The coming of the health coach revolution
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Juice powerhouse Organic Avenue was founded by one. The wellness workshops at Whole Foods are led by them. New Yorkers attend their cooking classes and grocery shopping tours and buy their cleanses and gluten-free granola.
In New York, suddenly, holistic health coaches are everywhere. And their unique approach to jump-starting the health of their clients—and the general population—is changing the ways people approach getting, and staying, healthy.
We interviewed numerous industry insiders, delving into the blossoming profession, the impact it’s having, and where it’s headed.
WHO THEY ARE
Health coaches are generally educated at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York, which was founded 20 years ago by Joshua Rosenthal. Often, personal health issues and revelations draw them to IIN. They used to be sick, tired, and unhappy and want to help others kickstart their own transformations. And they’re not buying traditional approaches to nutrition.
“A lot of the masters and RD programs are a little outdated,” says Jen Morris, a coach and the co-founder of Urban Detox Club. “The traditional approaches that we’ve been using in our country are clearly not working. People continue to be sick. I wanted a program that looked at all components of a person’s life, that offered a more holistic approach.”
And that approach does not mean an education in raw, vegan orthodoxy. “There’s no one way of eating that works for everyone,” Rosenthal says, so IIN teaches more than 100 different dietary theories.
“One speaker would say you have to eat lard and meat, then the next would say to eat all plant-based, raw foods. And each of them proved their point,” says Jennifer Kass, a successful coach (and contributor to Well+Good).
WHAT DO HEALTH COACHES DO?
While health coaches are primarily trained to counsel clients one-on-one, the diverse curriculum leads to a variety of approaches and business models.
Kass mixes spirituality into her sessions with clients. Current student Lexi Hagenson plans on incorporating her new nutrition knowledge into her acupuncture practice. And, as mentioned, a slew of healthy companies—from Sakara Life and Gnosis Chocolate to Clean Plates have been created by health coaches.
THE CREDIBILITY QUESTION
IIN’s program is just a year long, and certification is granted through the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. And, in 2011, the school converted to online-learning only.
While the program includes courses with wellness luminaries like David Wolfe, Mark Hyman, Andrew Weil, and Neal Barnard, many still question the depth of expertise that can be acquired in such a short period of time, and the fact that admission requirements are lax and classes are pass-fail.
“Coaches continue to get some backlash from people in medical and RD programs, from people who are eight years into schooling,” says Urban Detox’s Morris.
Morris and many other coaches said they wished there were continuing-education programs available after graduation and further holistic certifications that would enhance their credibility.
A REVOLUTIONARY NEW ROLE
Coaches are not meant to be RDs. And current IIN student Amy Jarosky says that she doesn’t see health coaches replacing another profession but supplementing what is already offered at doctor’s offices, gyms, and spas.
And lots of coaches compare the profession’s growth to yoga.
“Twenty years ago, who knew what yoga was?” says Quinn Asteak, a coach and co-founder of Healthy Cooking Camp. “Now, there’s a studio on every block or in every town, and it’s totally normal.”
Jennifer Kass agrees. “The health coach fills this new role that makes up for the doctor who just gives you Valium without having a conversation with you, the nutritionist who calorie counts, and the therapist who wants to dig into childhood and never talk about next steps. That stuff is so antiquated. We’re moving into a place where we’re taking responsibility for our health and happiness.” —Lisa Elaine Held