Nutritionist. Food Coach. How Good Is Their Diet Advice?

Anyone can claim to be a "nutritionist" or "food coach." So here's what you should look for.

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One title that's grown in popularity is "coach." People seeking guidance or help in their career, for example, may hire a business, life, or personal coach. There also are people who call themselves wellness, weight-loss, food, or health coaches. Rather than calculating how many grams of protein or carbohydrate someone should eat or tracking a client's weight, they're more likely to help a customer define his or her goals and needs and figure out how to meet them. Denise Holz, a weight-loss coach in Seattle, says she helps her clients—both in person and over the phone—to eat mindfully, teaching them to be present, slow down, and focus on taste while they eat. And she helps them figure out what's really causing the bad eating habits they want to change. Doing that, she says, helps them address the underlying issues and learn to eat in accordance with their true hunger and taste. "They approach food in a whole new way," Holz says. "They don't have to sneak, don't have to feel bad about themselves."

[Read Can Mindful Eating Help You Lose Weight?]

If coaching rather than (or in combination with) nutritional advice sounds like what you're after, be aware that, like "nutritionist," anyone can call himself a "coach," says Sasson. There are some certification bodies, including the International Coach Federation. And a company called Wellcoaches Corp., in partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine, now trains and certifies healthcare professionals in wellness coaching. Its training, says Margaret Moore, the company's founder, chairman, and CEO, is "based on theories that have evidence behind them" about things like how to motivate people. Until there's some kind of national credential (similar to an R.D.), ask prospective coaches about their education, training, and experience, says Moore. "They should have a background in what they're coaching and should be able to talk the language of what makes people change," she says. "Ask about their track record and talk to current or former clients. And find someone who fits with you—if your personalities don't jibe, it's not going to work." Sort of like finding the perfect diet.

[Read Weight Watchers v. Jenny Craig: Don't Rely on the Marketing.]


Corrected on : Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Lisa Sasson’s title. She is clinical associate professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University.