What is the difference between a health coach, a Registered Dietitian, and a nutritionist?


What is the difference between a health coach, a Registered Dietitian, and a nutritionist?

As a newly certified health coach I am asked this question all of the time.  Each of these fields have the same end goal: to help people become healthier, however the processes used are quite different. 

Health Coach

A certified health coach is focused on helping a client achieve their wellness goals while making sustainable, lasting life changes. Most health coaches appreciate that it generally takes a minimum of six months to imprint changes on habits, and so they intend to have sustained relationships with their clients.   An example of some wellness goals may include: weight loss, increasing energy, or obtaining healthier habits.  The job of a health coach is to help a client uncover what is their goal, and to create a personalized road map to implement steps to achieve the goal, with support all along the way.  Health coaches take a whole-body, or holistic approach to wellness.  There may be dietary changes, lifestyle changes, self-care changes, grocery store and pantry visits or a discussion of issues such as relationships, sleep or happiness.  Typically, a client will receive relevant articles and recipes along with bi-weekly coaching sessions.  Regular accountability is a big part of what sets health coaches apart from the others.

Health Coaches can work independently in their own business, alongside medical professionals, or in other wellness settings such as yoga studios or wellness centers. The ultimate benefit for someone who works with a Health Coach is the ongoing support and guidance that doctors are rarely able to provide. 

Think about it like this…the doctor issues a prescription to lower stress, reduce sugar or lose weight and get exercise.  You may ask yourself?… How do I achieve this? A health coach is the next step on the journey.   

A Registered Dietitian or a nutritionist often meets with clients once or twice with very little follow-up or accountability. Their intent is to provide information regarding diet.

Registered Dietitian

A Registered Dietitian is someone who has had more formal schooling in the biology and biochemistry of the human body. RD’s must complete at least a bachelor’s degree and work in a supervisory program for approximately one year at a health care facility. While some RD’s choose to work independently and run their own practice, many are more likely to work in a conventional medical setting.

Registered Dietitians are overseen by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and must therefore follow a certain set of guidelines in terms of the recommendations they can make to patients. While this ensures a certain level of standard practice, it leaves less room for individualized support and does not take into account the non-dietary aspects of life that facilitate or prevent healing (such as stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, relationships, or time for relaxation).


A nutritionist is typically someone who completes an undergraduate or graduate degree in nutrition. They may be working as a research scientist, health and wellness educator, professor at a university etc. Be aware that there are many individuals who market themselves as “nutritionists” with very little or no training whatsoever in nutrition. They may be selling “nutritional products” at a health or fitness center.

There are no specific requirements for nutritionists. Many different professionals, with a wide range of experience in wellness and nutrition, call themselves nutritionists.   

It is important to note that Health Coaches do not directly compete with other healthcare providers like doctors, nurses or dietitians; rather, WE COMPLEMENT THEIR WORK and SHARE THEIR MISSION of increasing the health and quality of life of our clients and the world.

PermaLink: https://zenfullifecoaching.com/service/blog/2016/01/22/what-is-the-difference-between-a-health-coach-a-registered-dietitian-and-a-nutritionist

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