your expectations and aligns with your coursework interests, career flexibility, time availability, etc.

"If you intend to make health coaching your business," says Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, "get clear on what your specific goals are."

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What does a health coach do?

Health coaches are pivotal, supportive professionals who help clients improve their overall well-being and health through lifestyle adaptations and tangible, step-by-step strategies. Trained in human behavior, communication, and active listening skills, coaches promote a safe and inspiring environment for positive change to occur, encouraging clients to direct their own path toward health.

With an increased appeal and demand for health coaches in the U.S., it's not infrequent to find health coaches outside of the typical one-to-one private practice scenarios. Thanks to this surge, health coaches can now be found working alongside medical doctors, alternative health clinics, hospitals, health food stores, health care insurers, educational institutions, personal blogs, or any other type of health-minded organizations.

Holistic health coach vs. certified health coach: Is there a difference?

Health coaches and holistic health coaches share one common purpose: helping clients and patients lead better, healthier lives. Yet, while the terms are often used interchangeably, these two differ in their training program and overall approach. (Though, it's worth noting, there's no fixed definition for these two, and its common to find overlap.)

As the term holistic implies, a holistic health coach takes a macro, integrative look at a person's life beyond food and nutrition. Sexuality, spirituality, relationships, stress management, sleep hygiene, career satisfaction, and emotional health are among the multiple pillars a holistic health coach might cover.

On the other hand, a health coach might emphasize different health-related issues that affect day-to-day living, such as diet, nutrition, chronic disease, exercise, or recovery from a life-shifting event, like a heart attack. Through their health coaching experiences, clients are often introduced to other mind-body practices such as meditation, mindfulness, or yoga asana.

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Four steps to becoming a health coach:

  1. Do some research to find the best option for you: Finding a health coaching certification that best suits your needs is nonnegotiable. In other words, know your options! Familiarize yourself with a program's credentials, assessment standards, coursework, expert resources, specializations, and overall scholarship. This will help to ensure you'll be getting the education and coaching methodology skills you expect.
  2. Take a course: Now that you've narrowed down your prospects, it's time to enroll and commit to the educational journey ahead of you, which means not just fulfilling the program's demands and deadlines but homing in on your skills and passion along the way. Like any other learning opportunity, use this time to get curious about yourself and the beautiful gifts you bring into this world.
  3. Practice: The magic word! Many programs will offer you the chance to polish your skills as a health coach with other classmates, friends, family, and potential customers throughout the program itself. Practicing during and after you've completed and earned your certification will give you the confidence, training, and expertise to stand up for your well-deserved pursuits. 
  4. Start building your business plan: Whether you are attracted to work in a private or corporate setting, it's important to put a business plan together to help you clarify your next entrepreneurial steps: marketing plan, communication strategy, website, services, networking, social media, intended audience, among others. "I strongly recommend carefully tracking finances, creating social media and blog calendars for your business, and regularly analyzing metrics that help you assess which content and marketing materials have the highest engagement so you know where to spend your energy," suggests Cording.

Becoming a health coach is the start of a life-brightening journey of helping others build healthy and sustainable lifestyle habits.

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