How Can a Nutrition Coach Help You Keep a Healthy Lifestyle?

Find an effective solution to improve your overall well-being

Nutrition coach writes notes for female patient in her office

We all want a healthy lifestyle. But sometimes, bridging the gap between wanting to be healthy and doing the work to become healthy can seem difficult or even impossible. For instance, sticking to healthy eating all the time can feel like a chore, especially with a busy schedule or an underlying health issue like increased intestinal permeability (or leaky gut). Plus, with so much well-intentioned, but ill-informed advice out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused about the best way to begin.

With the help of a nutrition coach, adopting positive habits doesn’t have to feel so challenging. Employing dietary and non-dietary concepts, a nutrition coach helps you identify what’s keeping you from a healthy lifestyle. It’s more than counting calories and stepping up physical activity — it’s also about addressing root causes behind unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Below, we share what a nutrition coach is, what credentials they have, and how nutrition impacts your overall health. Lastly, we’ll provide some resources for you to begin a successful journey towards a healthier lifestyle.

Differences Between a Dietitian, Nutritionist, and Nutrition Coach

To understand what nutrition coaching is, we first have to understand the differences between a nutrition coach, a dietitian, and a nutritionist. While each is skilled in human nutrition, the way they dispense nutrition information can be quite different.

Dietitian

As an expert in dietetics, dietitians undergo a rigorous qualification process. They must:

  • Graduate with a bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree from an accredited university.
  • Complete coursework in required fields like human health, nutrition sciences, food sciences, and health sciences.
  • Complete an internship at a company in the health or food industry.
  • Pass the national exam set by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
  • Obtain certain licenses and certifications from places such as the Commission on Dietetic Registration, and abide by the state laws regarding dietetics.

Dietitians often work in the departments of nutrition in healthcare organizations or food service companies, focusing on public health issues. Some registered dietitians also work in private practices and may identify as nutritionists. It should be noted that some dietitians also have nutrition coaching certifications.

Nutritionist

Nutritionists are not as regulated as dietitians in the United States, meaning self-taught individuals without academic credentials can identify as nutritionists.

With that said, some certified clinical nutritionists have attended graduate school to get a Master’s Degree in nutritional sciences and/or clinical nutrition. They usually work in food sciences, healthcare settings, and the food industry to provide general nutrition information.

A nutritionist can have a degree in nutrition, or may have zero credentials. Individual state laws have different regulations on who can practice as a nutritionist. If you’d like to learn more, visit The American Nutrition Association for more details.

Nutrition Coach

A nutrition coach, also referred to as a health coach or wellness coach, works with you to achieve your health and wellness goals such as weight loss, improved eating habits, and a more positive body image.

Some dietitians and nutritionists are unable to dive into your unique lifestyle habits that you experience on a day-to-day basis. This is where a nutrition coach can shine — they are able to hold you accountable and enable sustainable healthy changes.

Why Nutrition Coaching?

Adopting a healthier lifestyle often involves changing an old pattern or starting a new habit — and sometimes this can be uncomfortable and challenging. In an interview published in The Journal of Global Advances in Health and Medicine, four leaders in the health and wellness coaching sphere (Meg Jordan, Karen Lawson, Linda Bark, and Margaret Moore) agreed that telling people what to do doesn’t work as well as encouraging them [1].

Fortunately, nutrition coaches use their coaching skills to empower their clients every step of the way to adopt healthy habits.

A certified nutrition coach may also:

  • Work with you to create individualized physical and mental health goals such as increasing physical activity or forming a healthy relationship with food.
  • Use two-way communication and feedback to help you accomplish positive lifestyle changes in a realistic and timely manner.
  • Teach you how to make healthy food choices through steps like reading ingredient labels when grocery shopping.
  • Help you reshape your mindset towards a healthy lifestyle.

As such, a nutrition coach doesn’t just create a short-term nutrition plan for you and leave it at that. Instead, they take the time to listen to your needs and wants, and most importantly, keep you accountable and motivated so you achieve your long-term health goals.

Are All Nutrition Coaches Certified?

According to The International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching (ICHWC) [2], more than 150,000 individuals call themselves health coaches in the United States.

However, only 16,000-20,000 of these individuals completed a coaching program recognized by the ICHWC. Out of these practitioners, only 5,000 went through a certification program and certification exam or finished a university degree program. 

Twenty thousand individuals are self-taught health coaches, meaning they don’t have a certification but know enough nutrition education to act as professional coaches. The remaining individuals don’t possess any nutrition coach certification, and may not have knowledge, and/or experience but still identify themselves as nutrition coaches.

Certified Nutrition Coach Credentials

As seen from the above explanation, sifting the professional from the unprofessional is key to achieving your health goals. A certified nutrition coach should have graduated from a coaching program at an ICHWC-approved school and then taken a nutrition certification exam. Alternatively, health and fitness professionals skilled in the required fields of nutrition and behavior coaching may sit for the certification exam if they’ve completed 1000 coaching sessions.

Note that recently, The American Medical Association (AMA) has approved the “new Category III Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) Codes for health and well-being coaching.” As such, you might be able to use insurance to offset part of the costs from health and wellness coaches who use these codes.

The Link Between Nutrition and Health

Woman eating meal prepared by a nutrition coach

In the nutrition sphere, “You are what you eat” is not just a saying. It’s a way of life. What you put into your body affects your body’s daily functions. And since the digestive system is mainly responsible for breaking down foods and absorbing nutrients from them, your gut health is dependent on what you eat as well as your emotional and physical health.

How Does Nutrition Affect Your Gut Health?

Trillions of live bacteria live in our digestive systems to keep our bodies healthy. Good bacteria maintain healthy digestion, regulate your immune system, and manage gut inflammation (over-inflammation is a common underlying factor of multiple health issues).

So, how does nutrition affect your gut health? Simply put, good nutrition (in the form of healthy, whole foods) helps promote the growth of healthy microbes in your gut. But what’s healthy and not healthy to eat may depend a lot on the unique ecosystem of microorganisms in your gut.

For example, fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) are common food triggers for bloating, gas, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [3]. High FODMAP foods include onions, garlic, broccoli, apples, lentils and other foods typically considered to be nutritious. 

Are apples and broccoli healthy foods? In fact, the answer for these and many other foods is: it depends on your microbiome. A nutrition coach can be very supportive in helping you discover the best diet to understand and meet your personal dietary needs.

How Does Nutrition Affect Your Overall Health?

Poor gut health can have a negative impact on health issues outside of the gut. For example, patients with IBS often have non-gut-related symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety, and insomnia. Similarly, individuals dealing with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune condition that may be related to impaired gut health) struggle with dry skin, hair loss, and restlessness.

Using Nutrition To Improve Your Health

A foundational step in improving your overall health is to improve your gut health. Healthy, long-term eating habits ultimately translate into a healthy gut microbiota community which in turn positively impacts your overall health.

One of the best ways to do that is to engage a certified nutrition coach. He or she can help you select the right nutritional approach for your health needs and support you in implementing it.

Remember, everyone’s food intolerances are unique. It’s also why an effective nutrition plan is often highly personalized. Through a process of elimination and reintroduction, you’ll learn which foods trigger your symptoms so you can avoid them.

Here, we will look at some of the standard elimination diets your nutrition coach may recommend you.

1. Low-FODMAP Diet Improves Leaky Gut, IBS, and Inflammation

A diet low in FODMAPs, a group of short-chain carbohydrates, has been shown to relieve symptoms of leaky gut and IBS. Two meta-analyses show a low-FODMAP diet significantly reduces gas, bloating, and abdominal pain [8, 9].

To ensure proper implementation and reintroductions with this diet, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist or a nutrition coach with a background in dietetics. These professionals can help you map the best low-FODMAP food content.

2. Elemental Diet Improves Gut Health and Autoimmune Symptoms

When all other gut therapies are unsuccessful, an elemental diet is usually recommended. The elemental diet is a meal replacement liquid food that’s easily digestible and acts as a fast for your gut microbes.

Much of the current research shows elemental dieting can help control gut disorders like SIBO and IBS as well as autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease [10, 11, 12, 13]. Also, elemental dieting can help reduce intestinal inflammation and relieve symptoms of celiac disease where gluten-free diets have failed [14].

If you’re dealing with any of these conditions, work with a nutrition coach on the best ways to include elemental dieting in your nutrition plan. They may recommend you take an elemental shake to help reset your gut more efficiently.

3. Paleo Diet Controls Inflammation

Limiting processed foods and focusing on healthy, whole foods, the Paleo diet reduces the possibility of overwhelming your body system with high levels of inflammation. A lower inflammatory food intake also means a healthier gut environment for your microbes to thrive, leading to lesser inflammation. 

Since inflammation is the root cause of most chronic illnesses, a Paleo diet also has the added benefit of strengthening your overall health. This will help minimize and prevent the occurrence of common health conditions like IBS and autoimmunity. 

Following the Paleo diet also means reduced exposure to common food intolerances such as gluten, dairy, soy, chemicals, and preservatives. Eliminating these food triggers from your diet can help you better identify what’s causing symptoms like brain fog and irritability. Ultimately, you’ll enjoy better mental and emotional health, on top of your improved physical well-being.

4. Adequate Micronutrient Consumption Strengthens Gut and Overall Health

Micronutrients are made of vitamins and minerals that are crucial to good health. Some of these micronutrients are produced in your body (termed as non-essential nutrients) while others need to be obtained from your diet (referred to as essential nutrients).

A gut-friendly diet that consists of the right amounts of micronutrients can improve your gut health and help you manage and prevent chronic diseases. For instance, selenium-rich foods promote thyroid health as supported by a systematic review which explains selenium supplementation significantly reduces thyroid peroxidase autoantibodies in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis [21]. Moreover, the subjects experienced improved well-being such as positive mood changes.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another essential nutrient that’s often lacking from people’s diet. Possessing anti-inflammatory properties, whole foods high in omega-3 (sardines, salmon, flaxseed, and chia seeds to name a few) are crucial to regulating gut inflammation, improving gut microbiome, and boosting immunity [22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27].

Still, if your gut health isn’t healthy, you may not be absorbing sufficient nutrients from the foods you eat, even if they are mostly healthy foods. That’s why improving your gut health is so important — it ensures efficient nutrient absorption so the efforts of your healthy diet are not in vain. 

An experienced health coach can sit down with you to identify which foods you should consume more of and which to cut down to boost your gut health. This way, you’ll get the right nutrients in the right amounts from your daily diet.

Uncover a Healthy Lifestyle With Austin Functional Medicine

Are you sold on the benefits of good nutrition yet? If so, functional and integrative medicine doctor Dr. Michael Ruscio (DNM, DC), certified nutritionist and nutrition coach Morgan Molidor (MSc) and the rest of the integrative medicine team at Austin Functional Medicine can help you achieve a healthier lifestyle. Trained in Western medicine, functional medicine, and nutrition coaching, the team at Austin FM can help with health issues like:

  • Poor immunity
  • Bloating, constipation, gas, and diarrhea
  • SIBO, SIFO (small intestinal fungal overgrowth), IBS, and leaky gut
  • Autoimmune disorders e.g. inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Hashimoto’s
  • Skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Mental health (brain fog, anxiety, depression, insomnia)

If you’re having trouble tackling gut health and other chronic health challenges on your own, or are looking for a nutrition coach, book an appointment with us at Austin FM for a more detailed nutrition plan that works.

Here are our available services:

List of Austin FM's available services

Alternatively, Dr. Ruscio’s book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, is a step-by-step guide teaching you how to heal from digestive issues. Besides focusing on eating habits and good nutrition, this guide also emphasizes non-dietary concepts such as exercise and sun exposure for an effective, well-rounded solution.

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