Health Coach or Nutrition Professional: Which Path is Right For You?

While seeking to make healthier choices, people will seek out health coaches or nutrition professionals. And even if they may sound similar, it is important to understand their differences and how they are equipped to support clients in reaching their goals.

To help us gain more insight into the roles of a health coach and a nutrition professional and how they differ, we caught up with UCL Doctoral Researcher and Chief Science Educator at The Health Sciences Academy, Alex Ruani, for a very educative interview. Besides training nutrition professionals, she’s also a mentor coach and examiner in our ICF-accredited Professional Health Coaching Program, so you’ll be gaining insights which are rare to find!

What does health coaching involve and how does it work?

Until the International Coaching Federation (ICF), there was very little industry oversight for coaches, and the health coaching industry became the Wild West of the personal and professional development sector…

As professional health and wellness coaches gain traction worldwide, it’s important to understand what coaching really is – especially if you plan on becoming an ICF-certified health and wellness coach.

So what is coaching?

Coaching is primarily defined as a relationship.

Now, what kind of relationship?

It is a growth-promoting relationship.

The client decides what they want their life to look like and their health coach helps them to get to that place where they feel empowered to make their own choices.

A professional health coach uses mainly powerful questioning, and other tools like motivational interviewing, self-exploration, and self-reflection exercises to help you as the client build awareness.

Bear in mind that a health coach cannot make those decisions for you and cannot even ‘guide’ you or tell you what to do. But a coach will be there for you to reflect on things that you are mentioning, and hold the mirror in front of you, so you can reflect on what you have been thinking or saying.

A coach will help create that mental space for you, so you can organise your mind and your emotions, and gain clarity on where you are and where you want to be headed with your physical and mental health and wellbeing.

If coaches don’t tell clients what to do, how do they add value?

Some of the best health and wellness coaches in the industry, including those trained by us at The Health Sciences Academy, would seek to follow the highest coaching standards, such as the ones set by the International Coach Federation (ICF). The ICF’s coaching competencies are a testament for how a health coach adds value in a client’s life.

Although professional health coaches are not to share advice regarding health or nutrition in a coaching session, there’s a good reason for that:

We know from research that information alone doesn’t always translate into behaviour change.

So how does change come about?

A health coach would not try to ‘change you’ – but will rather help you build awareness that will bring about behavioural change, IF you want it…

Because not everyone is coachable!

You could say that, in a way, coaching feels like space walking… It gives you the mental space you rarely get to gather the strength that you need, to reflect on your natural abilities, your values, your motivators, the things that matter most in your life… and to leverage all this, all that potential already in you to move forward and to live a life that supports your happiness and wellbeing – both physical and mental.

So a health coach focuses on supporting the client to become who they want to be by helping them visualise the dream that they want. Sometimes a client may not even know what that realistic vision of perfection for their health will look like. So, the coach will enable the client’s process of crafting that dream state of health or wellbeing.

To be effective, the health coach must keep up to date with behavioural psychology and behavioural coaching tools that are research-backed so that they can gain more insights on how to help clients.

You must know that physical health, mental health, emotional health, and all aspects of health are accounted for in health and wellness coaching, even relationships, and anything that makes us feel ‘well’ is accounted for in health and wellness coaching.

These and more are all the important lessons we teach during The Health Sciences Academy’s Professional Health Coaching Program, which provides our own health coaches with an ICF credentialing path.

Then what types of clients would seek a nutrition professional instead?

A nutrition professional on the other hand will focus on helping you achieve desired health outcomes in a very targeted way, mainly through dietary changes and eating practices.

So, when you bring to mind a nutrition professional, you think:

“What’s the most personalised way for me to get closer to my desired health outcome?”

Whether it’s fat loss, fitness, fertility, gut health, mental health, sleep, or anything in between…

Now, that’s where a nutrition professional’s expertise comes to play. Health outcomes are specific to each client, or even one client may desire numerous health outcomes.

These health outcomes supported by nutritional factors can include the client’s desire to:

  • enhance sports performance, endurance, power and strength, or muscle gain
  • sleep better
  • increase fertility odds
  • support a child’s learning progress or speech
  • improve gut health
  • lessen symptoms and pain by mitigating nutrient deficiencies
  • reduce stress levels for better mental health
  • overcome overeating and food addiction
  • support the body’s detoxification systems
  • support skincare and repair
  • mitigate disease risk… or any health goal the client has in mind

What is the expertise of a nutrition professional?

Nutrition professionals trained by The Health Sciences Academy specialise in different health outcomes so that they can be fully supportive of their clients’ goals.

A wide range of health outcomes are covered in our different specialised certifications – whether it’s fertility, weight loss, sports, sleep management, stress management, gut health, detox, child and brain nutrition, dietary supplements, food allergies and tolerances, nutritional therapy and even nutrition for longevity and cancer risk.

A nutrition professional usually acts in an advisory capacity, listens to their clients, takes inventory of information, and then makes actionable, personalised recommendations to help improve their clients’ lives.

And as the client’s program progresses, tracking their progress in respect of their health outcomes is also valuable – such as changes in body composition, performance, sleep, perceived stress, gut symptoms, or any other goal the client is seeking.

So what are some major differences between a health coach and a nutrition professional?

The biggest difference between a nutritional professional and a health coach is the word “advice”. A health coach is not giving advice or instructing their clients on specific actions, whereas a nutrition professional generally acts in an advisory capacity and provides actionable recommendations.

As the saying goes:

“One leads a horse to water and encourages him to drink, and the other leads a horse to water and helps him realise he’s thirsty.”

An ICF-credentialed health coach wouldn’t give nutritional advice in a session, while the nutrition professional’s primary focus is to give actionable nutritional advice.

Keep in mind that both health coaches and nutritional professionals are not to make any type of diagnosis or prescriptions, and all will need to refer clients with serious or suspected mental or physical health problems to a qualified medical doctor.

Behavioural change is often secondary for many nutrition professionals who focus on the advice piece. This means the clients will seek to autonomously change certain behaviours in diet or lifestyle to ultimately strive for that health dream.

Why do we need coaching skills to be a better nutrition professional?

Sharing information with a client will not always result in successful dietary changes. That’s where behavioural coaching can add tremendous value!

Now, there is a clear advantage from combining nutrition specialisations with health coaching, so clients can fully be supported in their journey towards becoming better versions of themselves.

Many of our certifications here at The Health Sciences Academy empower students to become great advisors – with an arsenal of personalisation tools and client skills.

But a well-rounded nutrition professional will be one that has not just the nutritional personalisation competency, but also on the behavioural coaching side of things.

This is somebody who understands what affects human behaviour, and what makes us eat the way we eat. A professional who is trained on the behavioural methods to foster change, on challenging unhelpful belief systems, and on activating healthier choices – from facilitating behavioural experiments, to normalising change, to fostering self-efficacy, and much more.

Remember that behavioural change is an important component for achieving health outcomes, but behaviour change isn’t always the first consideration of a nutrition professional because there is a lot of extra preliminary work that needs to take place when personalising a client’s diet.

So, when a professional integrates both the personalised nutritional advice and the behaviour change component which involves coaching, it brings a client a lot closer to achieving desired health outcomes.

Therefore, we believe it pays to have both sets of skills. It’s a win-win for both the client and professional.

And how can health coaches position their services more powerfully?

Put yourself in the shoes of a client…

Not many prospective clients would know or understand what ‘health coaching’ is yet… But they would definitely recognise and want to seek the help of someone who is known for tackling a specific issue or concern – such as a weight loss coach. Or a gut health coach. Or a fertility nutrition coach. Or a stress management coach. Or any specialised coaching based on the additional certifications and credentials the health coach has.

A client is likely to go to the coach who has expertise with their desired health outcomes.

So having a professional specialisation together with a high-quality coaching training equips you with the skills you need for a more powerful offering. The most sought-after health and wellness coaches tend to have a specialisation that allows them to position their services more robustly.

In addition to this, if you have the professional certification and ICF credential as a health coach or are working towards them, you’ll feel confident in both your ability to coach and your positioning with a credible education backed by the ICF.

Becoming an ICF Certified Professional Health Coach…

Whether you are a nutrition professional who has a specialisation and you want to acquire advanced coaching strategies, or you are just about to just begin your journey into the world of professional health coaching, our professional health coaching programme is what you need.

Besides paving your way towards the ICF credentialing and being able to charge more for your coaching as a result, all that you will learn in the programme is evidence-based!

Why The Health Sciences Academy Professional Health Coaching Program?

We combine coaching skills with behaviour change research, health psychology, positive psychology, and lifestyle medicine research. All of these makeup coaching in the spectrum of health and wellness.

Also, we’ll help you practise your coaching skills with real-life client scenarios, coaching demos, and the training and coaching feedback that you need.

You’ll gain the confidence that you need to work with clients, while meeting the International Coaching Federation (ICF) standards!

So, do you want to make a difference and become part of the next generation of health coaches?

Learn more here and also join our waiting list!

On the other hand, if you want to become insurable to practise as a specialised nutrition professional, our Nutrition Business Explorer program is made for you! 

The Nutrition Business Explorer Program is a one-stop solution for health and nutrition professionals and equips you with the skills and knowledge you need to offer exclusive or multiple nutrition services to clients. The program, which offers 14+ certifications, is designed to give you access to real nutrition science, but we’re also doing it in a way that you can afford so you can grow your businesses at your own pace. 

And you can begin any of the certifications in the program now without paying immediately by taking advantage of our 7-day Free Trial Now.  

Sounds interesting?

Then get started here! 

See Also

Continuing Education Bundle

Upcoming Webinar

Free Contrast Method

© Copyright

Everything on this site is original content, created and owned by or through The Health Sciences Academy ® or licensed accordingly.
Training Nutritionists of the Future™
© Copyright The Health Sciences Academy. The content, graphs and charts on this page have been exclusively prepared for The Health Sciences Academy and its prospect students, existing students and graduates. None of the content on this page and website may be reproduced, copied or altered without our explicit permission. Criminal and legal penalties for copyright and other infringement apply. All Terms and Conditions apply.
The Health Sciences Academy® is the world’s largest 100% science-based, nutrition-focused online educational institution.
✔ helping health and wellness professionals grow successful client practices
✔ raising industry standards since 2012 through personalised nutrition science
© Copyright The Health Sciences Academy. The content, graphs and charts on this page have been exclusively prepared for The Health Sciences Academy and its prospect students, existing students and graduates. None of the content on this page and website may be reproduced, copied or altered without our explicit permission. Criminal and legal penalties for copyright and other infringement apply. All Terms and Conditions apply.


Free Courses



About Us

© 2022 The Health Sciences Academy ® All Rights Reserved.