As a health coach, you’ve probably dabbled in the use of dietary supplements. You may have experienced major health benefits from their use. But can health coaches recommend supplements to their clients?
In this article we’ll explore these four key topics:
- Dietary supplements – what are they?
- Health coaching – what is it?
- What is the scope of practice of a health coach?
- Can health coaches recommend supplements?
Dietary Supplements – What Are They?
Dietary supplements (also known as nutrition supplements or food supplements) are products that provide nutrients that may be missing from your diet. Supplements come in a variety of forms, but the most common are tablets, powders or capsules.
Dietary or nutritional supplements can include but are not limited to:
- Vitamins and minerals (vitamin C, iron, calcium)
- Oil supplements (fish oil capsules)
- Electrolytes (sodium, magnesium and potassium)
- Protein powders
Supplements fill any nutrient gaps you may have in your diet. In a perfect world, we would consume all our nutrients from food alone. But modern living, including farming practices and even your geographic location, make it hard to achieve this.
Sometimes supplements can be taken temporarily, for example:
- Taking multivitamins during pregnancy
- Vitamin D supplementation throughout the winter months
Other times supplements can be taken for longer periods. Examples include:
- Long-term supplementation for someone with a chronic health condition
- Someone who doesn’t eat meat may take iron tablets long-term
Health Coaching – What Is It?
Health coaches are the ultimate cheerleaders and behavioral change experts. The coaching relationship is built on mutual trust and respect between both coach and client. Health coaches collaborate with their clients to help them integrate new lifestyle habits as they strive towards optimal health and positive health outcomes. Health coaches use a variety of strategies as part of their coaching process, including:
- Goal setting
- Motivational interviewing
- Encouraging regular physical activity
- Promoting a healthy daily routine
- Creating healthy habits
- Implementing self-management strategies
- Applying accountability strategies
- Coaching health education
- Implementing positive psychology processes
- Promoting self-care
There’s currently no educational standard for health coaches, but many health coaches hold a health coaching credential such as those offered by PHCI. There is a growing number of coaches becoming NBHWC-board certified, which is required if you are looking to bill insurance in the future.
You can find health coaches working in:
- Private practice either online or face-to-face, on a large scale (webinar), in small groups, or 1:1 (tailoring programs to the specific needs of individual clients)
- Medical practices working alongside other healthcare professionals such as medical doctors, nurses, personal trainers or mental health professionals
- A corporate setting developing wellness programs
- Wellness retreats promoting healthy living in exotic locations
- Content creation for a health, wellness or fitness blog, vlog or social media account (TikTok or instagram)
- Gyms or health clubs running nutrition and lifestyle coaching and helping clients make healthy choices
Many coaches specialize in a specific health, fitness or wellness niche such as:
- Stress management
- Weight loss and improved health
- Blood sugar control through lifestyle changes
- Mental health coaching
Now that we’ve established what supplements are and what health coaches do, let’s circle back to the original question…
Can Health Coaches Recommend Supplements?
The short answer to this questions is no, health coaches should not recommend supplements to their clients. And there are two major reasons for this:
- Most jurisdictions and certifying bodies, do not allow the recommendation of supplements as it does not fall into the scope of practice of a health coach (more on this later). This means you are not legally allowed to provide supplement recommendations. If you do, you may find yourself in legal trouble. Some states and certifying bodies do have specific guidelines that allow health coaches to recommend supplements, but you must check with a lawyer to make sure you’re covered. It’s important to note that only a licensed professional such as a medical doctor can prescribe supplements.
- There’s an inherent health risk to taking dietary supplements that many people don’t consider. Our bodies function best when we consume the right amount of vitamins and nutrients (not too little or too much). Consuming too much of a particular vitamin or nutrient can be dangerous. For example, large doses of vitamin A, C or E while pregnant can harm your unborn baby. Also, some supplements interact in a harmful way with certain medications.
It’s safest for both you and your clients if you avoid recommending any supplements to your clients. But this doesn’t mean that the topic of supplements is off limits, you just need to stay within your scope of practice as a health coach.
Scope of Practice of a Health Coach
We’ve established that it’s best practice to avoid the recommendation of supplements to your health coaching clients, as it’s not within your scope of practice. But what does this mean?
Scope of practice describes the actions, processes and procedures that a healthcare provider is legally permitted to perform based on their professional licence. This includes medical doctors, nurses, registered dietitians and health coaches.
As a health coach, your scope of practice doesn’t just apply to your work with clients. It also includes any content you may post on social media or to a vlog or blog. Why is this so important? Because staying within your professional scope of practice will protect you from any liabilities or lawsuits down the track.
The health coaching scope of practice varies depending on where you live in the world. The information provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It’s a good idea to seek legal advice from a lawyer in order understand what your health coaching certification covers you for in the state or country you live in.
This doesn’t mean that talking about supplements is off limits with your clients – far from it. Once you’re clear on what you can and can’t say under your scope of practice as a health coach, you can confidently discuss dietary supplements with your clients.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what this could look like.
How to Safely Discuss Supplements With Your Health Coaching Clients
Once you understand your scope of practice, the dos and don’ts of discussing supplements with your clients becomes clearer.
If a client asks you about a particular supplement…
- Share information from an official source published in a peer-reviewed journal, or from a government website
- Discuss facts that you know about the supplement – what it’s used for, or whether there are any known side effects
- Recommend or prescribe a supplement to your client
Even though, a health coach does not diagnose, treat or prescribe any supplements, food plans, blood testing or treatments, this doesn’t mean you’re not able to guide and educate your clients along their health journey. Understanding your scope of practice will give you confidence to coach effectively and discuss topics such as supplements safely with your clients.
Can health coaches recommend supplements? No, health coaches should not recommend supplements, and there are two major reasons for this:
- Health coaches are not licensed to recommend supplements as it doesn’t fall under their scope of practice
- There’s an inherent health risk to taking dietary supplements that many people don’t consider
But this doesn’t mean that health coaches can’t discuss supplements. Health coaches can:
- Share information about supplements from official sources
- Discuss facts about supplements with their clients
Lastly, the information discussed here is general in nature. To make sure you understand what you’re licensed to say and do as a health coach in your part of the world, it’s best to consult with a legal professional.