What to Look for in a Coach
3 Things to Look for in a Health/Diet/Fitness Coach
In an age where literally anyone can start an online coaching business, you want to do a little due diligence before spending your hard-earned money. As an example, people can go to UDEMY and take a 90-minute online course in weight loss or health coaching and print out an official-looking certificate to appear more credible in social media. Similarly, there are crash courses to help people become a certified “personal trainer” in 15 hours. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential coach questions about training, credentials, and experience, and don’t be afraid to ask for references.
Don’t worry about being a “difficult client”. The ones who ask lots of questions will hire the best coaches and get the best results.
I’ve had several coaches in my life, some of them very popular in the online world. These coaches ranged from good to great to horrible. A couple were even destructive as they moved me further away from my health and fitness goals into orthorexia and injury. Sometimes it was a lack of knowledge. Sometimes it was a lack of professionalism. Sometimes it was a rigid attitude on their behalf about nutrition or training.
I have learned a lot about what makes a coach good, or even great, by hiring coaches and becoming one myself.
Here’s what you should expect for your money.
A good coach will provide you with knowledge, support, and guidance as you work towards your goals. A great coach will help you learn and achieve more than you thought possible.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because someone has a hot body and is popular on Instagram, that they are qualified to coach and teach others. The most knowledgeable coaches are constantly learning, and often have a university degree or a certificate from a nationally recognized agency. Their education should require several months or even years of study. Health science is always evolving, so it’s important they stay up-to-date by attending conferences, reading, and belonging to different groups. I belong to the American Council on Exercise, an organization which requires me to take continual education credits to prevent my knowledge from becoming outdated. Otherwise, I lose my certifications.
Bottom line: You want a coach whose knowledge is rooted in science and tested through direct and often personal experience, not woo-woo articles on the Internet or bro advice passed around the gym. You should be comfortable asking questions and getting intelligent answers. If they can’t provide a clear and simple explanation for doing something, they probably don’t understand it themselves.
How to spot a red flag: If they push waist trainers and “detoxes” and “superfoods”, and think in very black-and-white terms when it comes to nutrition, they’re not science-based. Be especially careful of health coaches and nutritionists who push diet rigidity: this can be a slippery slope to orthorexia and disordered thinking about food.
Some people hire coaches because they’re looking for confirmation that they’re on the right path as well as positive emotional support throughout their journey – a cheerleader. While recognition is important, you are paying for coaching. You hire a coach for their expertise and insight. They are there to help you reach your goals and to bridge the gap between where you are now, and where you want to be. This process can make for some tough but honest conversations – AKA “tough love”. You want a coach who shows compassion but you don’t want a coach who avoids difficult conversations. Often, those difficult conversations provide the greatest opportunity for personal growth and transformation.
TRUST AND RESPECT IS EVERYTHING! It’s important to find a coach you trust and have good rapport with. It may feel a little awkward in the beginning, but your bond should feel solid after a couple months. If not, you need a new coach.
Your coach should be available by email, and respond to any questions you have in a timely manner. For example, I almost always reply back the same day, during business hours Monday – Friday. If I’ll be traveling and unavailable, I’ll let my clients know in advance. I also conduct weekly video sessions with my clients. This is extremely helpful for building rapport and strategizing.
Things emerge in conversation that simply don’t get brought up in emails or texts, especially in group coaching situations. Video sessions where you can see each others’ faces are ideal for building a bond with your coach and having more in-depth discussions.
Bottom line: You want a coach who encourages autonomy and independence but neither should they just give you a plan and disappear. A great coach will keep tabs on you. They will be a mentor, a cheerleader, a teacher, and sometimes they will even feel like the enemy when they call you out on some hard truths. No matter what, your coach should conduct him or herself in a professional manner.
How to spot a red flag: Support becomes confused with therapy. These coaches want to provide all the answers and they don’t stay within their scope of practice: they happily diagnose injuries and prescribe rehabilitative exercises. They play psychologist and want to explore childhood traumas or help you with your relationship problems. They may prescribe meal plans when they aren’t a Registered Dietician (against the law in most states) or they treat clients with eating disorders instead of referring them out.
You want a coach who helps you set your own goals, but will also challenge you (at the right times) to do more than you think you are capable of. You want a coach who will hold you accountable to what you say you’re going to do, but allow you to be human and make mistakes. There should be some way of tracking progress over time, and sharing that information with your coach in order to discuss and make changes to your nutrition and training plans as needed. Every BODY is different, and while some coaches save time and money by having everyone follow the same plan, that plan may not work for some people. We all have different abilities, preferences, and lifestyles. It’s important your coach meets you where you’re at and not force you to do something that feels wrong or uncomfortable.
Bottom line: You have a goal. The coach formulates a plan to achieve that goal. Within reason, the coach should be willing to change the nutrition and training plan as needed and desired.
How to spot a red flag: The coach blames you for failing to adhere to the plan and shows no willingness to modify it at all to fit your abilities and needs. There is, of course, an exception to this: you should not require constant changes to your plan. If so, the problem is likely due to your inability to adhere to any plan at this time in your life (or your coach is from Mars, and their plan defies the laws of human physiology).
My Approach to Coaching
When women come to me for coaching, they typically want to lose weight, learn how to eat healthier, and get stronger and fitter.
My approach is to help them:
1. Set reasonable goals for fat loss.
2. Lose weight without starving.
3. Learn how to make better choices over time.
4. Understand nutrition better: food labels, and nutritional guidelines.
5. Understand themselves better: the habits, thoughts, and fears that drive their decision-making.
6. Transition to “real life” when the diet is over.
7. Become more fit and active in a way that is enjoyable.
When people work with me, they learn that they don’t have to give up all the foods they enjoy in order to lose weight and keep it off. Neither do they have to starve themselves or do endless hours of cardio. It’s about creating a lifestyle – together – that is healthy and enjoyable and ultimately sustainable.
As an ACE-certified health coach with a specialty in weight management. I also have a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology and I attend strength training clinics and nutrition seminars to say fresh. I have years of education. I am also accredited by the NCCA, an independent accrediting body that evaluates programs for health professionals like registered dietitians and occupational therapists. My credentials are ironclad verifiable, and representative of a standard of excellence recognized by health care providers and state agencies.
As an online health coach, I am passionate about helping people and I want to work with people who are highly motivated to make a lifestyle change. I take an integrated approach and one that requires a lot of effort from a coaching perspective. It uses physical activity guidance, nutrition education, and behavior change coaching. I am certainly not the cheapest, but I don’t know of another coach who spends as much time working with their clients to help them achieve their goals.
P.S. I only work with clients who are willing to commit to at least three months of coaching with me because that’s how long it takes to really notice results and build some solid habits.
Your health is precious. Best of luck finding a coach that can help you with your goals and don’t settle for good when you can have great!
Adele Frizzell, Online Health Coach & Author
Do you want us to write anything specific that could help your fitness and health goals? Or maybe anything to help with mindset and habit change? Let us in the comments below and we’ll try our best to write them for you.