Health Coaching for Dietitians & Nutritionists is Emerging as an Essential Skill set 

It took 15 years of working in the health industry, before someone asked me how I define health. When I took some time to think about it, the best description I have is that health is a state of wellbeing where a person is at their physical and emotional best, in an environment that supports optimal wellness.

After some time reflecting on this description, it occurred to me that much of our “health” focus, really only considers the physical aspects of health (weight, blood markers, nutrient density, calorie intake, etc). However, when we think about health it’s commonly emotional health such as stress, anxiety, confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, self-judgment, critical thinking, motivation, overwhelm, juggling ambitions and, prioritising others that is the barrier to people creating and sustaining a health promoting lifestyle.

When clients seek help to achieve their health goals, more often than not, it is their emotional health that needs the most attention (physical health typically falls into place once emotional health is optimised). This is where the combination of nutrition training and health coaching combine perfectly to enhance the impact of dietitians and nutritionists and truly bring about positive health outcomes.

Health coaching is an holistic way of creating optimal wellbeing by gaining clarity on who a person is when they are their healthiest and removing the barriers that stand in the way of achieving this. Unlike traditional health care approaches where the health care provider ‘tells’ the client what they should be doing, health coaching instead views the client as the expert and challenges their perceived obstacles that get in the way of positive change and optimal performance.

As health coaches, we are facilitators who allow our clients to connect with what is most important to them and design their life in a way that optimises their own health. Health coaching provides time and space for clients to give their full attention to their health goals and to focus, learn, connect the dots, see new perspectives, and be creative – the ideal scenario for creating sustainable and meaningful change.

As dietitians and nutritionists, we’re constantly reminded of the old adage that “knowledge doesn’t equal behaviour change” yet, most of our training focuses on nutrition knowledge and very little attention is given to behaviour change. This frustrated me for many years, before I realised the positive impact that health coaching has on clients. I love how empowered and in control my clients have become and I’m immensely happy when I see clients who previously struggled to make changes return to sessions excited to share their successes.

Here is a summary of how the Health Coaching focus differs from the Dietitian/Nutritionist key focus, and how a combination of both skills can achieve optimal results for clients. As a Dietitian and Health Coach, it’s my hope that all dietitians and nutritionists will be also trained in health coaching skills so that we can create a powerful health promoting legacy for the future.


  Dietitian/Nutritionist Health Coach Working Together
Power Dietitian/Nutritionist is in responsible for setting meal plans, and providing recommendations, etc to the client A partnership between the coach and client –the client is responsible for creating their own solutions and is guided along the pathway by the coach Whilst the Dietitian/Nutritionist  can provide guidance (e.g. nutrient requirements), the health coach helps clients to recognize potential barriers and develop strategies to become empowered to meet their health and nutrition goals
Expertise Dietitian/Nutritionist is considered the expert and instructs the client what to do The client is viewed as creative and resourceful and as an expert on their own life and self, the coach helps in this self- discovery The health coach guides the client to become a full expert on how they can best utilize their strengths and own wisdom to achieve their health goals – the emphasis is on internal learning (rather than being told what to do)
Approach Prescription, instruction, measuring, monitoring, motivating Non-prescription, exploration, curiosity, awareness, future focus, self-efficacy The health coach’s focus is long term and ongoing. The client is encouraged and empowered to be self-motivated and accountable to themselves rather than reliant on others.
Process Often progressive and linear / Dietitian or Nutritionist drives the agenda Non-linear and client drives the agenda Health Coaches allow the client to dictate the flow of the conversation and progress towards their desired goals – the health coach supports their client on this chosen path and responds to the highs, lows, wins and setbacks and addresses a wide range of interrelated factors affecting the client’s health
Fixing Dietitians/Nutritionists  often work towards fixing problems for clients – weight loss, gaining muscle, meeting or managing chronic disease Health Coaches support the client to choose the most important aspects of their health to focus on While a healthy eating program can go a long way to ‘solving’ a client’s perceived or genuine problems, many underlying factors can be left unresolved, leading to problem recurrence. A Health Coach focuses on the complete person, including their perceptions and assumptions of themselves and any limiting beliefs that contribute to health behaviours
Focus Dietitians/Nutritionists consider dietary history and patterns of past behavior to prescribe what is done in the present Health Coaches focus on the present and how the client can reach their potential now, and in the future Dietitians/Nutritionists need to consider what their client’s eating history looks like as this forms important information for prescription. The Health Coach considers that the client can be empowered to start new from the present, while drawing on wisdom from past experiences, to optimise health.
  • Prescribing
  • Instructing
  • Motivating
  • Monitoring
  • Advising
  • Finding meaningfulness in decisions and actions
  • Connecting intent with action & outcome
  • Developing self efficacy and self-motivation
  • Expanding perspectives
A Dietitian/Nutritionist can work with a health coach to ensure optimal outcomes for their client


a Dietitian/Nutritionist can complete Health Coach Training and combine coaching skills and approaches with their nutrition work for an enriched career

Want to add Health Coaching to your professional skill set and enrich your career?

Join us in our Health Coaching Course in October or, for the ultimate experience, join our LORNE RETREAT next March.


By Alison Patterson, Advanced Sports Dietitian, Presenter and Coach Faculty Health Coaches International, ICF Member