Wonder what it’s like to be a Health Coach?I didn’t grow up wanting to be a Health Coach. I didn’t grow up eating kale or chickpeas. I grew up eating the Standard American Diet of processed junk food, didn’t know what a vegetable was until I was 18, and my career goal for the early part of my life was Britney Spears backup dancer. (Thank you grandma, for talking me out of that one!)
Needless to say, I’ve come a long way. Since my career is a bit unconventional, I’m often asked how I got here, and receive a ton of emails on the subject. So, I want to use this post to explain how to become a Health Coach, as well as what you can expect if you choose this career path.
(I will insert my Yahoo! Finance interview on this subject, once it is aired in the next week or two!)
UPDATE: Here it is:
Don’t even think about becoming a Health Coach unless you are truly passionate about health, nutrition, and food. This is definitely a career path that you absolutely need to LOVE in order to be successful at.
Before I became a Health Coach, I found myself voraciously reading anything I could about food and its affect on our health. I watched documentaries and read news articles, tons of books, and even scientific studies in nutrition journals…all in my spare time, for fun! If you find yourself in the same boat AND have a desire to make a difference in the world and positively impact people’s lives, and have the desire to start your own businesses, then Health Coaching may be a good fit for you.
Choose a Health Coaching Program
There are many Health Coaching programs out there, so do your research before deciding on one. It’s always good to start with an end in mind. What would you ideally like to do after you finish the program? Make sure whatever program you choose equips you to do that. A good way to look at it is to find people who are doing what you want to do, and then figure out how they got there.
I personally attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I first learned of it, while perusing my local health food store on the regular, because it seemed many of the healthy food products sold there, like refined-sugar free chocolate or kale chips, were made by Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches! Initially, I wanted to start a healthy food line, so I started to research Integrative Nutrition, as well as other similar options to determine if it would help me reach my goals.
There were three things that attracted me to Integrative Nutrition:
1- Their Graduates seemed like a who’s who of rockstars in the health food and wellness world. Denise Mari, founder of one of the earliest organic juice bar chains in NY, Organic Avenue, Vanessa Barg, founder of Gnosis Chocolate, Elizabeth Stein, founder of Purely Elizabeth Granola, Danielle DuBoise, co-founder of organic meal delivery service, Sakara. I admired all of these entrepreneurs, and wanted to be like them. (Note that once I actually got into the program, I decided I’d rather be a rockstar coach, like Holli Thompson or Jenny Sansouci).
Awesome graduates means you become part of an awesome network, and everyone is so helpful and supportive, and sees each other as allies in making the world a healthier place, rather than competitors.
2- Their Professors are truly top-notch and come from an extremely varied background. No university in the world has the roster of teachers that Integrative Nutrition does! While initially, I honestly didn’t know anything about most of these people other than they had impressive bios, now that I do, I’m in awe that the Integrative Nutrition founder was able to bring them all together. My favorite teachers include:
Dr. Andrew Weil, founder, professor, and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, is a Harvard trained MD, best-selling author, and founder of healthy restaurant chain, True Food Kitchen. I have a lot of respect for this man. I heard him speak live on multiple occasions, and love that his inclination to heal is towards plants, not prescriptions.
Dr. Walter Willett is Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health where he is also a Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition. He is my hero. Unlike most university nutrition programs, that are sullied by political and economic interests, Harvard seems to be completely science based (which all nutrition programs should be!).
Marion Nestle is a Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, which she chaired from 1988-2003. She is also the author of 5 prize-winning books, including a personal favorite, Food Politics, that gives you an inside scoop (she used to work for the government) on how how politics sullies food policy.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a physician and the pre-eminent expert on plant-based nutrition. He is a New York Times best-selling author and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods, and appears regularly on PBS. His book Eat to Live is incredibly insightful and is one of my favorites.
Dr. David Katz, Founding Director Yale Prevention & Research Center, who is recognized globally for expertise in nutrition, weight management and the prevention of chronic disease.
3- Their Education
Integrative Nutrition seemed to offer the most comprehensive program, one that taught you not just about food and nutrition, but also how to coach people (as in, how do you get people to actually change their habits once they know what is good for them), and how to build a business. Both important things I wanted to learn!
Additionally, Integrative Nutrition was a sufficient length (1 year, opposed to a few weeks or months as some other health coaching programs are) and seemed to be unsullied by political or economic interests.
Plus, it was affordable, doable (it requires about 6-10 hours a week of work, so you can still work full-time, as I did, while doing the program), and just looked like something I would love to do and learn about.
What about becoming an RD?
Becoming a Registered Dietitian is very different than becoming a Health Coach, and some people choose to do both. You have to decide what you’d like to do after you finish studying.
If you want to work in a hospital or other clinical setting, than you would want to pursue an RD. However, note that the coursework to become an RD is based on federal USDA standards, including myPlate (formerly the food pyramid), which is controversial amongst nutrition researchers.
Many nutrition scientists disagree with it, and point out that it appears to be based on economic and political interests, rather than the latest science. (For example, Harvard School of Public Health, is vociferously opposed to it, and has even created it’s own version of healthy eating standards, called the Healthy Eating Plate). And, if our health statistics are any indicator of the efficacy of these guidelines (which are practiced in hospitals and schools), it’s clear they’re not working:
According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, a whopping 69% of the American population is overweight or obese and 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 American women will get cancer at some point in their lifetime.
It’s also a much larger commitment in terms of time (3-4 years, full-time) and money (the NYU nutrition program is currently about 40K per year, but you can find state or city schools with a cheaper price tag). I was actually willing to sacrifice the time and money to go this route but when it came down to it, I couldn’t stomach going into debt to be taught things that even the professors know are not based on latest science!
Based on my own research and opinion, I feel like a Nutrition Masters or PhD program is a better choice as far as higher education is concerned, for me anyway.
What to Expect Once You Become a Health Coach
Once you become a Health Coach, the options of what you can do with it are endless. I have friends and fellow graduates who have written books or cookbooks, who hold wellness retreats, open healthy restaurants or juice bars, launch healthy food lines, host corporate wellness seminars, or like me, coach clients directly.
The similarity between all these career paths, though, is that they are all very entrepreneurial. Notice I didn’t say they go to work for such and such company (although some Health Coaches are hired by doctor’s offices, spas, or large corporations, usually part of the draw of being a Health Coach is that it allows you to be your own boss!). And you can team up with doctors or other wellness practitioners for referrals, but for the most part, being a Health Coach means being an entrepreneur!
For me, this is the perfect career, because I love teaching people how to eat for health, and I love having my own business (I come from a family of entrepreneurs). I also initially studied business, finance, and marketing in college, and find it to be fun.
Personally, I would NOT recommend this path if you’re not excited about having your own business. As with any entrepreneurial endeavor, I don’t have a 9-5, I have a “when I open my eyes to when I close my eyes”. Now of course, work does consist in part of things like writing blog posts, cooking recipes, and the like, but its also constant research, paperwork, contracts, finding clients, marketing, negotiating, networking, etc. The 4 hour work-week, this is not. Is it fun and rewarding and satisfying and paying the bills? Yes. But easy? No.
I know not all Health Coaches have the same passion for and experience with business as I have, so I do offer a mentorship program for new coaches, and business coaching for anyone interested in learning how to build a health coaching business.
What A Day in The Life of a Health Coach Looks Like
For me, no two days are ever the same. I cook and photograph recipes for my website, I coach clients one-on-one, I lead classes at night, I host workshops or speak at conferences on the weekends. I hold corporate wellness seminars at local companies, and have shared my tips and recipes with a variety of media outlets, including Vogue, The New York Times, and NBC’s Today in New York.
(I also do admin type stuff during the day, post on social media, and spruce up my website).
What to Do if You’re Considering Becoming a Health Coach and Have Questions About It?
There are two things I recommend:
1- Attend a sample Integrative Nutrition class, FREE. You’ll be able to get a feel for the format of the program, and understand if it would be a good fit for you.
2- Ask me a Question! You can post your questions in the comment section below, or you can also send an email to me here (please be patient with response time!).
Whew, I know this was a long post, but wanted to make it pretty comprehensive. Hope this helps, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!