The 3 differences between a health coach and a nutritionist

The role of the health coach is still quite unknown in Europe. We are used to seek help when there is an illness. But the absence of a diagnosis of illness does not mean that we enjoy full health. We often suffer from small conditions that, if untreated, will become the prelude to illnesses in the future.

Preventive medicine is a necessity in societies where according to World Health Organisation’s, 70% of deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, or in other words, lifestyle diseases. It is, at this intermediate point, between health and disease, when solutions can be found, that the role of a health coach can be decisive.

Helping you to identify all these symptoms. Going deeper into their causes and implementing an action plan to correct all these imbalances is the difference between healthy aging or entering into a spiral of illnesses and treatments.

1. The approach of the health coach

Therefore, the heath coach does not rely solely on diet, like a nutritionist. Diet is important, but it is just one of several factors that determine the preservation of health.

So, the first difference between a dietician-nutritionist and a health coach resides in the approach: The dietician or nutritionist focuses on the diet, whereas the scope of the health coach covers all areas that affect our well-being, not only the diet.

This global concept of health as a whole and at the same time integrated by several parts, is called Holistic Nutrition or Integrative Nutrition and is divided into two main areas:

1.1 Primary Food

It encompasses all aspects of our life that affect our health. When they are balanced they nourish us whilst when they are unbalanced they drain our energy and become a source of stress. Some aspects of primary food are: rest, physical activity, personal relationships, spirituality, finances, education, work, etc. Since these areas do not fall within the scope of a nutritionist’s practice, the health coach has a more global and less nutrition-focused view.

1.2 Secondary Food

Here we talk about the food itself. Today there is enough scientific evidence about the direct relationship between what we eat and most chronic diseases. A healthy diet is necessary to maintain a healthy weight and beyond weight, to provide the body with all the necessary nutrients.

Primary and secondary nutrition are very interrelated. Imbalances in primary food usually lead to imbalances in food. Likewise, the underlying causes of emotional eating are to be found in primary food.

Here is a short video to help you better understand the role of the health coach.

2. The procedure

Coaching sessions are always client-led. The health coach asks high-mileage questions to help the client explore the causes of possible imbalances through active listening. At the end of each session, they will propose two or three recommendations to be implemented and evaluated during the next session.

The need to be accountable to the health coach and the coach’s close monitoring of the achievement of the objectives set and any deviations are key to adhering to the plan. Therefore, it is vital that the client has a strong will to work towards improvement that will be accompanied by the health coach.

In the area of primary food, the health coach can help you:

  • Learn techniques to manage stress
  • Implement sleep routines for better rest
  • Discover the physical exercise that suits your tastes and create a habit of practicing it.
  • Analyse which aspects in your life nourish you and contribute to your well-being and which ones are out of balance. Accompanying you in the search for solutions and encouraging time dedicated to self-care.

In the area of secondary food, the health coach can help you:

  • Organise a balanced menu for the whole family.
  • Understand what nutrients we need and how to get them from the diet.
  • Evaluate the need for supplementation
  • Learn to read food labels to make better choices.
  • Improve your pantry with nutritionally dense ingredients
  • Understand the concepts of organic and locally grown and their effects on our health and the environment.
  • Find plant-based alternatives to animal protein and make an orderly transition to a plant-based diet
  • Learn tricks and recipes to leave aside ultra-processed food and nourish yourself with simple and healthy homemade food.

3. The objectives

The dietitian-nutritionist is the professional of reference when, due to a physical condition, we need to follow a diet. They are the best professional to accompany us, working together with doctors, to diagnose diseases of the digestive system, alterations in the microbiota or food intolerances to name a few. We also often resort to them when we have a weight-loss objective. For this purpose, they will recommend a diet that involves a caloric restriction.

But diets require adherence to be effective and cannot be prolonged indefinitely. At some point we have to go back to being able to eat everything in moderation and without the need to count calories. With your Health coach you will approach weight loss from multiple angles:

  • Observing your body’s reactions to each food group to discover what is optimal for you.
  • By learning what you really need to nourish yourself and what you should live without.
  • Listening to your body’s hunger and satiety signals to differentiate them from emotional hunger.
  • Feeding yourself intuitively, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you feel satiated.
  • Improving your criteria to choose the best options in the supermarket and in a restaurant.
  • Accompanying this process with an improvement in your habits as a whole, to obtain synergies.

Here is an article published in the Harvard Health Magazine which explains why a health coach is effective in promoting lifestyle changes in their clients.


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