What’s the difference between Health Coaches, Dietitians and Nutritionists?


As a Health Coach, I am often asked to explain the differences between Health Coaches, Dietitians & Nutritionists. I will help you understand each one and how to make a decision for yourself as to which direction you’re looking to go for help.

As a Health Coach, I really try and stay within my “Scope of Practice” to support each client. I am not replacing a Dietitian or Nutritionist; instead, I am mentoring clients to create and maintain long-term lifestyle changes to enhance their overall wellness.

As a Health Coach, the majority of us are self-employed or in gyms, spas, the health food industry, corporations, doctors’ offices, or wellness centers.

The majority of registered Dietitians or Nutritionists are found in hospitals, long-term care facilities, doctors’ offices, the food industry, wellness centers, public health, or government.

Our session approach looks a little different:

Health Coaches are largely client driven and usually initiated by client’s decision to make some type of life change. It is not diagnostic. We emphasize ongoing coaching plans to meet goals. Dietary nutrition is the secondary focus, not the first. We discuss non-food forms of nourishment, which may include spirituality, career, physical activity, relationships, and other lifestyle factors in addition to dietary habits.

Dietitians or Nutritionists may or may not be client driven. They are usually initiated by doctor recommendation or prescription. Diagnostic-treatment plans often regulated by insurance companies. Dietary nutrition is the primary focus. They may discuss fitness but focuses on behaviors centered around food.

Client Analysis:

Health Coaches do not diagnose or treat; rather, assess clients’ overall well-being while allowing clients to drive conversation and determine areas of desired focus.

Dietitians and Nutritionists diagnose clients’ nutritional imbalances and concerns using the process of identifying problem, cause and symptom in order to support pursuit of a treatment plan.

Client Intervention:

Health Coaches make general, low-risk recommendations to help clients enact basic, health-supportive modifications and habits. These recommendations might include developing strategies to incorporate more physical activity; adding in more fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking more water to crowd out sugar, processed grains, and caffeinated beverages;learning to nurture good relationships; identifying career aspirations and developing strategies to actualize these goals; and deepening spiritual practices through meditation, nature, or religion to enhance self-fulfillment.

Dietitians and Nutritionists make specific nutrition recommendations, often using food components such as calories of energy, grams of protein, and milliliters of water, base on activity level, stress level, and body composition. They may recommend specific doses of vitamins, minerals, or other therapeutic supplements supported by nutritional assessment findings. They may request or recommend further laboratory tests from a physician.

Nutrition Theory:

Health Coaches focus on whole foods; avoid breaking down needs to macro-and-micro nutrient level. Health Coaches may promote several different dietary theories-tailored to the needs of each unique client.

Dietitians and Nutritionists focus on food components like macro nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals). They may use many diet plans based on one-size-fits-all government developed guidelines.

Client Goal:

In addition to specific goals, Health Coaches focus on teaching clients to eventually be self-sufficient by learning to observe the body’s response to various lifestyle and dietary modifications and choosing health-promoting behaviors that work for them on their own.

Dietitians and Nutritionists usually focus on specific goals, such as weight loss, blood glucose control, or blood pressure normalization, which often require ongoing guidance and maintenance.

Education Background:

To be a Health Coach, it doesn’t require an undergraduate degree or academic prerequisites (unless you want to be a Master Health Coach). There is no national exam to pass in order to practice. Health Coaches are trained on basic scientific concepts of metabolism with emphasis on whole foods and healthy lifestyle components, such as physical activity, career, relationships, and spirituality; we are trained to coach and hold clients accountable for lifestyle choices.  IIN training requires an intensive, one-year course to provide the training that future clients deserve and demand.

A registered Dietitian or Nutritionist requires at least a bachelor’s degree-50% hold master’s degrees or doctorates. Requires passing a national exam to practice. Trained in-depth on disease states, biochemistry, metabolism, and macro-and micro nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Requires certification through national certifying body to practice.

Career Characteristics:

Health Coaching is a new, emerging, quickly evolving profession tailored to address healthcare crisis. We are forward thinking, holistic-combines traditional health concepts with both ancient and modern practices. We produce science and experientially based recommendations. There is little to no government or food industry influence.

Dietitians or Nutritionists were founded on concepts established in 1917; slowly evolving. They use traditional, allopathic, medically established health concepts. They use science based recommendations and there is a strong government and food industry influence.

So the question is, which one is right for you? There is no wrong answer. We just do things differently in some areas. I think there is a place in the world for all of us. The goal is to help people get well, overcome disease and live a long healthy life. Why not try them all? It would be cheaper than getting cancer. See what works for you. And if you’re interested in learning more about IIN (Health Coaching School), click HERE. Maybe it’s for you!

Have you worked with a Health Coach, Nutritionist or Dietitian? Post in the comments below. I’d love to hear your experience.

Thinking about trying Health Coaching? Click HERE to see all my coaching plans.