What Is a Health Coach? Everything You Need to Know

Hiya Gorgeous!

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. When people start practicing radical self-care and focusing on their wellness, not only do their own lives change… but they’re motivated to share their newfound knowledge with those around them!

It makes so much sense. When we know better, we do better. And when we do better, we want others to do better, too!

I see this quite a lot with participants from my Crazy Sexy You program and members of my Inner Circle Wellness community. There’s such joy in discovering vibrant health and overall well-being that we naturally end up wanting to lead others in their own healing.

I’m often asked, “Kris, how can I turn this passion for health/food/mindfulness/etc. into a career? What is a health coach and is that something I could possibly do?”

My answer is always an enthusiastic YES! Health coaching is an amazing field that allows you to encourage others to make real, lasting changes in their lives. It’s the perfect complement for folks who already work in the health and wellness space (as yoga or meditation instructors, or life coaches, for example). It also makes a great second career for anyone who wants to bring their vocation more in alignment with their values. There’s nothing as empowering as living out your mission through your work!

Because I know that you might be curious about health coaching, I wanted to take this chance to answer the most frequently asked questions I get, including:

  • What is a health coach, exactly? What do they do?
  • What qualities make a successful health coach?
  • How do I become a health coach? Do I need a degree or certification?
  • There are so many options for training out there—how do I know which one to choose?

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

What is a health coach, anyway?

I love this definition from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (aka IIN—more on them later!):

“A health coach is a supportive mentor who helps clients make healthy lifestyle choices. Whether the goal is to lose weight, increase energy, or sleep better at night, a health coach motivates individuals to make lasting changes and feel their best.”

In other words, a health coach is not a therapist, a Registered Dietitian or a medical professional. Instead, a health coach is an advocate with specialized training and expertise who can support people who want to improve their health and live a life of wellness.

How amazing is that?! When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I would have loved having a health coach who could help me navigate the confusing, overwhelming world of eating for health and healing. I had to experiment and test everything out myself. It would have been such a relief to have someone guide me through the process, providing the benefit of their experience and wisdom, while allowing me to be in control of my decisions.

And here’s a really cool factoid for ya: In recognition of the valuable work that health coaches perform, the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs successfully applied for the creation of new Category III CPT codes for health coaching through the American Medical Association (AMA), which went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Now, that’s a mouthful, so let me give you the bottom line in a single word: Validation. The most well-respected medical organization in the US is recognizing the importance of health coaches as well as the growing role health coaches are playing in helping individuals take charge of their own wellness. This is just the beginning!

What does a health coach do?

Health coaches work in a variety of environments, from private practices to coaching for businesses and organizations. Many of my friends who’ve gone through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition program have online business where they coach people online, either individually or in groups.

Here are just a few of the ways you can use your health coaching certification:

  • Coach. Join or start your own private coaching practice. You can specialize in weight loss, specific diet modalities, working with a particular population (elderly, athletes, teens, etc.).
  • Write. Share your knowledge in your own books or blog, or write for magazines or health and wellness news sites.
  • Cook. Develop recipes, create your own meal delivery service or become a personal chef. Yum!
  • Educate. Help larger audiences learn about health and wellness by speaking publicly to schools, community groups, businesses, etc.

The possibilities truly are endless!

What qualities make a successful health coach?

Successful health coaches come in all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. There is no single profile that is best. Instead, the most successful health coaches tend to be those who are most passionate about their subject.

I’ve seen great health coaches who were yogis, recovering addicts, just out of college, just retired, former cancer patients, former lawyers and everything in between! (IIN has a great section on their website with stories of their graduates. Check that out here if you’d like some inspiration!)

That being said, there are some qualities that most successful health coaches share:

  • They love to share their passion for health, nutrition and wellness.
  • They have undertaken their own healing journey and now are moved to help others.
  • They’re go-getters and self-starters. They don’t need someone standing over them to make progress.
  • They’re empathic and passionate about serving others.
  • They love to learn and stay up-to-date on the latest research in their field. They also know that one diet doesn’t necessarily fit everyone.

If this sounds like you, keep reading!

How do I become a health coach?

Currently, the health coaching field is not regulated. Pretty much anyone can call themselves a health coach and start taking people’s money—scary, right?!

Of course, I’m assuming you want to be a legit health coach, someone who has the best interests of your clients at heart. In that case, you’ll want to look into certificate programs.

Certificate programs differ from degree programs in several ways. Certificate programs tend to be narrow in scope, focusing on a specific subject (such as health coaching). Degree programs are typically offered by 2- or 4-year colleges or universities and are broader in scope. As a result, degree programs usually last much longer than certificate programs. IIN, for instance, offers an online health coaching certification program that you can complete in as little as 6 months.

Once you complete the certificate requirements, congratulations! Queue the pomp and circumstance and break out the champagne (or perhaps a green juice mimosa?!)—you’re a certified health coach!

There are so many options for training out there—how do I know which one to choose?

You are absolutely right! There are dozens of options from in-person weekend trainings to months-long online certifications. Selecting one is not something to be done lightly. The organization you choose will have a big impact on your future.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when choosing a health coaching certification program:

  • Do you want an online or in-person program? You may be limited on options for in-person certifications, especially if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area. But even if you have access to a local program, you may want the flexibility of taking courses online. Being able to log in from anywhere certainly has its benefits!
  • What is your ultimate goal? Do you want to start your own coaching practice, or are you hoping to score a job with a company or organization? If you want to be hired as a health coach, make sure the certificate you’re considering is accepted by the organization or business you want to work with.
  • How much time do you have? Yes, there are weekend and week-long certification programs, but let’s get real. Are you going to be able to learn everything you need to know to be an effective health coach in a weekend or just a few days? Probably not. Of course, a 6-month or year-long program is more of a time investment, but you’ll be rewarded with a deeper level of expertise. Unless you’re just testing the waters to see if you like the field, I suggest foregoing the wham-bam programs in favor of a more comprehensive curriculum.
  • What’s the cost? The tuition for health coach certification can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands. While I’m all in favor of bargain shopping, this is one time when you don’t want to cheap out. You typically get what you pay for with training and education. A higher price tag may seem unnecessary, but look at the sum of the services the program provides in terms of curriculum, quality of instructors, support, job placement/career assistance and more. This can easily translate to a more successful business or career, so make sure you take everything into account.
  • How long has the program been around? Just as there are no regulations for health coaches, there are no real regulations for health coach certifications, either. Anyone can start a “program” and hand out certificates. Dig into the background of the program. When did it start? Who are the faculty? Are there any notable graduates? How many people have been through the program? Know what you’re getting into before you commit.

Ok, Kris… what do YOU suggest?

I’m so glad you asked! If you couldn’t tell already, I’m a big fan of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN).

Not only is IIN the world’s largest nutrition school with over 100,000 graduates from around the world, it’s also been around since 1992 and counts some of my colleagues and mentors as faculty. Mark Bittman, Joel Fuhrman, MD, Bernie Siegel, MD, Andrew Weil, MD, Mark Hyman, MD, and Deepak Chopra, MD are some of my favorites!

IIN’s program is also approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), so graduates are eligible to take the NBHWC qualifying exam after successfully completing both IIN’s health coach certification program and their Coaching Intensive Practicum. This additional certification from the NBHWC can be helpful in further identifying yourself as a top-notch health coach.

I also love the flexibility and comprehensiveness of the IIN curriculum. Since everything’s online, it’s easy to tune into classes and keep up with your program. The average student finishes in 6-12 months (which may sound like a long time, but hey, that time’s gonna pass anyway!).

I also believe that IIN’s business and career support is top-notch. Once you’ve completed the certification program, IIN helps you get your business started with their Health Coach Training Program and peer coaching opportunities. You’ll even get your own customizable website with tools to leverage your brand online and marketing materials to help grow your platform!

If I were starting my wellness journey again, I’d begin here.

When I first got my life-changing cancer diagnosis and became a student of my well-being, I read every book and article about holistic nutrition I could get my hands on. But my gut told me I also needed structure and community. At the time, there were only a couple of certifications that resonated with my philosophy, but nothing was in one place. As a result, I had to weave together a curriculum that supported my needs. I took a course here, a program there and many trainings everywhere.

Though I eventually found the right path for me, I did waste time and money with a few detours. I’m glad I stuck with it because a whole world of possibility opened up for a future filled with health, happiness and success. But if I were starting my wellness journey or beginning a career in coaching today, I would strongly consider IIN.

Sample the first week of class for free!

If this has you excited and wanting to learn more about IIN, I have great news—they are inviting you to come on in and take a seat inside their virtual classroom to watch the first week of classes that students go through.

  • An introduction to the world of health coaching and the power of food with IIN founder, Joshua Rosenthal, MScEd
  • Three lectures exploring the mind-body connection and the importance of self-care
  • An overview of the IIN curriculum

I encourage you to check out this sample class here. It’ll give you a taste of what the program is really like so you can make a more informed decision!

An investment in your future career—and your future of changing the world!

I hope you find this info about how to become a health coach useful, sweetheart! I also hope it empowers you to take the next step, whatever that means to you. From my perspective, IIN’s health coaching certification program is top notch and a fabulous investment in your future career. Just think, this could be a major turning point for you… the catalyst that puts you on a path to your true purpose. There’s a fire burning inside of you and the world NEEDS you to share it! I’m so excited to see what you do with your passion.

Your turn: What’s your biggest question about health coaching? I’ll answer if I can!

Peace & pursuing your passion,

Kris Carr

P.S. Not sure about health coaching?

Many people pursue an IIN certification simply because they want to deepen their own personal knowledge. If you want to learn more about different dietary theories in a supportive, online setting, IIN might be the right place for you. Check out the free class now!