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Published: June 8, 2024

How to Become a Health Coach

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Written by our friends at Thrive Market

When last recorded by the CDC in 2012, 69 percent of Americans over the age of 20 were considered overweight, and 35 percent measured as obese. Even more frightening, the health conditions that go hand-in-hand with obesity cost us nearly $210 billion a year in extra medical expenses. Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and cancer are some of the scary “side effects” of being chronically overweight.

For years, experts have complained that Americans need a serious health revolution—and happily, it seems like we’re finally listening. Organic food sales have increased by 11 percent in the past year alone, healthy eating plans like the Paleo and Mediterranean diets have taken off, and it’s finally cool to be fit, thanks to the starpower of athletes like Serena Williams and David Beckham.

Those searching for a better way to lead healthy, fulfilling lives often realize they need a little bit of help. There’s so much conflicting information floating around about diet and nutrition that someone who’s just starting to figure out how wellness fits into their lifestyle might get totally lost. That’s where Health Coaches come in!

What is a Health Coach?

A Health Coach is a mentor, health authority, and wellness advisor who works with clients to help them feel their best through diet and lifestyle changes. A Health Coach isn’t a doctor, a personal trainer, or a registered dietitian (although they could be those things in addition!), but an expert coach who helps their clients discover the best practices for their bodies. Instead of simply assigning a basic diet or meal plan to help a client get back on track, they’ll help their mentees explore every aspect of their mental, physical, and emotional health to create lasting results.

To a Health Coach, a client’s relationships, career, and happiness are just as important as the food they eat. That dedication to every aspect of their clients’ lives makes coaching a demanding, but rewarding, career.

If your passion is health and wellness and you live to help others succeed, earning a Health Coach certification might be the perfect next step for your professional development.

What doesn’t a Health Coach do?

Health Coaches do not take the place of any medical practitioner; rather, they are the missing link – the patient guide – that helps develop strategies to enact real, lasting lifestyle changes that address not only the diagnostic label (like “pre-diabetic”) but also serve to enhance an individual's overall wellness.

A Health Coach does not diagnose, treat, or take responsibility for bringing about wellness changes in a client's life; rather, they guide and support the development of and progress towards personal wellness goals.

How do you become a Health Coach?

First things first—not just anyone can be a coach. Completing training through a licensed and accredited nutrition or coaching program is required before taking on clients. Even if someone already has a degree in nutrition, exercise science, or dietetics, there are so many skills that are specific to health coaching that need to be mastered before you can truly call yourself a “Health Coach.” There are a few different programs that offer a health coaching certification, and each varies in scope, size, and credibility.

How do you pick a school?

Picking the right school is important for professional development, and it can make a huge difference in what you end up doing down the road. Most programs are expensive, so do your research before committing and be sure that the school you pick offers a course of study that really interests you.

There are a few questions you should consider before deciding on a program:

  1. Where do you want to work and what type of coaching do you want to offer?
    Do you want to work in private practice, at a wellness center, in partnership with a primary care physician?  The choice is yours as Health Coach. Some programs will support you to hone in on your niche market and coaching style to create the best business for you. Be aware of courses that only teach you one methodology of coaching as it might limit your ability to create the career you want most.

  2. What kind of learning format is best for your lifestyle?
    Do you prefer a course schedule that allows you to learn at your own pace in a flexible environment or do you need a rigid schedule to hold you accountable? Think about the amount of time you have to dedicate to course work, what type of support you crave, and how you will incorporate your schooling into your daily life. This will help you to determine if online learning or physical classes work best for you.

  3. Does their curriculum align with your values?
    As a Health Coach, you are your own first client. Sharing your personal story is important for bringing in new clients and business. In order to do this you need to believe in what you are teaching and sharing. Choosing a school that only teaches one methodology of diet and lifestyle might work for you if it aligns with your beliefs – but if it doesn’t that’s a sign to keep looking.

  4. How long have they been established?
    Health coaching is a growing profession and more and more programs seem to pop up. Keep an eye out for the schools that have been established the longest and have a proven track record for supporting their students to find success year after year.

  5. Do they have graduates working successfully in the field?
    Check out the graduate success pages of the schools you’re most interested in or ask their admissions representatives for examples of top graduates. Then check them out for inspiration and an idea of what you can accomplish as a result of their program.

  6. Are they recognized by professional organizations and other educational institutions?
    If you want to make the leap to full-time Health Coach from another job, a top nutrition school that is recognized by other educational institutions is likely to offer you more in-depth training and credibility as you enter the job market.  Look for schools with educational partnerships that offer college credit or CEUs (continuing education units).

One of the top programs available to those who want to work in the wellness industry is The Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN)

Best for: Learning about all types of dietary theories and coaching methodologies to become a Health Coach

Program length: 11 months

Institute for Integrative Nutrition is the largest online holistic nutrition school in the world—and some of your favorite famous Health Coaches are probably graduates, like Daphne Oz of “The Chew”. And the guest lecturer roster is pretty impressive too—Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Andrew Weil, Marion Nestle, Arianna Huffington, and Deepak Chopra, have all taught at IIN. As for the curriculum, it covers everything you need to know about launching a successful coaching practice that can truly make an impact on clients’ lives. Students study more than 100 dietary theories, learn about tenants of both Eastern and Western medicine, and connect with peers and IIN graduates to see what life is like beyond nutrition school.

For more than 20 years, Integrative Nutrition has been a pioneer in the movement towards preventative health care and stands out as the largest and fastest growing nutrition school in the world.

Integrative Nutrition is also the only school that covers important concepts like Bio-Individuality, the belief that there is no one way of eating that works for everyone.  And emphasizes the importance of what they call Primary Food: everything that nourishes your life from career, to relationships, to physical exercise.  This holistic and total body approach is something that sets their graduates apart from other Health Coaches.

IIN is based in New York City, recognized by the New York State Department of Education and acknowledged by the National College Credit Recommendation Service, but one of its biggest draws to new students is the flexibility of the program. Students can complete their training entirely online in just over 11 months, so it’s possible to keep a full-time job and work towards a coaching certification—a major bonus for those looking to make the transition into a new and exciting career.

Another alluring aspect of IIN is their connection to university and college-level programs. Schools like California State University in Long Beach, SUNY Purchase, and The Maryland University of Integrative Health accept credits from IIN’s program toward their master’s and continuing education programs. The credibility that comes with a degree from IIN is a really important factor among many of those who enroll, and the fact that IIN is the only nutrition and health-coaching certification that many major universities recognize seriously strengthens the integrity of its program.

The driving force behind IIN is the mission is to play a crucial role in improving health and happiness, and through that process, create a ripple process that transforms the world. To that end, IIN is committed to supporting its students, graduates, and the greater community to push initiatives that promote health and wellness.

From the world-renowned instructors that teach the course, to the flexible timeline students are given to complete their training, to their mission based vision, IIN stands out as one of the best health and nutrition coaching schools in the United States.

What can you do as a Health Coach?

It doesn’t have to be all one-on-one coaching sessions or meal planning —the sky is the limit when it comes to the different ways you can use a certificate in health coaching.

As a Health Coach working in private practice you might offer a variety of services to your potential clients. From health food store tours to pantry make-overs to creating online communities or teaching educational workshops your business will be designed based on your primary interests, strengths, and passion.

If owning your own business and working with clients one-on-one isn’t your dream, there are many other ways that you can use an education in health coaching to gain an edge within your industry. Health Coaches have gone on to author bestselling books,  launch healthy product lines (from skincare to raw chocolate to gluten-free granola!), consult for schools, advocate for healthier lunches, focus on corporate wellness, work in media and content production, or help shape government policy.

Becoming a Health Coach takes time, dedication, and practice, but it’s an incredibly rewarding and flexible career path. More and more the world seems to finally be understanding that wellbeing is intrinsically linked to lifestyle—the food we eat, the jobs we do every day, and our activity levels. As the way we approach healthcare changes, the demand for this profession will only grow.

Have you been considering a career as a Health Coach?  Share with us in the comments section below. Our friends from Integrative Nutrition will be happy to answer your questions!


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