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What Exactly Is A Health Coach & What Makes A Good One?

Abby Moore
Author:
Updated on January 20, 2023
Abby Moore
mbg Nutrition & Health Writer
By Abby Moore
mbg Nutrition & Health Writer
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.

Health coaches can often be mistaken for nutritionists or fitness instructors. While these professions all focus on helping people get healthier, health coaches have a more holistic and all-encompassing approach to exercise, food, and beyond.

If you're interested in learning more about what it means to be a health coach and whether or not it's right for you, read on. We spoke with experts in the field for insights on starting a fulfilling career in health coaching.

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What is a health coach? 

Health and well-being coaches empower clients to improve their health—be it by eating healthier or getting more sleep. These trained wellness professionals help clients identify and clarify their goals and take the proper steps to achieving them using evidence-based approaches and frameworks. Health coaching has proven effective in clinical trials1.

Unlike doctors, health coaches do not prescribe medication, make diagnoses, or interpret lab results. Instead, they offer support, motivation, and positive psychology to help clients make behavioral change.

"Health coaches help you to discover and implement practices that can sustain long-lasting improvement to your overall health and well-being," meditation instructor and certified health coach Pilin Anice, tells mindbodygreen.

Health coaches can be employed in a number of different settings—from hospitals to functional medicine practices to universities. Some health coaches also opt to open their own coaching businesses. Becoming certified in health coaching can also help people expand in their current wellness-focused career path, such as nursing or personal training.

Summary

Health coaches help support clients on their journey towards improving health and reaching well-being goals. But unlike doctors, they do not prescribe medication or diagnose disease.
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How do you train to be a health coach?

The first step to becoming a health coach is to go through a health coaching program. These programs differ in time commitment (they can last from three months to multiple years), focus area (some are more focused on nutrition; others fitness) and format (some are virtual while others are in person). These programs are generally offered through nutritional schools or other health and wellness organizations.

Programs that are accredited by the The National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) set you up to take the NBHWC board exam and become a certified health coach. Not all practicing health coaches are certified. However, the NBHWC certification enhances a coach's credibility and sets them up to take on more clients.

To be certified, health coaches must pass a rigorous final examination following their training program. Once you pass your exam, you can either apply to a job as a certified health coach or launch your own practice.

RELATED STORY: The Best Health Coaching Programs To Fit Your Personalized Needs

What it's like to take a health coaching program

"This program vastly increased my knowledge of coaching practices and strategies. It transformed the ways in which I listen and respond in conversations with clients through a variety of new techniques such as non-violent communication and motivational interviewing." — Renee, 2022 graduate of mindbodygreen's Health Coaching Certification program (HCC)
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How much money do health coaches make?

Health coach salaries vary depending on location, certification and qualifications, and level of experience. However, the average base-level salary for a certified health coach ranges from $62,000 to $102,000 a year according to Glassdoor data. As you progress in your career and take on more clients, you can expect to earn significantly more. The most lucrative U.S. cities for health coaching include San Francisco, New York, and Boston, per Salary.com data.

RELATED STORY: As A Health Coach, This Is The Salary Range You Can Expect

What's the difference between a health coach and nutritionist?

While health coaches can specialize in nutrition, they have different roles and credentials than registered dietitians (RDs).

RDs are licensed and regulated by state licensing boards, for example, while certified health coaches operate under a different national board certification by the NBHWC. RDs can prescribe dietary interventions and recommend supplements, while health coaches cannot.

Both health coaches and nutritionists use action plans and motivations to achieve results, Pilin adds, but they differ in their education and overall approach. "For starters, a nutritionist is someone who typically has studied nutrition through a four-year degree program and offers advice specifically around nutrition," she explains. "On the other hand, a certified health coach is more holistic and offers a much wider range of support." 

Though food does play a role, health coaches also consider lifestyle factors, such as movement and stress management. Ultimately, they help clients make small, sustainable shifts in their daily routines that both achieve the desired result and help them feel their best, Pilin says.

Summary

Health coaches tend to take a more holistic approach to whole-body health and motivate clients to reach goals in nutrition and beyond. Unlike RDs, they do not prescribe dietary interventions.
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What makes a good health coach?

Good health coaches keep the individual needs of a client in mind. "They understand there's no 'one-size-fit-all' and can encourage accountability and motivation through their depth of knowledge," Pilin says.  

They also never stop learning. "It's important that a health coach continues to educate themselves and stay on top of the science in their field," registered dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN previously told mindbbodygreen. In order to extend helpful advice and energy to their clients, Cording says health coaches should continue prioritizing their own health and self-care as well. 

"To determine whether health coaching is a good fit for you, think about what you really want to do and how well that training can prepare you for that," she recommends. Consider which aspects of the job appeal to you and which don't. Write down your responses, and weigh the various pros and cons.

Reaching out to other health coaches and gaining insight into their day-to-day responsibilities could also be helpful. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do health coaches work?

Health coaches can start their own 1:1 coaching business or be employed by institutions like hospitals, gyms, or clinics to give holistic health guidance to clients.

What is a health coach salary?

Certified health coaches can expect to make $62,000 to $102,000+ a year depending on their experience.

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The takeaway.

If the idea of helping people along in their journey towards better health appeals to you, you may want to consider becoming a health coach. Ready to take the leap? Here are the year's best health coaching programs for receiving your training.

RELATED STORY: Exactly How To Become A Certified Health Coach

Abby Moore
Abby Moore
mbg Nutrition & Health Writer

Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.