Become a Health Coach and Make a Difference

A Master’s Degree in Nutrition Is the First Step

Are you at a point in your life where you want to make a difference? Are you passionate about nutrition, fitness and wellness? Perhaps you have an bachelor’s degree in health or nutrition and are considering graduate work, or you’re making a mid-life change and looking for a more satisfying job. A career as a health coach or nutrition educator may be the answer, and demand for qualified people is higher than it has ever been.[i]

What Exactly is a Health Coach?

Most people know about personal trainers, nutritionists, mentors and wellness experts, but they may not know the difference between those professions and the definition of health coaching. Simply put, health coaches take a 360-degree view. They are trained in multiple disciplines – nutritional, behavioral and physical – in order to help clients enhance their lives in all those areas.[ii]

As a health coach, you might help individuals lose weight, increase their levels of fitness, battle illness, make healthy nutrition choices and improve their mental health through meditation or spirituality. You would be using your knowledge and certifications to change lives, one by one, in areas that really matter.

“Unhealthy individuals want lasting change, corporations want healthy workers, and healthcare providers want patients to get and stay healthy,” writes April Durrett in the IDEA Fitness Journal.[iii]

“So what is the answer to the problem? It may be health coaching.”

The Steps to Becoming a Health Coach

Health coaches typically start by earning undergraduate degrees in any of several different areas, commonly health, fitness, psychology or nutrition. A Master of Science in Nutritional Education degree (MSNE) often comes next, which gives students a sophisticated level of understanding in anatomy, the body’s metabolic processes, vitamins and minerals, cultural factors, and nutrition and disease. This can be followed by becoming a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), which includes practical experience, and/or a Certified Health Coach (CHC). The latter is accomplished through programs and testing done by such associations as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC)[iv] and Duke Integrative Medicine.[v][vi]

Health coaching – as being a nutrition educator – also is a natural progression for Registered Dieticians (RD), bringing behavioral and business aspects into their nutrition work.

“As dietitians, we know all the science,” says Gina M. Crome, MS, MPH, RD, in Today’s Dietician.[vii]  “We can talk about getting daily whole grains and fruits and vegetables, and the reasons why that’s so important. But the science isn’t going to put those suggestions into practical use. That’s where health coaching really shines.”

A Healthy Outlook for Jobs

For the last 10 years, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has taken a  Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, resulting in a Top 20 ranking of trends in the industry in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. [viii] In 2015, health coaching was the top emerging trend, taking the biggest jump from the previous year’s survey in moving from No. 17 to No. 13.[ix] The survey was based on 3,403 responses from health and fitness professionals who were asked to rank 39 possible trends.

“Wellness coaching often uses a one-on-one approach similar to a personal trainer, with the coach providing support, guidance, and encouragement. The wellness coach focuses on the client’s values, needs, vision, and goals,” said the ACSM results report.

One of the largest areas of growth is in the workplace.  Laura Kennett, who has an undergraduate degree in sports medicine and a master’s degree in kinesiology, has multiple certifications and is currently Chair and Assistant Professor in the Exercise Science department at Grand Rapids Community College. She writes that the Affordable Care Act has created bigger tax incentives for employers that provide health and wellness benefits, which in turn creates more health coach jobs.[x]

Kennett cites a 2014 study that said 52 percent of local and state government employees have wellness benefits. Corporate programs are even more common. According to Forbes, a Society for Human Resource Management study found that more than two-thirds of U.S. employers offer wellness programs of some kind.[xi]

And on the Health Coach Certifications (HCC) website, an article about jobs and salaries emphasizes how investing in health and wellness programs improves a business’s bottom line.

“Looking for a career in the health and wellness sector?” it asks. “Your future is bright. A growing trend towards better health is making qualified professionals in this area highly sought after, a fact that is reflected in growing health and wellness career salaries.[xii]

HCC notes that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts faster than average growth in health and wellness education jobs by 2022. “Not only are more jobs available in white collar businesses, coaches can also find work in blue-collar manufacturing facilities, community agencies, healthcare systems and insurance companies,” the website says.
Health Coaching Helps Others Improve Their Lives

If you are interested in being a health coach or nutrition educator, though, you have reasons that go beyond job statistics and trends. You also want to help people.

Health coaching goes beyond working with a client on his or her immediate goals of diet, fitness and overall health. It also has long-term implications in disease prevention and management of chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, obesity and osteoarthritis.[xiii]

“The familiar adage, ‘Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime,’ demonstrates the difference between rescuing a patient and coaching a patient,” says an article written by multiple doctors for the American Academy of Family Physicians. An example of a “rescue” might be emergency surgery or a prescription for antibiotics, while coaching involves a patient’s hopes and goals over the long term.

The needs are great for health coach jobs, says certified health coach and medical writer Nancy Monson in a Q&A interview with Healthy Women.[xiv] “Our population is aging, we have a lot of serious chronic health conditions, and many of us are overweight and sedentary. Our doctors don’t have the time we need to get us back on track.

“A health coach can spend the time to help someone figure out what their personal health and wellness issues are, how they intersect and affect them holistically and help them develop strategies to overcome them,” Monson writes. “I know a lot about nutrition, health, mindfulness and wellness, and I want to share that in a more direct way with people.”

[i] American College of Sports Medicine study, 2015, as reported in the South Carolina Post and Courier
[ii] U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 2015, “What’s a Health Coach?”
[iii] IDEA Fitness Journal, June 2014,  “Health Coaching: The New Fitness Career?”
[iv], “Career Path on How To Become a Health Coach”
[v] Exercise Science Guide, “5 Most Popular Health Coaching Certifications”
[vi] Duke Integrative Medicine, “Integrative Health Coaching”
[vii] Today’s Dietician magazine, May 2015, “Dieticians as Health Coaches
[viii] ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, Nov/Dec 2015, “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends For 2016”
[ix] The Post and Courier, Dec. 2014, “Health Coaching is the Top Emerging Trend for 2015, Survey Says”
[x] Laura Kennett, “Health and Wellness Coaching: Certifications & Job Outlook”
[xi] Forbes, July 2015, “More Than Two-Thirds of U.S. Employers Currently Offer Wellness Programs, Study Says”
[xii] Health Coach Certifications, Feb. 2016, “Trends in Health and Wellness Career Salaries”
[xiii] American Academy of Family Physicians, Sept./Oct 2010, “Health Coaching for Patients With Chronic Illness”
[xiv] Healthy Women, May 2012, “Could a Health Coach Be For You?”