Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

Health and Wellness Coaching Is NOT just about food

Posted on 22-8-2017 by Fiona Cosgrove

Are we spending too much time talking to our clients about food?

I think it’s time to clear up the misconception that Health Coaching is for people who want to find a new way of eating.  Yes “food” is inevitably a part of health and wellness coaching. Clients frequently set goals around specific nutritional improvements but these goals are only one part of the change process.

Yet we are hearing more and more confusion around the term “Health and Wellness Coaching” (particularly “Health Coaching”) as people believe a health coach’s role is to help their clients find the ultimate state of wellness through food. By sharing their knowledge of what they believe to be the magic formula for health through nutrition, their client will achieve all their wellness goals. This is not health and wellness coaching.  

Our profession is growing. In the U.S. there is now a Medical Board certified exam for health and wellness coaches with rigorous criteria around training and experience. And the international version is not far behind. And guess what? Only 20% of the competencies relate to health and wellness knowledge; the other 80% is to coaching competencies.  And of the 20%, Nutrition is 1 of 16 of the competencies in that category. The exam therefore gives about 1.25% of its focus to healthy eating. Health and wellness is so much more than food.

Now I love food. In fact, on a recent trip I felt frustrated when I kept being served what seemed like platefuls of white food! I didn’t think to myself, “now where’s the B12 or calcium in this meal?” I looked for a variety in colour, taste, shape and texture - the things that appeal to me and give me an appetite (and generally lead to a well-balanced diet). I came back to Australia realising how lucky we are in the availability of so many fresh nutrients.

So what is the role of food in health and wellness? This is the way I see it:
  • Food fuels us
  • Food is a tremendous source of pleasure – it is a way of showing love, of sharing special time with loved ones and forms part of our culture.
  • Insufficient or imbalance in nutrients can cause a host of medical problems
  • Food can heal us – to a degree.  
  • Specific sports performance requires careful examination of daily intake. However, 
  • For many people food now represents the holy grail.  They have discovered a way of eating that has worked for them and they want to share that knowledge. 
  • For others food has become an obsession and is linked to emotional eating for comfort or other less useful reasons.
  • Food is linked to obesity but is only one of several factors
  • Social pressure on being slim has led to an increased obsession with food.
So can obsessing about food be detrimental to our health?  I think so.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Wellness, or let’s say, “barriers” to wellness are many and diverse. Poor eating can sometimes be a symptom rather than a cause of other poor lifestyle habits. Here are some links:

  • People are overloaded with responsibilities – leads to lack of time and poor meal planning or irregular eating patterns.
  • Stress can be caused by many things but the end result is that we don’t believe we have what it takes to do what we have to do – we look for ways of self soothing – poor food and alcohol are frequent choices
  • Poor personal organisation – although linked to the above factors can also create a problem with nutrition
  • Lack of physical fitness – exercise regulates appetite, not exercising is often tied in with poor eating patterns
  • Lack of direction or sense of meaning – food fills the gap
  • Poor sleep patterns – research has shown this is linked to obesity – the more tired we are the more we eat and not necessarily the good stuff
  • Negative thinking and lack of self-belief –food becomes a reward and a punishment
Jim and Janice Prochaska,  in their book, “Changing to Thrive” note that people do better working on multiple behaviors in parallel. For example, establishing regular activity usually increases engagement with healthy eating.  Which is the chicken and which is the egg?

You may not agree with all that’s written above, but what is apparent is that food is not the only answer.  People need support in many areas and my concern is that if we make food the answer, we increase the growing obsession that so many people have with what they put in their mouth. (If 95% of your Facebook posts this year have been pictures of food, then this is about you. Unless you are selling something. But maybe you are.)

Food should be a pleasure, not a source of deprivation or guilt. Our nutrition is only one factor in our health.  

So, if you are a Coach who works purely in the area of FOOD, please consider calling yourself a Food or Nutrition Coach – not a Health and Wellness Coach. Then we start to have clarity. And perhaps there needs to be separate credentialing for this type of work. Dieticians and Nutritionists would no doubt have valuable input. 

Health and Wellness Coaches support people in achieving self-determined goals which involve often changing multiple behaviours and habits. Providing information on food and nutrition if it is requested by the client and if it is within the scope of our background and training. 

If you agree with this article, or any of it, please SHARE so we can reduce confusion around this growing profession. If you disagree, then please comment.  Let’s get some conversation going around this topic and see if we can clarify what Health and Wellness Coaching is and what it isn’t

About the Author - Fiona Cosgrove

Fiona Cosgrove’s 25 years experience as a business owner, a trainer, lecturer, coach and presenter, positions her well to identify and employ the strengths of your staff making your business a pleasure to work in and deal with. 


Angela commented on 23-Aug-2017 03:30 PM
I agree completely with this! There are so many people calling themselves 'wellness' practitioners, but it's all about a particular way of eating, herbal teas, essential oils and one I've seen is unfortunately about isagenix! I don't want to put those things down, however it makes it extremely difficult to set yourself apart as a health and wellness coach and really get the value of what we do across to potential clients, when the market seems to be flooded with unqualified people who are selling something completely different and the total opposite of what coaching is all about!
Irena Geller-saltamaras commented on 23-Aug-2017 05:31 PM
Great post Fiona! Thank you for bringing awareness to this matter!
I wholeheartedly agree with this article!
As an Emotional Eating Coach –My mission is to help women make Peace with Food so they can put a lid on their Emotional Eating & Food Fight. I encourage them see food as fuel instead of using it as comfort and stress relief .I help them achieve their self-determined goals , which involves changing multiple behaviours and habits and addressing limiting beliefs. I do provide Nutritional information as requested but the coaching sessions focus on behaviour change and behavioural goals NOT FOOD!
As Fiona says: ” Our nutrition is only one factor in our health.“ and our behaviour!
Irena Geller xx
Liz Davidson commented on 24-Aug-2017 06:49 AM
Great piece Fiona - thank you for highlighting the importance of clarifying the distinctions between a health coach and health and wellness coach. There are too many articles out there that are misleading. It's impressive to see the evolvement of the industry in the USA and the establishment of a medical board raising the bar of required knowledge and experience. It's so great to see this industry evolving.
Rebecca Hannan commented on 24-Aug-2017 10:59 AM
Fantastic article thanks Fiona :-)
Gillian Hood commented on 27-Aug-2017 05:17 AM
Thank you so much for writing this! I could not agree more with your point. As a WellCoach certified Health & Wellness Coach, who is about to take that national certification exam here in the U.S., I was very happy to see the breakdown of the exam and the emphasis on coaching skills - which is what sets us apart from the practitioners that simply tell their clients what to do (and therefore, see very little positive - or long-term - change in their clients).
I also specialize in coaching women who are obsessed with food, as well as their weight or size, and it is not only detrimental to their physical health, but also to their mental health. It's also an additional trigger for the stress response that sets them up to be caught in a "diet-binge" cycle, as I describe it.
Disordered eating, emotional eating, even weight gain or weight cycling are symptoms, as you pointed out. In the health & wellness field, you hear so many people complaining that doctors are only treating "symptoms" and not the underlying cause of any particular condition. Well, so, too are coaches or other practitioners that place an emphasis on food or weight, while ignoring what has caused the disordered eating, food obsession or weight cycling (that leads to an inability to lose weight, eventually) in the first place.
So again thank you for boldly taking a stand. It's an uphill climb to get the word out that our culture's mainstream beliefs about health and wellness are simply wrong and they are negatively affecting not only general health and wellness, but also quality of life. And, this is being passed down to yet another generation of children who will be faced with more health challenges if we don't continue to stand up and spread the word!
Thanks! Gillian Hood, MS, ACSM, CHWC
Naomi Richardson commented on 27-Aug-2017 03:49 PM
Hi Fiona, I find the point about multiple simultaneous changes being more effective than a single focus very interesting. Perhaps there is more possibility of positive self feedback where there are a few areas being worked on and that brings confidence overflowing into the other areas.
Anonymous commented on 28-Aug-2017 10:05 AM
Thanks for your comments. Glad so many people agree. Just a clarification around the use of Health Coach which I feel ideally should not be used purely focusing on food. Health Coach, Wellness Coach and Health & Wellness Coach are synonymous and should be used when working with multiple behavior change.
tony commented on 29-Aug-2017 02:46 PM
thanks for writing this and clearing a few things up.
I don't come from either a fitness or health back ground and I completed your cert 1 in Health and wellness which I enjoyed.
I wasn't sure not having those credentials whether I should continue.
this has given me a little more clarity
once again thank for clearing it up, and keep up the great work
Tracy Frenyea commented on 01-Sep-2017 04:55 AM
Great article. May I share it/use it in practice with proper attribution?
Catherine Martire-Wright commented on 07-Sep-2017 11:59 AM
Thank you for this great artical, You have helped me and confused me with my own direction on how am I bested to market myself and how I can help....I have been concerned that potential clients think one of two things a) that I will tell them what to eat and I don't and b) my programs are all about food and they are not. I do not call myself a food coach but I post pictures of food! The reason is, so I can show that once you get into a healthy routine it is possible to create a healthier lifestyle.
Anonymous commented on 20-Nov-2017 01:48 PM
As a coach who works in this space, I'm so happy to read this blog.

This is a much-needed overview of a bigger issue - the way we are marketed to, and the other things that influence our lives (including our food choices).

We are all told that we need to watch what we eat, so we are trained to focus on that. But upstream of that are the important triggers, drivers and existing habits which need to be addressed....and which are fundamental to consistent healthy habits (in eating and other areas).

I agree that our focus as coaches needs to be about helping clients to look at the bigger picture and understand themselves.

And with marketing the way it is, part of our role is to showcase the many attractive areas for change that will have a big impact on the daily choices we make - of which food is just one.

Post a Comment

Captcha Image

Recent Posts