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Can a Health Coach Give Nutrition Advice?

by: Sarah Appleby
Published: February 8, 2017
Updated: June 23, 2022

This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the health coaching community.

“Am I allowed to give nutrition advice to my clients?”

The answer is YES!

As health coaches, we help our clients take control of their bodies and their lives.

As a Primal Health Coach you are an expert in healthy eating, and providing nutrition advice to clients who are otherwise healthy is one of the most essential aspects of your job.

However, health coaches are not qualified or legally covered to provide advice regarding a client’s medical care or their treatment. This does not mean that you cannot work with your clients to achieve their health goals, as most of their health issues stem from the consumption of the Standard American Diet and living predominantly sedentary lifestyles.

Our role as health coaches is to provide our clients with advice on how to live the healthiest lives possible, and this includes giving nutrition advice.

But keep in mind, wording is everything when it comes to giving nutrition advice as a health coach, and here we’ll explore what you can and can’t say to your clients.

What a Health Coach Cannot Say Regarding Nutrition

Let’s start by discussing what a health coach cannot say without having a registered dietitian credential.

Firstly, what is a registered dietitian?

A registered dietitian is a medical practitioner that has completed a four year university degree which covers medical and biological topics in great detail, including physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, and microbiology.

Additionally, a registered dietitian generally must pass a licensure exam in order to perform medical nutritional therapy (MNT), which allows a registered dietitian to treat patients with medical conditions like Type 2 diabetes using diet-based therapies.

Unlike a registered dietitian, a health coach is not legally allowed to diagnose or treat a client with a health condition.

So, without either a medical degree or a registered dietitian credential:

  1. You cannot diagnose your clients with a medical condition or disease.
  2. You cannot prescribe a diet to treat your client’s medical or clinical condition.

The three key words you need to avoid when working with your health coaching clients are:

  1. Diagnose
  2. Prescribe
  3. Treat

What a Health Coach Can Say Regarding Nutrition

Here are six examples of what a health coach can say when giving nutrition advice:

  1. You can inform your clients that meat, fowl, fish and eggs are great source of healthy saturated fat and protein.
  2. You can advise your clients on the benefits of sourcing locally grown vegetables and seasonal fruits.
  3. You can explain the health benefits of including healthy fats into a healthy diet.
  4. You can coach your clients on the macronutrient composition of foods.
  5. You can share recipes and meal ideas that can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle.
  6. You can educate your clients on the impact that grains, refined sugar and processed foods have on your hormones.

As you can see from these examples, a health coach isn’t prescribing a nutrition plan to combat or treat disease, or diagnosing any health problems. Instead, a health coach is advising, informing, and educating their clients on how to live the healthiest lives possible.

Next we’ll demonstrate in 3 scenarios, how a health coach can and cannot give nutrition advice to their clients.

Scenario 1

  • You cannot prescribe a diet to treat a client’s obesity.
  • You can share tasty and nutritious recipes and food ideas with your client.

Scenario 2

  • You cannot treat your client’s type 2 diabetes with a low carb diet.
  • You can educate your client on the insulin-stimulating effects of consuming the Standard American Diet.

Scenario 3

  • You cannot diagnose that it is safe for your client to stop taking their blood pressure medication.
  • You can help your client to implement sustainable healthy lifestyle and nutrition habits, and once their health goals have been achieved you can suggest that they discuss their current health status with their physician who can review any medications they may be taking.

In these examples, the phrasing differences are subtle but of critical importance from a legal perspective.

As a health coach you cannot give specific advice on how to treat a disease, but you can discuss nutrition in relation to a client’s health goals. This applies to the advice you give clients as well as any wording in your marketing and advertisements.

Every state has different regulations on what type of nutrition advice can be given, and it’s important to be fully aware of the legislation in your local area so you don’t get caught out. Additionally, nothing said in this article should be construed as legal advice, so speak with a lawyer familiar with the laws in regulations in your local jurisdiction if you have any questions whatsoever about what you can and cannot do as a health coach where you live.

Why We As Health Coaches Should Be Discussing Nutrition with Our Clients

About 34% of adult Americans suffer from metabolic syndrome, and this health epidemic does not appear to be slowing down. Research has shown that prevention and reversal of metabolic syndrome can be achieved through the implementation of a healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet.

Whilst health coaches are not legally qualified to treat, prescribe or diagnose medical conditions, we as health coaches should be confidently discussing, educating, and promoting healthy nutrition practices, as this is the most effective way our clients will achieve their health goals.

To recap, remember it’s all in the wording, and if you stay clear of the terms:

  1. Diagnosing
  2. Prescribing
  3. Treating

And replace them with phrases such as:

  1. Promoting healthy eating
  2. Sharing nutritious recipes
  3. Achieving your health goals

You can discuss nutrition with your clients with confidence.

Now tell us what you think! Leave a comment below to start or join the discussion...

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