Health Coach vs. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

What is a health coach?  If you’re in the nutrition business, “health coach” is a term you’ve heard thrown around from clients, advertised nutrition programs, other dietitians and training courses targeting dietitians. So, what does it mean to be a health coach, and how does that impact you as a dietitian?

Training and regulations for health coaches

Anyone, including dietitians, can call himself or herself a health coach. Health coaches work in a wide variety of settings including, corporate wellness, insurance-based incentive programs, and entrepreneurially. There is no type of training, licensure, or certification that protects the title. Although training programs exist that provide certification to health coaches, even those for continuing education credit approved by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), there is no mandatory training to become a health coach. Anyone can create a diet or nutrition program, call himself or herself a health coach, market the program, coach people through implementation of the program, and do so for compensation.

Since being a health coach is not protected by state licensure, no licensure laws apply, which means there is no regulation over interacting with clients across state lines (like in telehealth), the validity of the nutrition program’s content, or the training of the person administering the nutrition program. Unfortunately for the public and for the nutrition industry, many dietitians are very late to implement an aggressive business-centric mentality in public health, outpatient settings, and private practice nutrition, which has allowed for an overwhelming amount of inaccurate and incomplete nutrition information to be easily available and attractively marketed to people looking for nutrition help.

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Dietitians are different (in a good way!)

Dietitians, the only nutrition experts, are healthcare professionals who undergo years of standardized and accredited education, compete for supervised practice training rotations, pass a national knowledge-based exam, and maintain an evidenced-based mindset through required refereed continuing education. Dietitians have the unique ability to provide medical nutrition therapy, the treatment of disease through nutrition interventions. This is the foundational difference between dietitians and health coaches. Dietitians are licensed professionals who often have additional credentials and certifications and adhere to licensure laws regarding telehealth, business practices, and nutritional content for the recommendations they give.

Health coaching is just one way a dietitian can provide the best nutrition care.

If you can’t beat them, join them

If being a health coach and dietitian are so different, why is there so much confusion? Health coaches and dietitians often target the same group of people, making similar claims, and using nutrition to achieve health and wellness. However, health coaches are often more aggressive at promoting themselves than many dietitians who haven’t adopted a business mindset toward their practice.

All dietitians who are making nutrition recommendations to people for their health are actually health coaches too; it’s simple as that. And fortunately, there are training programs that can help dietitians maximize their reach and impact. You have many options to choose from to learn how to implement health coaching into your nutrition practice. Adapting your practice is about getting the best nutrition information to your patients and clients, equipping them to make the lifestyle changes they need, and watching them succeed in their journey to health. Health coaching is just one way a dietitian can provide the best nutrition care.

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Courtney Lee MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS has a virtual private practice specializing in personalized nutrition & anti-inflammatory diets. She loves helping people use nutrition to change their lives and enjoys empowering other RDNs to do the same! www.courtneyleerd.com.

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