Some of trendiest careers these days are in health and life coaching fields. Over the past few years, I have seen many friends and influencers claim this title. So, what exactly does their coaching entail? Are there qualifications required to call oneself a health/life coach? Do you need a life coach? I got these answers and more when I interviewed a local health coach, Jennifer Turner as well as the co-founder of the fastest-growing online health education platform, Carey Peters.
What exactly is a health coach?
“There is not an exact definition—a health coach’s role is dependent on the coach’s skills, trainings and passions. A health coach can be everything you wish your MD would be and works in a holistic way taking many aspects of health into consideration including diet, exercise, mindfulness, stress reduction and supplementation.”
Do you need credentials to be a health coach? What training did you complete prior to start coaching?
Technically, you do not need any credentials to be called a health coach. However, credentials are needed to use the titles “nutritionist,” “dietitian” or in reference to any other specific accreditation. I completed the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Program and thus can call myself an FDNP (Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner).
Many health coaches blend a variety of health- and fitness-related certifications to better serve their clients. For example, I am also a registered Yoga Alliance RYT and hold other fitness-based certifications.
Why did you decide to become a health coach?
In childhood and early adulthood, I struggled with severe stomach pain, nausea, nervousness and bloating. I was extremely shy and scared of pretty much everything. The stomach pain and nausea was often debilitating keeping me in bed and away from enjoying life. Doctors dosed me with OTC drugs, but I still spent the first few days of school in the bathroom vomiting. It would subside for a while, but as soon as a new stressor (school, parental conflict, death of my mother, new step-family) was introduced, the stabbing pains would begin again. High school came with cystic acne and excessive sweating. Things continued to worsen in college, and symptoms would flare up when my roommate would belittle me or I had a big test coming up. It wasn't until I started to dive into nutrition and practice yoga that these symptoms began to subside. For the first time I was able to express myself without fear (that manifested in pain, vomit, sweat, and acne). This was a long journey and an ongoing process. Now, I hope to help others along their own healing journeys.
What do you help clients with?
When seeking to heal, we must assess your life on a WHOLE-istic macro level. Taking inventory of one’s diet, rest, exercise, and relationships is a a good place to start, but it must go deeper than that. Acknowledge the oneness and interconnectedness of your mind-body-spirit and seek the root causes of stress and disconnection from your truth. True healing comes from deep within, and not from the trendiest diet, perfect prescription drug cocktail or sexiest workout plan.
What inspired you to co-found the Health Coach Institute?
Basically, I had terrible stomach problems myself. I was really struggling with horrible IBS. I went to a gastroenterologist when I was 28.
The doctor was like, "Well, you have terrible IBS, and here's a prescription for Zelnorm and you're going to have to take it for the rest of your life."
I was like, "Wait a minute. That doesn't sound right. Really? For the rest of my life?" Because I'm sort of rebellious by nature, I was like, "I don't know. Can that really be?"
I started researching food. I thought this guy didn't even ask me what I eat. Is there something maybe that I eat that could be causing my stomach issues? I started to just get really obsessed with food and nutrition, and I read every book I could get my hands on. I realized that I was eating an enormous amount of sugar and a ton of gluten which, at the time, people weren't necessarily talking about. So I thought…I'll just start changing my diet. I'll start cooking, I'll start eating more vegetables. I got super into it. At the same time, I was feeling really disenchanted with my career. I was professional actress, and I did fairly well.
There were times when between jobs where I had to do temp jobs here and there and I'd be sitting at an office and I'd be like, "What am I sitting here for? This is crazy." I'm doing that I don't love to do. To me, it's very hard to get up in the morning and do something that I don't love to do. If it doesn't feel meaningful, it's very hard to do it. As I was approaching 30, I realized that my career was not looking the way I wanted it to look. When I looked forward as an actress, I [wasn’t] seeing the kind of career that I want—financially and otherwise. I started to feel restless and that I was meant to go in a different direction I knew I wanted to help people because, as an actress, telling stories is meant to help people elicit emotion, feel, and learn more about themselves. That's the point.
I [wanted] to translate that into a career—and here's this newfound passion for health. Wouldn't it be amazing if could put those two together? I was looking at becoming a nutritionist or a licensed clinical social worker. Finally, I found health coaching, which was very new at the time, and I wanted to help people be able to transform their lives through the doorway of diet and lifestyle. I started my actual education in 2005 and really never looked back. I've been coaching professionally and successfully since 2008. For a couple of years, I struggled because I realized I didn't have the right training. I didn't know how to coach, which is a problem when you're a health coach. I had a little bit still to learn. My initial training fell a little short, which I didn't realize until it was too late. Once I finally figured out here's how you coach, here's the business of coaching, then my career took off. I had my first six figure year. Actually, it took me 10 months to get to that income. It's been six figures every year since then.
I ended up partnering with Stacy, who's another successful health coach, and we ended up just having coaches come to us separately and say, “Tell me how you're doing what you're doing. How did you get clients? How did you create products online? How are you doing this in a way that's making money?” We started teaching people informally. Then I finally was like, “I should start interviewing coaches who are doing this for a living and doing a great job.”
[Stacy and I] thought about it for many years, and we wanted to make sure that if we were to create a training [on health coaching] that we really were able to articulate our specific points of view about what that meant and how to do it. It took us a couple of years to develop Health Coach Institute.
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Why is Health Coach Institute the fastest growing online health coach training available?
We're really happy with what it's become and just thrilled that, in two short years, it's becoming the fastest growing health coach education out there. One reason is because we are health coaches, and we've done what we're teaching people to do, so it's not theory—it's stuff that works in the real world. Also, we really understand what a health coach is, and I don't think a lot of health coach trainings do. A health coach is basically a personal trainer, but for what you eat and how you live. We're all very familiar with hiring a personal trainer. Part of the reason that's effective is because you're paying somebody, and because you're paying them, you're going to show up.
What is the difference between a personal trainer and a health coach?
Exercise is really just one component of wellness. There's exercise, there's diet, and there's lifestyle. Lifestyle—meaning, how are you living every day? What are the habits that you have every day that are health-promoting versus health-destroying? That actually is what determines your level of health and wellness and your experience of joy or satisfaction or contentment in life. When you're working with a health coach, [the] coach is working with your entire experience—not just fitness, but all those other components that are going to get you to a level of peak health and, really, peak happiness.
When it comes to exercise or how you eat or what time you go to sleep, all of those things—these are about habits. I think part of the problem people have, and why health coaches are becoming so prominent and so needed, is that changing habits and behaviors is extremely difficult for most people to do because the main strategies we have to change habits and behavior is willpower. Willpower doesn't take us very far because, inevitably, we're going to hit bumps in the road or challenges in our lives where even if you have a trainer and you're paying the trainer, your kid gets sick, and it's hard to get to the gym. Things happen that get in the way of consistent habits over time that lead to health.
The problem that I see with a lot of people is that they're looking at diets or they may get a book. They're trying to fit themselves into a dietary theory or a dietary system that really doesn't work for them, but they feel like they have to just keep pushing it to make it work because you've got to suffer or you won't get results.
A coach can help you figure that out, because we need somebody outside of ourselves to draw us forward. It's too easy when you're alone to quit and believe that you can't do it or it isn't going to work or there isn't a way. A coach provides the right system, the right support, and the right accountability.
Having a coach is not about getting a checklist of foods to eat to lose 30 pounds. A coach can do that, but more importantly, the coach is going to help you see and embody the version of you that has that result. What a health coach does is help you change habits and behaviors, and the way they do that is by actually helping you transform your beliefs about yourself and your life and what you're able to do, be, or have.
How do you see this new and growing health coach industry supplementing or supporting the current healthcare system?
As people get sicker and sicker and healthcare becomes more and more expensive, we're seeing a change that our current system is not sustainable. I don't think our current system is completely flawed and broken. It's just missing one key piece. In the current system right now, people have a problem, they go to a doctor's office, the doctor assesses their problem, gives them a diagnosis, says, "Hey, you need to lose 30 pounds and stop drinking coffee and you need to get your cholesterol numbers down." They may give you a checklist, right? Then the patient walks out the door and they're on their own to make all these changes. When they walk out the door, they're on their own and don't know what to do or how to follow through to get the results that the doctor asked them to get.
The function of the health coach in the healthcare system or marketplace is to be the person that helps you work the plan that a doctor or nutritionist planned for you. People on their own, as they often are in the current model, have low chances for success. We all need guidance and we need support. We need accountability. I personally believe that in the coming years, having a health coach is going to be as prevalent as having a doctor.
The diseases that are costing us the most money—whether it's heart disease or obesity or diabetes—are lifestyle diseases. When you change your lifestyle and your diet, those diseases either go away completely or become much more manageable, ultimately becoming way less expensive for the individual, for the community, and for the country.