Health Coach vs Dietitian

In Nutrition, The Basics by stephanieauthementLeave a Comment

Is there a difference between the term “health coach” and “dietitian?” What is the difference? Aren’t they the same job? Here is the difference: education.

My coworker is ALWAYS teasing me about how I will correct everybody who calls me a “health coach.” I let them say “she is the health coach,” BUT I always add after “I am also a registered dietitian.” I see her laughing at me every time I do it. But, damnit, I earned that degree and registration with blood, sweat, and tears. (Okay – no blood, but yes to sweat and tears. The curriculum is harsh. I once did a jogging class that I had already signed up for before I knew I was pregnant. I was like 8 weeks along and feeling nauseous and jogging at 7:30 in the morning. That was rough. Mostly because everyone else was getting leaner and here I was getting bigger.)

The point here is that literally anybody can call themselves a “health coach.”

You work at a gym – health coach.

You work at a hospital – health coach.

You work for a private practice – health coach.

My ultimate favorite: you write blogs online – health coach.

So, lets get into the nitty-gritty on the difference. There are no specifications on who can call themselves a health coach. There is no law stating that a nurse can call themselves a health coach or a cosmetologist can call themselves a health coach.  Those were just examples. They can actually be a health coach if the company’s description is for someone to coach people about losing weight, maintaining weight, eating the right foods, etc. So, for my actual paying job (not this website that I run) I am deemed a health coach. I like the term but I want my patients to know that I am a LICENSED, REGISTERED DIETITIAN. So, the doctors at the clinic and the company I work for will always talk about us “health coaches.” I won’t lie. I hate that term. Can you please just call us what we are – dietitians. The reason they can’t – half of the people that are health coaches are NOT a registered dietitian. Seems pretty important to have dietitians talk about nutrition. That is a moot point though.

I’ve seen way too many online “nutrition certification” classes that it is crazy. I get emails all the time telling me to sign up for this new nutrition course so you can be a health coach. Let me tell you something that makes a health coach and a dietitian different. (FYI – dietitian is spelled with T not a C: dietiTian not dietiCian)

I had to go through 4 years of college taking various courses pertaining to nutrition and the body. This ranges from pharmaceutical classes, anatomy, biology, medical terminology, nutrition for the life cycle, medical nutrition therapy. along with many many many others. I means this is a four year program. This totals out at 120 hours. Unless you count the extra classes I took as a nursing major initially, which I had roughly 140 hours. I had to then do a 1200 hour internship – mine was distance which was pretty hard to get up and going, but so worth it. I had to go to different places and learn how to be a dietitian in the “real world.” It is a pretty important step in becoming a dietitian. You learn how different places do different things. And here is the other thing – there are so many specialties once you are in dietetics: sports, community, public health, clinical, wellness, and food service. This internship helps you determine which route you want to take. I was already working in food service management and knew that was not my long term goals. I like wellness and helping people feel good about themselves. A lot of my patients call me a motivator, but I believe in positive reinforcement. (Obviously I also took a behavioral management course. LOL).

Now once you finish that 1200 hour internship, at least with mine, you have to take an exit exam which is pretty similar to RD exam. I had to make an 80% on that exam, which only had NUTRITION questions.  Talk about pressure. So once I passed that exit exam, it was time to take the actual RD exam.

I must have over-studied because that honestly was NOT the hardest test I had ever taken. (See anatomy and physiology at University of Louisiana at Lafayette for that hardest exam – I cried when I was finished with those 2 classes from pure joy. haha Remembering the parts of the body and the different muscles, joints, and positions was so tough because she went into the finest details of every body part). But to get my degree, I had to pass both of those classes. For my RD exam, I started studying before I was even in my internship. When I was accepted, they sent out a study guide and said to start studying. So that was exactly what I did – an entire year before I took the RD exam. Okay, so once a dietitian takes and passes the exam, then we have to pay for our license and registration yearly on top of 75 hours continuing ed every five years.

So tell me, wouldn’t you correct people when they call you a health coach. I will gladly stand up and say “I’m a health coach and dietitian.” But I think the standard should be that if you are going to talk nutrition – you should have the background to back up your claim. Don’t listen to the crazies on the internet and that contact you trying to get you to listen to them because they are such. Ask for a dietitian. We know how to help you correctly and also tell you accurate ways to do many different things.


Health Coach AKA Stephanie Authement, RD, LDN