An Introduction to Nutrition Professionals
By Kayla Kaplan
If I had a dollar for every person who asks me what I’m doing after finishing my Master’s next semester, I might have enough money to start paying off my student loans. Of course this is a totally logical question, as proud as I am of my degree it’s not very clear what my qualifications are. As of May 2020 I will have an M.S. in Food & Nutrition Policy & Programs from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy. It doesn’t exactly clear things up, does it?
In total honesty I’m not sure what my career path will be or even where I’ll be living and before I start hyperventilating from stress while writing this blog post…let’s just say I will not be giving you or anyone else personalized nutrition advice or nutrition therapy. Technically, you can call me a Nutritionist but that’s because the term doesn’t mean anything (within the United States). Seriously…a Nutritionist is just a person who has some form of nutrition education. Could be a higher education degree like myself or a person who concentrated in Nutrition as an undergraduate or someone who took an 8-week basic nutrition course online. It’s not a regulated profession and you should not be going to a Nutritionist for nutrition related health care. And not that you don’t already know this, you should not be taking personalized nutrition advice from anyone on social media. Social media is a great place to find a Nutrition Professional to follow for generalized advice or their opinions on topical concepts but they can’t provide personalized nutrition therapy without knowing you.
And I know, their Instagram bio may say they’re a Hormone Specialist, or an Integrative Nutritionist, or something else that sounds accredited and trustworthy but each of these titles have a limited scope of practice that usually isn’t made clear. For the sake of clarity, and your thumb that may already be tired scrolling through this article, I will summarize as concisely as I can…the only title in the United States that you should trust for Nutrition Therapy is a Registered Dietitian (RD) or a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Registered Dietitians are the only Nutrition Professionals who are nationally regulated and actually have the education and technical skills to provide through changes in diet, aka Nutrition Therapy.
BUT (yes of course there is a but) people in the health and wellness space can be helpful in their own way without being an RD. They can be wonderful, inspirational, and trustworthy as long as they are forthcoming about what they are and aren’t qualified to do.
Consider my friend Katie.
Katie is a cat Mom, athlete, vegan, bad-ass entrepreneur who works full time and is also in the process of completing her online Health Coach Certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Yay Katie!
Ok but seriously…
What the Health IS a Health Coach?
Written by Katie Campisi
Presently, health coaches are widely unregulated in most of the US. Some states require that you must be a licensed professional as either an RD or nutritionist by a state organization in order to provide any kind of nutrition advice. In those states, it’s essentially illegal to operate as a health coach, like this Florida transplant recently found out when she was fined $750 and issued to cease-and-desist operating her practice in the state.
Most states, however, have no regulation or licensing requirements for who can practice as and call themselves a health coach. This unfortunately puts a lot of the onus on the client to ensure they find somebody who has done the work to obtain a certification and remains within their scope of practice as a health coach. As a practicing health coach myself, it’s very important to me that I don’t try to play the role of an MD or RD because I don’t have the training or education to effectively perform that job.
Health coaches work with clients by facilitating the recognition of the client’s own health and wellness goals and then empower them to take the steps they need to reach them. Because health coaches with certifications do receive specialized training, they can provide guidance, resources, and advice to help clients adopt behavior changes and new habits that help them to reach their self-identified goals. Health and wellness goals can fall within a wide scope of areas, including stress management, nutrition, and sleep hygiene, but it is important for a health coach to recognize when a client has specialized needs in those areas that require an RD, MD, or LMHC.
While the health coaching scope of practice can feel broad and difficult to define, as a general rule if you are skeptical about somebody’s qualifications to offer specialized medical advice or diagnose a medical condition, go with your gut and seek out professional medical advice from somebody board certified.
Why Health Coaching?
I first learned about the health coaching field fairly recently, in late 2018, and I was immediately drawn to the role because it presents an opportunity to have a massive and positive impact in others’ lives that leverages a lot of my existing strengths. I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue a career that allowed me to contribute in this type of way, but it wasn’t clear what that path looked like until I learned about health coaching. Not only does health coaching allow me to do fulfilling and energizing work, but it allows me to take control of my career and be my own boss, something that feels really important to and empowering to me.
Over the last few years I have really focused on what brings me joy and worked to remove the aspects of my life that don’t. I’ve focused on what food nourishes me most and what physical activity most lights my fire. As a health coach I get to leverage my empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence to help others do the exact same thing.
There is a lot of wellness information floating around on the internet and for one thing, a lot of it isn’t even accurate. For another, what works for one person won’t work for everybody. My goal is to cut through the noise and help clients identify realistic goals and action plans that lead to behavior changes and ultimately long-lasting habits to improve their baseline of well-being. It’s easy to feel like we know what we “should” be doing to eat more nourishing foods or get better sleep, but it’s hard to change old habits and prioritize one’s needs. This is where health coaching can play a vital role in helping people meet their goals.
Health Coach Q+A
Q: Where can I work with a Health Coach?
A: Health coaches can work with clients from anywhere in the world when they offer remote coaching via telephone or video conference. Most health coaches will also meet with clients in person in their area, so you have the option to have coaching in person or remotely depending on what meets your needs.
Q: Can insurance cover Health Coaching?
A:While some health insurance companies do cover health coaching, most do not. With that said, you can often use FSA or HSA funds to cover the cost of health coaching. When in doubt, check with your health insurance provider to confirm if you’ll be able to seek reimbursement for the cost of your sessions.