QUESTION

I know what I’m supposed to do to eat healthier, but I’m just not getting results. I’ve seen personal “diet coaches” on TV. Would hiring a nutrition coach actually make a difference?

ANSWER

If you’re having a hard time sorting out or applying the findings of nutrition or weight-loss studies to your life, aren’t getting the promised benefits of the latest superfood, or just aren’t sure how to get the most health out of food and still enjoy eating (yes, kale has its limits!), an experienced nutrition coach can help. In fact, no matter what your goals—lower weight, more energy, fewer chaotic meals, clearer thinking, less illness, etc.—if you’re stuck in second gear or sliding into reverse, a good coach can identify why you’re not making progress and help you get around the roadblocks. But first you have to find the right specialist. Not all people who call themselves nutrition, diet or health coaches have the same training and knowledge about nutrition. While you may not find every type of credentialed nutrition coach in your area, look for a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), pros who must have at least a bachelor’s degree with courses in dietetics and must work in a supervised internship before taking a certification exam from the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If there are no RDs or RDNs practicing near you, all states and the District of Columbia—except for Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and New Jersey—have requirements for either a licensed dietitian nutritionist (LDN) or certified dietitian nutritionist (CDN), who will have met the specific requirements of the particular state. Be aware that some credentials sound alike but are actually very different: A certified nutrition specialist (CNS) has an extensive level of training—a master’s degree or doctorate, 1,000 hours of supervised experience and the deepest level of knowledge, often in specialty areas such as therapeutic nutrition, helpful for someone with a chronic condition or a patient in the hospital. On the other hand, all that’s required to be a certified nutrition consultant (CNC) is a high school degree and passing grades on less than a dozen open-book tests. Nutritional counseling may be covered by your health insurance company if it deems the service medically necessary and you choose a licensed nutritionist, RD, or nurse with nutrition training (check your policy for specifics). Medicare offers nutrition therapy coverage when ordered by your doctor. But even if you have to dip into your own pocket to hire someone, the advice and training you get may be worth every penny in terms of feeling better and getting healthier. If you have a specific medical problem, a coach who also has condition-specific qualifications may be able to help you even more, said Nicole Patience, RD, LDN, CEDRD, of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Here are some examples…

  • If you have diabetes: A RD who’s also a certified diabetes educator (CDE) can show you ways to better control blood sugar and craft a nutritious diet that includes your favorite foods. Diabetes educators keep up with the latest health guidelines including diabetes drugs and their interactions with food—vital information for people with the condition. They also understand heart health, high blood pressure and many health problems that people with diabetes often face.
  • If you have cancer: A dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition (a board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition or CSO) can help you choose the most nutritious foods during treatment and recovery and help you manage treatment side effects ranging from fatigue to taste changes.
  • If you have an eating disorder: Some RDs are also credentialed as certified eating disorders registered dietitians or CEDRDs. A CEDRD can help you rebuild a healthy relationship with food, showing you how to move beyond the extensive rules, habits or rituals around food you may have developed.

BE SURE TO VOICE YOUR GOALS

Honestly communicating your personal goals and your food stumbling blocks with your coach is essential. Do you want to run a half-marathon or find ways to cook more healthful meals on a time-and-money budget? The more specifics you can share with your coach, the better he/she can help you… Your past experience with dieting. Detail what worked or didn’t work, including any aspects of diets that you found easy or hard to maintain. Your food likes and dislikes. Perhaps you love chicken, pasta and green veggies like spinach, but you dislike pork, shellfish, mushrooms and anything with garlic. Knowing your likes and dislikes gives your coach a place to start. (Don’t try to make yourself sound less picky than you are—your coach is there to help the real you!) Your health. Reveal any allergies or other health problems you have that pose diet restrictions. Mention any supplements (including vitamins) and medications that you take. Some can negatively interact with certain foods. Your activity level. Are you sedentary, moderately active or very active? Be honest! How much you move goes into determining how much fuel you need to reach your goals. Cultural or religious influences on food choices. Share if beef, pork or shellfish is off-limits, for example. Your food budget. Healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive food. Discuss how much of your paycheck can go to groceries. If money is tight, your coach can give you the budget-friendly food choices you can make. Your comfort level with cooking. If you want to do more cooking from scratch, your coach may match recipes to your skill level, teach you new techniques or suggest podcasts, blogs or videos for ideas to inspire you and help you feel more confident. If you eat out a lot or rely on prepared foods, he can suggest the best choices from your favorite menus. Your comfort foods. You won’t stick to a plan if all your favorites are left out! But your coach can show you clever ways to find a healthier balance and feel satisfied from your meals. For example, if vegetables are a scarcity at dinner now, this might include creative ways to add volume with vegetables that pair well with the main protein. How easy it is for you to food shop. If your work schedule or physical condition makes this difficult, your coach may suggest an online food service that delivers or offers a pick-up on your way home. Your particular challenges. Maybe you eat well at breakfast and dinner, but lunches are usually a slice of pizza or a fast-food burger because that’s all you think you have time for. Your coach can give you workable ideas for getting over your own personal humps in ways you might not have considered. With all of the above information, your coach can put together a customized, flexible and realistic plan for you both at home and on the go.