3 Types of Health Coaches: What is the Best Health Coaching Certification for You?

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a female with white hair and a white sweater sits at a desk, researching on her laptop to find a proper health coach certification

We’re fortunate to live in a time when the coaching professions are exploding. The field of Health Coaching is a powerful force helping so many people have access to information about food, nutrition, and lifestyle typically isn’t available in the doctor’s office. 

But as the business of health coaching has grown, so has the confusion about what health coaches actually do, what you should look for in a health coach certification training, and what you should be looking for in any program you’re considering. 

So what is the best health coach certification for you?

The task of making the best choice can be truly daunting. So many programs boast the best education, the most competitive price, or the fastest way to get certified and make lots of money. It’s difficult to know what to believe or know which program will be right for you. 

So in this article, we’ll look at an aspect of health coach certifications that most people don’t consider – and how you can use this information to make the best choice for your life and career.

Here’s something most people don’t realize: 

There Are At Least 3 Types of Health Coaches

Many people think that a health coach is “one” thing, and does a very specific kind of work. 

But the truth is that there are three main categories of health coaches, and they all do quite different kinds of work with their clients. Their day-to-day work life is VERY different, and the kinds of client challenges they’re trained to address is significantly different.

So it’s vital for you, as someone who is considering a health coach training, to decide what kind of health coach you want to become. Once you’ve made an educated decision, you can more easily choose the most suitable health coach certification training. So here are the 3 types of health coaches:

Health Coaching Type 1: The Educational Generalist

a black female educational generalist prospect, smiling and learning to get a health coaching certification

The Educational Generalist Health Coach works with clients who need basic health, nutrition and lifestyle education. 

They help their clients answer questions such as:

  • What should I eat?
  • How can I have more energy?
  • How can I lose weight?
  • How can I feel healthier?

This type of health coach educates and informs their clients about healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices.

Educational Generalist Coaches work with a population that needs information, ideas, and new directions.

On the most straightforward level, this type of health coach educates their clients about which foods to eat and which foods to avoid. They often provide meal planning ideas, tips on how to food shop, and they might encourage clients around stress management, sleep, rest, and exercise. This type of coach can also give their clients useful information around how to eat for disease prevention.

Clients of the Educational Generalist don’t have the time, the inclination, or the educational background to sift through all the confusing nutrition and diet information that’s out there. 

They want someone who can simplify things for them, and give them clear advice. The Educational Generalist fills that need perfectly. They often find themselves doing some hand holding with clients, as well as helping them stay accountable for the changes they are trying to make.

One important distinction to note about this type of health coach: they do NOT do clinical nutrition work with clients.

Clinical work means helping people with their more serious or chronic health concerns like digestive issues, hormonal problems, immune challenges, autoimmune conditions, chronic pain, arthritis, diabetes and more – often in a clinical setting in partnership with a licensed medical professional. Clinical work means you are pursuing the same goals for a patient as a clinician would … assisting to address the root cause of a person’s medical or metabolic issue, diagnosing them, and then prescribing and treating with supplements, diet and/or drugs. 

Who might be the best fit to be an Educational Generalist Coach?

  • Those who don’t want the pressure of becoming a licensed medical professional who requires an encyclopedic understanding of health, healing, and disease. That’s not what Educational Generalists do. That role is for a well-trained clinician or health professional.
  • People who enjoy having a basic understanding of a lot of different health information, and who enjoy teaching and instructing clients about health facts more than they enjoy coaching around behavior change.
  • You like being in a simple, clearly defined professional role: giving your clients general health and nutrition principles. 

The Educational Generalist Coach might NOT be the right choice for you if…

  • You want to work in a very specific way with clients, or have specific types of client challenges you feel passionate about helping. For example, the Educational Generalist is NOT trained to help people with eating challenges such as binge eating, emotional eating, overeating, body image concerns, constant food worry, and persistent challenges around weight. 
  • You are drawn to a more clinical, physiological approach to helping others. You enjoy basing your educating on labwork and medical data. Or, you love nuance and working with your clients’ inner emotional world.

Importantly, Educational Generalist health coaches aren’t trained in how to coach and counsel when it comes to mind and emotions – the psychology of the eater. This requires a whole different type of training and education. 

Unfortunately, many Educational Generalists become frustrated when working with their clients. They often lack the necessary skillset and tools to help people achieve their health goals, whether that’s losing weight, putting an end to emotional eating or binge eating, or establish a healthier lifestyle. 

That’s because most health coach certification trainings (which skew towards the educational generalist approach) don’t properly teach students how to truly create behavior change. Such change always requires an intimate understanding of your clients’ psychology and emotions, because that’s where change ultimately happens.

At the same time, because Educational Generalists are not expected to work with client’s emotional or psychological challenges, it can be a great choice for those who prefer to not work with clients on that level. 

You simply need a desire to educate and inform – and if you’re able to have a little healthy detachment from whether your clients actually implement your advice, it can be a great type of health coaching to look into.

Some programs that I believe are best categorized as trainings that produce Educational Generalists are the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and the Health Coach Institute. To me, these trainings are best for people who want an entry level education into health coaching, and who are well suited to providing education and information to people. 

But again, these programs are not helpful for those who want to work with clinical nutrition, or for those who want to go deeper with their clients and help them with concerns such as weight, emotional eating, binge eating, endless dieting, constant food worry, body image concerns, and more. Working with these challenges simply requires a different kind of training.

Health Coaching Type 2: The Clinical Health & Nutrition Coach

a smiling female clinical nutrition coach holding vegetables in her arms

This type of coach works with health challenges and disease conditions in a prescriptive and clinical way. Those who become Clinical Health & Nutrition Coaches are personally interested in being health detectives. They learn how to assess a client’s health status using medical testing, extensive history taking, and a lot of trial, error, and experience. 

To be a Clinical Health & Nutrition Coach requires a strong working understanding of the human body, functional and applied nutrition. It calls for a more extensive knowledge of supplements, herbs, vitamins, and the ability to research drug interactions with whatever they recommend for their clients.

This type of health coach works with all kinds of health challenges: digestive diseases, diabetes, immune and autoimmune conditions, chronic fatigue, allergies, food sensitivities, heart disease, weight loss resistance and much more. Many but not all Clinical Health & Nutrition Coaches choose to specialize in one or a few medical conditions.

People who choose this path love to get to the bottom of what’s causing a person’s unwanted symptoms.

They enjoy recommending a very specific diet, and the right supplements, herbs and vitamins. Like a doctor, they are doing clinical work. 

It’s important to note, however, that unless a Clinical Health & Nutrition Coach has a medical license, they cannot formally diagnose, treat, or prescribe for their clients. In many cases, Clinical Health & Nutrition Coaches work under a physician or nurse practitioner, or as part of a clinical team.  

The Clinical Health & Nutrition Coach might NOT be the right choice for…

Clinical Health & Nutrition Coaches are not trained to work in the realm of mind and emotions. 

They aren’t taught the skills and distinctions to work with eating challenges such as emotional eating, binge eating, overeating, endless dieting, constant food worry, or body image concerns. They often work with weight loss, but their tools are usually limited strictly to nutritional and metabolic ones

For this reason, these practitioners are often frustrated when it comes to working weight challenges that have a personal or emotional component – which is the vast majority of them.

Programs that educate Clinical Health & Nutrition Coaches include but are not limited to the IFM-sponsored Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, the Functional Nutrition Lab with Andrea Nakayama, and the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Program with Reed Davis. 

The Clinical Health and Nutrition Coach is best fit for…

These programs are usually best for people who are already degreed or professionally credentialed to prescribe: doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dietitians, clinical psychologists, and/or people who are working under a physician. 

They’re also great for people who want a solid education in functional nutrition strategies for their own personal use and interest, or to add new tools and distinctions to their already existing professional practice. 

Many people develop a strong personal interest in nutrition. That interest might even become a passion. The challenge is, we can often mistake a personal interest for a career path. 

Meaning, you might think, “Well, since I have a love of nutrition, I should therefore become a nutrition professional and help others in a clinical way.” This is certainly the case for many people. 

But it’s important to ask yourself the question: “Am I suited to be a nutrition clinician? Is this how I wish to work with others? Is this just a personal passion, or is it a professional one?” 

Additionally, many people turn to nutrition and general health coach trainings thinking that this will solve their personal and emotional challenges around food. 

Here’s the thing though: 

Nutrition knowledge can be a joy, it’s fascinating, but it’s not enough to help those who are challenged with weight, body image, overeating, binge eating, emotional eating, constant food worry, endless dieting, and unwanted eating habits.

Also please note: most states and countries are very clear that one needs to be licensed to prescribe supplements or medical diets. The term “nutrition” in one’s professional title is being regulated more and more closely in the USA and other counties. Be careful here and do the research to see what your state or country allows. 

Health Coaching Type 3: The Mind Body Eating Coach 

a female mind body eating coach, smiling and holding a laptop

Full disclosure: this is the type of coach we train here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating in our 8 month online training. This is our specialty niche, and we’re the leaders in this field.

The Mind Body Eating Coach blends nutrition and psychology in working with the most common eating and health challenges. 

They’re trained to work with weight, body image, overeating, binge eating, emotional eating, constant food worry, endless dieting, and unwanted eating habits. They also work with nutrition-related health challenges that have a mind-body component, including digestion, immunity, fatigue, and mood concerns.

The Mind Body Eating Coaching approach directly addresses the key challenge that has been a thorn in the side of the health coaching professions for decades: how to work with people’s personal and emotional challenges around food. 

So many people suffer from what I call a high FACT diet … meaning information overload when it comes to nutrition knowledge. They’ve read all the books, followed all the experts, tried all the diets, googled all the questions, and they still haven’t found what they’re looking for. 

Good nutrition is great, but it’s not enough to help those who feel stuck with unwanted eating challenges. That’s because these challenges aren’t really about food. They’re about the thoughts, feelings, and emotions about food.

The Mind Body Eating Coach is an expert at working with their clients’ mindset and emotions. They know how to get results quickly.

And that’s because they’ve been trained in Eating Psychology, the study of how our relationship with food is driven by our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and past experiences. Eating Psychology recognizes that eating challenges are intimately connected to every other area of our clients’ lives – relationships, finances, career, sexuality, spirituality, life fulfillment, and so much more.

This is essential training for any health coach, but particularly those who want to work with food and body challenges. It’s the missing ingredient in the vast majority of today’s health coach certifications.

A coach who understands eating psychology can help get to the root cause of why people get stuck. They’re trained to work with anyone who says “I know what to do, I know what I’m supposed to eat, I just don’t do it.” 

Mind Body Eating Coaches can guide their clients into a healthier relationship with eating, finding freedom with food, and becoming their best self.

Become a Certified
Mind Body Eating Coach

Download the FREE
course information packet

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What is the Right Health Coach Certification for You?

Eating Psychology is not a one-size-fits-all-approach. Every client is truly unique. Coaches need to know when to put on different personalities as a coach, how to ask the right questions, in what tone and what manner. 

For example, coaches need to speak to a 24-year-old-male very differently than a 64-year-old-woman. They’re coming in with very different perspectives and life experiences, and they’re best served by coaches who have the desire and training to work with their unique background. Likewise, coaches need to be circumspect about what’s best in any given moment for their particular client, such as when they need to deliver a teaching moment, or when it’s time to simply listen. Or, when to take a tough love approach versus when to give your client a big virtual hug. 

Each client you work with has a fantastically different food story. Understanding and working with your clients’ food stories is one of the ultimate skills of a Mind Body Eating Coach. They’re trained in how to work with different age groups, sexes, life stages, and client archetypes. And they know how to use key transformational coaching and counseling skills to powerful effect. 

Mind Body Eating Coaches can guide their clients into a healthier relationship with eating, finding freedom with food, and becoming their best selves.

This type of coach is also trained in a very unique approach to nutrition: Mind Body Nutrition. 

In typical nutrition science, the value of a food is determined strictly by the nutrients it contains, period. In the Mind Body Nutrition approach, we look at the missing ingredient in nutrition: 

How mind, emotions and lifestyle factors can powerfully impact how we digest, assimilate, and calorie burn any given meal. 

As it turns out, the nutritional value of a meal is impacted by more than just the macro- and micronutrients.

It is impacted by things like: 

  • stress and relaxation chemistry, 
  • eating speed, meal timing, breathing patterns, 
  • the degree of pleasure we experience, 
  • thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and much more.

In other words, what we eat is half the story of good nutrition. The other half of the story is who we are as eaters

Your clients can eat the healthiest food in the universe, but if they’re not eating it in the ideal physiologic state, which is the relaxation response, then they’re literally not getting the full nutritional value of their meal.

Why Mind Body Eating Coaching, of all the Types of Health Coaching?

The Mind Body Eating Coach combines many of the best tools from the other two types of coaches we’ve just learned about, while expanding to include eating psychology, and life coaching. 

This is the ideal approach for those who want to go beyond delivering information about nutrition and health to their clients. It’s a superb career path for those who want to help others with their unwanted eating habits, their health challenges, and for helping others with an effective and holistic approach to weight loss. 

And in particular, it’s the right choice for those who love exploring the fascinating interconnections between their clients’ emotions, beliefs, and life experiences — and how that influences their client’s relationship with food. 

Mind Body Eating Coaches love having conversations with their clients about their emotional world, and helping them shift out of negative self-talk, guilt, shame, and self-blame, and into a new, positive relationship with self. They foster self-compassion and self-confidence, and help their clients understand that our eating challenges are an amazing opportunity to learn and grow as humans. 

In this way, Mind Body Eating Coaches can be thought of as a sort of hybrid health-life coach. They help their clients not only heal their challenges with food and body, but use them as fuel for tremendous personal growth.

This type of coaching is perfect for both novice, first-time coaches, as well as established practitioners. It provides a strong foundation for anyone just starting out, as a deep knowledge of nutrition science is NOT required. And for existing health practitioners, whether medical providers, nurses, psychotherapists, dietitians, naturopaths, fitness professionals, or others, getting trained as a Mind Body Eating Coach provides the missing skillset to helping your clients breakthrough the mental and emotional blocks preventing them from achieving their goals.

Have you made up your mind about the best health coach certification for you?

Types of Health Coaching Summary:

For the Educational Generalist Coach, consider this approach if:

  • You want to have a more generalized introduction into the health coaching space
  • You want to focus on providing important health information and resources to your clients
  • You’re not drawn to a clinical, scientific, diagnostic way of working with clients 
  • You prefer to focus on what your clients are doing, versus their inner emotional world (ie, how they’re feeling)
  • You’re not as attracted to working with eating challenges, you prefer to work on helping basically healthy clients become even healthier by addressing diet, lifestyle, etc.

For the Clinical Health & Nutrition Coach, consider this approach if:

  • You’re more science oriented
  • You’re deeply inspired to learn functional and diagnostic nutrition
  • You’re intrigued by the idea of being a “health detective”
  • You’re not as attracted to diving into clients’ personal story and psychology
  • You prefer focusing on resolving a client’s symptoms and health concerns

For the Mind Body Eating Coach, consider this approach if:

  • You’re inspired to help others have breakthroughs with the most common eating challenges such as weight, emotional eating, overeating, binge eating, endless dieting, and body image 
  • You’re intrigued about working with health concerns that have a mind body component like digestion, fatigue, mood and immunity 
  • You’re attracted to holistic, mind/body/heart/soul approaches
  • You’re fascinated by your client’s unique psychology and emotional world
  • You’re drawn to holistic coaching that blends nutrition and psychology 
  • You enjoy learning about your client’s personal journey and you want to help others become their best self by using their eating and health concerns as a doorway for personal growth

If you are still wondering what the most suitable health coach certification is for you, check out our video explaining how to find and pick the right health coach career path.

Become a Certified
Mind Body Eating Coach

Download the FREE
course information packet

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IPE - Mind Body Coach Reusable Row for Blog

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