What is a wellness coach?

You know what you should do for good health.

Get enough quality sleep most nights.

Cook nutritious, satisfying meals at home, most evenings.

Make time for sweating, meditating, and time in nature—whatever helps you feel recharged and strong.

It’s just that DOING these things (consistently) isn’t so easy.

Just like your dog stubbornly lying in front of every doorway, life trips you up, derails your plans, and scrambles your focus.

If you find yourself continually face-planting when attempting to start or sustain healthy habits, it might just be that you need more support.

Someone to give you strategies for overcoming obstacles, a little extra guidance, and maybe some accountability.

A wellness coach might give you the progress boost you need.

Except… maybe you’ve never heard of wellness coaching.

(Or maybe you have, but it always sounded a little “woo-woo” to you. Get off me, crystals!)

In this article, we’ll explain what a wellness coach is, who might benefit from working with one, and how wellness coaching differs from nutrition coaching.

Lastly, we’ll tell you what accreditation to look for—whether you’re looking to work with a wellness coach, or looking to BE one.

What is a wellness coach, anyway?

Before we get to that, let’s get clear on the term “wellness.”

When you think of your health, you might consider your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other physical markers that your primary care doc would examine at a regular check-up. You might also think of the quality of your sleep, diet, or exercise.

While “wellness” includes physical health, it’s more of a holistic concept that also captures mental, emotional, and spiritual/existential well-being.

Wheel-shaped graphic that shows the six dimensions of deep health: Social, Physical, Existential, Emotional, Mental, Environmental

(At PN, we refer to this as “Deep health.” Learn more here.)

A wellness coach (also sometimes called a “health and wellness” coach) helps people improve whatever aspect of well-being they’d like to focus on.

As you can imagine, that’s a pretty broad category.

To list a few examples, a wellness coach may help clients…

  • Change their body composition
  • Boost energy levels
  • Improve sleep
  • Move better and improve posture
  • Create healthy boundaries between work and home life
  • Reduce stress
  • Establish a mindfulness practice
  • Improve diet quality or even just a person’s relationship with food

What do wellness coaches do?

Wellness coaches come from all sorts of backgrounds: fitness, nutrition, mental health, education, and more.

Some work on healthcare teams alongside physicians, and others work in gym settings or in community centers.

(And of course, these days, wellness coaches may work in-person with people in their city or town, or online with people halfway across the world.)

Many wellness coaches narrow their area of expertise, working with specific populations like young moms looking to carve out “me time,”; college athletes wanting to improve their recovery routines; or seniors looking to boost their cardiovascular fitness.

Wellness coaches encourage clients to take charge of their own health.

Ideally, what connects wellness coaches is that they’ve received training in client-centered health education, behavior change science, and motivational strategies.

This means they know it’s not enough to just tell someone what to do. (Most people have enough knowledge; it’s the action part they struggle with.)

It also means they believe that YOU’RE the expert on your own life.

So, based on your own experiences, self-knowledge, personal values, and priorities, YOU get to decide what habits you want to improve.

Because wellness coaches tend to value a client’s autonomy, they’re not going to “prescribe” a rigid meal plan or exercise routine—unless they have other qualifications to do so, and that’s what you ask for.

(To find out why meal plans tend to fail anyway, read: Why meal plans usually suck)

Is a wellness coach really worth the investment?

There’s so much information already available: From your couch, you can Google “the best diet to lose weight” or “strategies to cope with stress,” and come up with lots of resources—for free!

However, combing through all that info can be overwhelming.

Also: As we’ve already mentioned, having knowledge doesn’t always translate to making changes.

Plus, the information you find—as good as some of it—won’t necessarily apply to your life and the unique challenges you face.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’re trying to gain muscle. You’ll learn from a quick Google search that you’ll need to do resistance training, increase your protein and overall calorie consumption, and build recovery time between workouts so your muscles can repair themselves.

All of that’s helpful to know, but it’s no game plan.

A wellness coach, on the other hand, would consider your goal and then help support you to:

  • Develop life skills, like managing your time so you can fit in those extra sessions at the gym, and maybe extra sleep at night (because of recovery!)
  • Create supportive habits, systems, and behaviors, like learning how to build in food prep routines, so those high-protein meals are ready when you’re hungry
  • Explore the deeper meaning behind your goals, ensuring your new habits actually feel good and align with your personal values, which can help you sustain progress long term

…And many other things.

In short, a wellness coach can help you create a map to get there if you have a goal. (Plus, they’ll be around to help you re-orient yourself should you ever go off-course.)

So, although there’s lots of (great) free advice out there, it’s not really providing value if you’re not using it. On the other hand, when you find someone who can actually help you change your day-to-day life for the better, it’s priceless.

The difference between a wellness coach and a nutrition coach

Here’s where it can get confusing:

Many health and wellness coaches also coach nutrition.

And, many nutrition coaches use a holistic framework when helping clients address their nutrition challenges.

(For example, in our L1 and L2 certifications, we have a strong focus on nutrition science, but we also teach our coaches tools they can use to improve their clients’ mental, emotional, social, and other aspects of health.)

But if we were to draw a line somewhere:

  • A nutrition coach generally focuses on food and diet quality to support their client’s overall health, body composition, and/or performance goals.
  • A wellness coach may do the above—depending on the type of education they’ve received—but they’ll also tend to work more globally by looking at other factors that influence their client’s well-being. (Think: exercise, sleep, social connections, work, and recreation.)

And just so you know, even though nutrition coaches and wellness coaches can have excellent knowledge of food and diet, neither of them is qualified to:

  • Practice medical nutrition therapy (MNT), a practice that uses nutrition, and sometimes targeted supplements, to treat disease
  • Develop and provide meal plans for medical conditions

Only registered dieticians (RDs) can provide those services to others.

How to become a wellness coach

With better training and more awareness, the wellness coaching industry is becoming more recognized—and legitimized.

However, the field is still largely unregulated.

Nowadays—for better or worse—anybody can slap the “wellness coach”  title to their name without bumping into any legal issues.

That means, if you wanted to, you could call yourself a wellness coach right now—without receiving any training. 

You could set up a wellness coaching business and even charge clients for your services.


The good news:

There are ways to become an accredited wellness coach.

Plus, there are regulatory boards—like the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)—that validate quality programs so you know you’re actually getting a good education.

Currently, there are over 100 approved wellness coaching programs and certifications approved by the NBHWC.

Before you go clicking on the first program you find, though, understand that each program is unique.

They all vary in:

  • Cost: The range is huge, with some programs costing around $1,200 USD, and others costing $25,000 USD.
  • Area of specialization: Programs can focus on anything from trauma prevention and recovery, women’s health, and healthy aging, or have a more generalized approach.
  • Educational and/or professional requirements: Some programs require a bachelor’s degree, for example.
  • Program length: Again, the range is wide; some programs can be completed in three months, while others take up to four years.

If you graduate from one of these approved programs, you qualify to apply for the National Board Certification Examination, offered in partnership with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME).

If you pass this exam, you earn a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) credential—which is a fairly respected title in the field.

Benefits of having a wellness coach certification

As mentioned earlier, many people on the internet call themselves a “health and wellness coach,” so sometimes it’s difficult to figure out who’s legit.

Having a wellness coach certification from a program that has the NBC-HWC seal of approval—which graduates of Precision Nutrition’s Level 2 Master Health Coaching Certification are eligible to get—can set you apart.

Regardless, a certification can foster more trust among potential clients, and give you the confidence that you’ve learned the skills necessary to work with clients and the real-life struggles they face every day.

In other words, a certification supports you as a coach—giving you more knowledge, resources, credibility, and confidence—so you can better support your clients.

The post What is a wellness coach? (And how can you make wellness coaching your career?) appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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