Looking to start the New Year on the right foot with a closer look at your health? With more and more of us becoming aware of how food affects our health and well being, it’s important to seek out people who are qualified nutrition coaches to help with the process. In this article we’re going to take a look at the spectrum of health professionals who provide nutrition services, what qualities to look for, and how to find the right one for you.
Identify Your Goals
Nutrition as a science is so broad that when people become interested in it they generally want to learn as much as possible about everything having to do with food and how it interacts with the body. Unsurprisingly, as they dig deeper into complex physiological processes and experiment with various diets, nutrition can become an all-encompassing pursuit.
Needless to say, people get interested in nutrition for a variety of reasons. Some want to lose weight while others are looking to gain muscle, manage diabetes, reduce cholesterol, improve performance in a particular sport, or perhaps figure out what the heck “paleo” means. Within the realm of nutrition, these are all realistic goals that will affect the type of coach you seek.
Here are some things to consider when you’re in the market for a nutrition coach:
Credentials and Experience
Due to the fact there are many different nutrition credentials and certifications in use today, it can be very challenging to assess the quality of a coach’s education and experience. Keep in mind that anyone can be called a nutritionist or nutrition coach. It’s not a title controlled by law or regulation, and a license to practice is generally not required.
Nutrition as a health science exists in the world in a variety of forms, and many health professionals with varying degrees of license and experience are providing nutrition services. The fact of the matter is, the credential doesn’t necessarily make the coach. Here are a few examples of the more common health professions that offer nutrition coaching services:
Registered Dietitian (RD) – A registered dietitian completes four years of college, does a yearlong internship similar in format to medical residency, and must pass a rigorous national licensing exam. RDs are trained extensively in medical nutrition therapy, providing nutrition support for disease management in a variety of hospital and outpatient settings. Some may also have specializations, such as sports dietitians with the Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential who work primarily with athletes, as well as dietitians who are Certified Diabetes Educators (CDE) and work with diabetic individuals.
Physician (Doctor, Osteopath, Naturopath, Chiropractor) – Historically, physicians of the MD variety have had limited training in nutrition. Thankfully, times are changing and many newer physicians are becoming increasingly fluent in nutrition science and the application of nutrition therapy for chronic disease management and preventative care.
Other Nutritionists (PN, NTP, CISSN, CNS, CCN, ACBN*) and Researchers (MS, PhD) – As I mentioned earlier, being a good nutrition coach is not just about the credential or certificate. Individuals not only have their choice of a variety of independent certifications, but may also choose to pursue advanced degrees in nutrition. Unfortunately, neither of these is completely indicative of a person’s ability to provide quality nutrition services to individuals in a safe and effective manner. As always, look beyond the initials following the name and research the coach’s experience and reputation.
Similar to other fitness disciplines, nutrition coaches use a variety of approaches and coaching styles. These include having clients track calories and food intake with a food journal, practice learning portion sizes, and read nutrient labels. Some coaches give very detailed instruction and emphasize specific numbers and goals, while others opt for a more generalized and habit-based approach.
The best nutrition coaches are also excellent counselors. Food can be a tricky subject. It’s often very personal, and can be connected to other issues such as self-image, depression, eating disorders, and addiction. Having a nutrition coach with skills in this area is immensely helpful.
It’s important to determine the coach’s philosophy and whether or not it matches your own. Are they open-minded when it comes to nutrition? Do they keep up with current trends and research? Good nutrition coaches should have an evidence-based approach, continually pushing themselves to learn and advance their own knowledge. At the same time, they shouldn’t be prone to dismissing any new approach outright, but instead be able to objectively judge it on past experience and supporting research. These are good criteria to keep in mind when researching your coach.
Finally, the make or break component of finding the right nutrition coach is whether or not you feel there’s a good rapport. For instance, I have been told that it’s nerve-racking to consult a dietitian like myself, thinking I might behave like the food police. I calm such fears right away by saying, “I’m not here to judge what you eat. In fact, I’m probably the most liberal dietitian you’ll ever meet. I’m more concerned with getting you from point A to point B, and seeing how we can fit your diet and lifestyle so they support that journey.” Having the ability to connect with a coach is extremely important to the success of the whole process. Don’t hesitate to switch if it doesn’t feel like a good fit. Remember, this is about finding the right coach for you.
These days, with the prevalence of blogs and social media, it’s not too difficult to get a feel for the reputation of a nutrition coach. In addition, any work they have produced, written or otherwise, will help you make a more educated decision about whether or not they would be a good match for you.
Don’t hesitate to inquire about clients the coach has worked with. What do typical results look like? Have clients been satisfied? Have they written any testimonials? These are good questions to have in mind when doing your research.
Ultimately, it comes down to what your particular goals are and being able to match them to a nutrition coach with expertise in that area. Remember, credentials, education, and experience are important, but equally so are coaching style, philosophy, and rapport.
Questions to Consider:
- What are your goals?
- How will the coach approach implementing nutrition changes within your current lifestyle?
- Does the coach offer an initial consultation to get a feel for the types of services available?
- What is the coach’s background?
- What led them to become a nutrition coach?
- What is their area of expertise?
PN = Precision Nutrition
CISSN = Certified Sports Nutritionist
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.