In defence of health coaching

I’m writing this post as I’ve had a few conversations with other health coaches over the last few weeks around some of what’s been going on with the backlash against clean eating. I feel pretty vulnerable writing this post because I know by doing so I’m putting myself out there for criticism, but I’m passionate about this, so be it!

It feels like health coaches and anyone in the wellness sphere has been getting a bit of a bad rap these last few months, you can read more of my thoughts here. As the clean eating trend is well under attack, anyone connected with it is also in for a bashing, including ‘Health Coaches’. It seems like whenever you see ‘Health Coach’ written it’s always between a massive set of air quotes as if the profession somehow doesn’t exist. 

Well health coaches do in fact exist, and it’s time to have a big conversation about this clean eating backlash and the implications it has for health coaches like myself. 

Now you guys know I’ve generally been supportive of the backlash against the clean eating trend. More so than most, I’ve experienced the darker side of it so I know how damaging it can be.

The problem we are left with is that as clean eating as a trend, pushed by green-juice-drinking, yoga-models, is being criticised (often fairly so in my opinion), so too by association is the sensible healthy eating that the majority of health coaches (and many health bloggers) promote. I see a big difference between the clean eating preached by a subset of mostly young women – who let’s face it can sometimes feel a little unauthentic, who also tend to suggest avoiding gluten and dairy and carbs like bread and pasta, etc and the ‘eat more fruit, vegetables and unprocessed foods’ that most people – nutritionists and dieticians included – would agree with.

As a lovely member of my Facebook Group put it, people are more easily lured in by the glamour of clean eating.

To me, there’s this glamorous trendy clean eating world full of £100 leggings, green juice and expensive un-pronounceable superfoods – which admittedly I used to love because, hello external validation for my inner feelings of unworthiness! Then, there’s this health and wellbeing world which is more affordable, down to earth, sensible and a whole lot less glamorous and much more diverse. As I said, I used to love the whole idea of that glamorous world because by partaking in it I would feel more worthy. This is where that dangerous path started for me. Sure, some health coaches are part of that glamorous world, but the majority aren’t.

In addition to that association with the trendy wellness world Health Coaches are getting a lot of stick by talking about nutrition without a university degree in nutritional science or a similar qualification. I can see where people are going with this argument however, just because someone has a degree in nutrition doesn’t mean they become the ultimate authority on it either. Many qualified nutritionists and dieticians have differing views on the details of which foods are healthy (thankfully we all agree on fruit and veg!) so clearly having a degree isn’t the ultimate fix. Add to that the fact that, as studying to degree level and beyond becomes more and more expensive, less and less people are going to be able to be educated to this level in the future. As the population by and large is becoming less healthy, we can’t expect the only people to offer support and guidance around what to eat to be qualified nutritionists or even nutritional therapists who, like health coaches, aren’t registered nutritionists either. We need as many people as possible supporting those who need it with ways to have a healthier life in a down to earth style.

This is why health coaches are so important, we help people with the actual realities of making a change. Most health coaches have walked the a similar path as their clients and can empathise in a really unique way.

As so many of you might also be learning, it’s actually not that much about the food, it really is a small part of health after all. #mindset

Something I always say to people thinking about training to become a coach is to understand that you’re being trained to be a health coach, not a nutritionist. No one is expecting a year’s course to offer the same amount or depth of knowledge as a 3+ year degree. Thankfully however, not everyone needs that level of knowledge to be supported in becoming healthier – again that’s where health coaches can come in.

In a local government-funded community project close to where I live, health trainers were given 1 day of training and were then able to support local people from disadvantaged areas to improve their health through lifestyle changes. While 1 day’s training is nowhere near enough, we have to remember that the basics of stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and eating more fruit and vegetables is pretty bloody straight forward. This is not fucking rocket science people, and we don’t need everyone who supports people around their health to have the equivalent of a quantum physics PhD.

All health coaches are different, some will be better than others, however all of the coaches I know care deeply about the health and wellbeing of their clients, know the limits of what kinds of issues they should be providing support around, and offer a truly holistic approach to helping someone find better health. We are fantastic listeners, supporting our clients to look inward and sometimes find their own answers. We are a guide, not a guru, supporting our clients to make those small step changes that actually really add up. Each coach might have their own area of expertise, which they will have become well experienced in. In the US, many coaches who have trained at the same institution I trained at work in doctor’s offices to guide patients to take dieticians recommendations and support them to implement those into their life and make changes to their lifestyle.

So to dismiss all health coaches as some kind of pretend nutritionists giving out incorrect and dangerous advice is inaccurate and offensive to those who are very experienced coaches supporting people to make incredible steps towards better health. Many health coaches are multi disciplinary with other qualifications and skills such as being yoga teachers and personal trainers. I’ve trained in CBT and NLP and am also registered with the Federation of Holistic Therapists, a membership which requires continued professional development.

As I said, not all health coaches are created equally and this is when it’s time to look at testimonials, do an intuition check in, talk to them in person or via Skype, speak to a previous client, etc, whatever you need to do to ensure you feel comfortable that they are the right person to work with. It might be that you’re better off working with a qualified nutritionist depending on your goals and that’s ok too! 

All of that being said, none of this is all black and white. For some people, the whole concept of clean eating might have really helped them become so much healthier, but for others, the ideas and language used around it may have been extremely damaging. Nutritional science is notoriously hard to pin down, it’s very difficult to get a precise picture – being able to accurately interpret scientific research is something someone does need to be educated and skilled in. And while I’m all for evidence based nutrition, there are still so many areas of nutrition that haven’t been studied and researched in enough depth to provide a concrete set of findings.

As a proud health coach, I am exactly that, a coach. I’m no expert or guru and I’m learning this all of the time too – something I hope has always been clear based on what I (over)share. As I coach I share my knowledge and experiences around creating a more balanced life, which sometimes includes what we eat, but as I said above, it’s actually not that much about what we eat anyway. As simple as healthy eating can be, this shit is hard! Living a healthy balanced life these days can be really tricky, never before have we had so much over information.

Self care, self love, mindset and balance are my jam now and I’m very proud to be able to lead, inspire and coach other women to their version of health and balance. 

Health is a vast interdisciplinary field, that’s why I love working with people like Kezia, Laura Thomas PhD and Laura Cutress PT in projects like the retreat and The Balance Club to bring in other areas of expertise. To quote Laura, no one profession owns the monopoly on health. 

I’d be so interested to get your views on this, especially if you’re a fellow health coach. Do you feel health coaches have a legitimate role in supporting people with their health? How has the ‘clean eating trend’ affected you and your relationship with food?

P.S If you want to find out more about becoming a health coach check this out.