What's the difference between a nutritionist and a Food Coach?
A nutritionist is qualified to prescribe diets and supplements, to diagnose health conditions and to treat them as appropriate to their training. They are registered with an industry body and hold public liability and indemnity insurance to work in this fashion, this is in part their 'scope of practice'. We like to say the line in the sand is about:
All in the realm of a tertiary qualified health professional.
A food coach on the other hand has a different scope of practice, one that educates clients to make their own informed decision, it's a collaborative approach where the practitioner supports the client in taking on responsibility for their own behaviour change and health.
Research suggests that where a person takes on more involvement in their health they are able to stay on track, and over the long term tend to have better health outcomes and success in reaching their goals. You could say a food coach's scope of practice is:
When a food coach works with a client, it isn't their role to advise their client of what to eat or do, but rather work with them on identifying some of their unhealthy/unhelpful behaviours, explaining why they may be limiting their health and then working together to come up with better options.
The key is providing choice!
Nutrition & Health Coaches aren't in the business of telling people what to do, they are in the business of educating clients so they can come up with better choices, working with clients to identify areas to improve and coming up with strategies on how to achieve their goals.
Food coaches offer choices; offering choices means that you aren't extending beyond your training or scope of practice, the responsibility for the changes becomes the clients.
Here's an example:
Charlie has completed her diet diary and is going over it with her food coach, Mary. Together they have defined that a priority issue for Charlie is that she doesn't eat much fresh vegetables over the day, which could compromise her nutritional status and energy levels. One of Charlie's snacks is a coffee and cake and she has decided this is a good place to start. Mary has asked Charlie what she feels would be better options, something that she knows is healthier and enjoyable. Charlie has come up with three ideas
A herbal tea and a fruit yoghurt
A juice and a wholemeal date scone
A green tea and some hummus and crackers
Together Charlie and Mary discuss which option is best in terms of what Charlie will be able to stick with and which is ideal for reaching her healthy eating goals. Mary and Charlie go on and devise strategies to help Charlie make the switch, looking at shopping lists, recipes, timing of eating and so on.
Nutrition & Health Coaching is an extremely potent way to assist others in making life long health changes as it focuses on a deep level, one that is personalised and is therefore relevant and motivating.
Stay within your scope!
Always stay within your scope of practice for your clients safety and for your best interests. If in doubt ask, ask your training provider or insurer. And, if you have a client that you know has requirements beyond your scope of practice refer on!
We all have a role to play in community health, the only question is how do we play this role? Through intelligent, evidence-based inquiry we can understand how to health coach to support others in taking on positive behaviour change.