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What is a Health and Wellness Coach?

By Anna Mueller, MS27 Dec 2021

An ever-growing field, health and wellness coaching can encompass a wide variety of services, from 1-1 health and lifestyle coaching to group coaching focuses to cooking classes to  stress-management webinars. Some use their certification as a platform for their books and courses while others prefer to work with individual clients.

According to the Institute of Coaching, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, “Health and wellness coaches work with clients to improve their health, vitality, and well-being by engaging in behaviors that have been proven to improve health and prevent disease including weight loss, fitness, nutrition, stress coping, sleep, mind-body and positive psychology interventions. The outcome of health and wellness coaching is expanded capacity for lifestyle change and sustainable lifestyle change.”


What qualifications do health coaches need?

While some may have a BA or MA in nutrition, many health coaches opt for certifications, and while there are many types of health coaching certifications out there, not all are equal. Some are only a month long and require no testing while others are more rigorous.

Here are a few of the more well-known certification programs: 

1.Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Certification 

In this year-long program, students at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN) are exposed to more than 100 dietary theories, participate in practicums, focus on lifestyle factors in addition to nutrition, and take regular tests that they must pass in order to become certified.

2.Functional Nutrition Certification

The Functional Nutrition Alliance’s Full Body Systems course is a 10-month program that immerses students in functional nutrition. Using tools, good coaching techniques, and a strong understanding of the body’s systems, coaches are trained to look for root causes of their clients’ issues.

3.Eating Psychology Coach Certification

In a program that combines nutritional science and eating psychology, coaches at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating focus on inspiring their clients to develop more positive relationships with food. This approach may be appropriate for patients who have a negative body image, have struggled with disordered eating in the past, or engage in stress eating.


Who hires health coaches?

Many health coaches are entrepreneurs with private practices. They may work out of wellness clinics, yoga and massage studios, fitness centers or a home-based office. 

Doctors who have an Registered Dietician (RD) on staff may want to refer their patients to a health coach if they haven’t been compliant with the RD’s recommendations or the patient requires assistance that the medical staff don’t have the time or background to provide, such as frequent meetings or cooking lessons.


What should a doctor look for when referring to a health coach?

Good health coaches combine solid nutrition knowledge with empathy and the ability to uncover diet and lifestyle factors contributing to the health issues of the individual in a way that is empowering and inspiring. They should also have a good understanding of when to defer to medical professionals and be willing to collaborate with others on the patient’s healthcare team, including doctors, therapists, and RDs.


Are health coaches covered by insurance?

The biggest challenge in working with a health coach is the lack of insurance coverage. This means clients are paying privately, which can be costly. The industry is seeing strides in this area, however.

The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) was granted a taxonomy code for Health Coaches that went into effect in April 2021. This ten-digit code will be used when Health Coaches apply for a National Provider Identifier (NPI), which is required for healthcare providers to be considered Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant.

While Health Coaches don’t need a taxonomy code or NPI to practice privately, these items are required for coaches seeking work with healthcare providers whose health records fall under HIPAA regulations. 

The good news is that many coaches offer group coaching, which drastically cuts down the cost. The sense of community and accountability in group sessions can be instrumental in motivating the patients to make the changes necessary to improve their health.