One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “What is a health coach?” And what is the difference between an RD and a Health Coach?

There are two categories of people who ask this:

  1. Those who are considering the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a Health Coach, and 
  2. Those who are considering working 1-on-1 with me, wondering, “What does she actually do? And what is she qualified to help me do?”

I have never, not for a second, been anything but up front and forthcoming about exactly who I am, what I do, who I serve, and (most importantly) all the things I don’tcan’t, and won’t do.

What is the Difference Between an RD and a Health Coach

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What is the Difference Between an RD and a Health Coach #healthcoach #rd #nutritionist


First, I don’t need to recreate the wheel. Check out what Cynthia Sass says HERE about the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian.

The term nutritionist isn’t regulated, so technically, anyone can call himself or herself a nutritionist, even with no formal training, license, or certification. Dietitian, specifically registered dietitian, noted by RD after one’s name, or RDN for registered dietitian nutritionist (note: both RD and RDN are used by dietitians), has a specific meaning. That title requires 1) a minimum of a four year college degree from an accredited university’s program that includes specific course work in human physiology, nutrition science, and other sciences 2) a 1,200 hour supervised hands-on internship 3) passing a comprehensive examination and 4) completing ongoing continuing education. RDs/RDNs are also held to a professional code of ethics. 

Health Coach

Now, take that and compare it to what a Certified Health Coach is HERE. I have listed out what I do and do not do. 

According to Cynthia, I could technically call myself a Nutritionist, since it isn’t regulated. But I don’t care to do that because I feel like the assumption with the Nutritionist title is that you have done everything an RD has done. 

And I’m not into trickery.

Is one Smarter than the Other?

There is no denying it. An RD has a lot of formal (more medical) education. But please don’t misunderstand that health coaches have zero education. 

Like the term Nutritionist, anyone can also say they are a health coach.

But many of us did go to a school, studying and learning things just like an RD. But the difference is that these things are different topics, for a different length of time, and to my knowledge there is no health coaching program that includes organic chemistry.

And I know, I see it, too – because health coaches didn’t take things like organic chemistry, we aren’t as intelligent or qualified, right? (That was sarcastic, by the way.)

This is where I think things get sticky.

According to Cynthia Sass, “Nutrition isn’t common sense – it’s a specialized science.”

I both agree and disagree with the statement, depending on many different factors. When it comes to the argument that an RD is always better than a health coach based on the “specialized science” solely, though, I disagree. 

Them (RD’s) vs. Me (Health Coach)

In no way, shape, or form do I see it as a them vs. me. Many health coaches do see it this way, but I don’t. 

An RD, nurse, doctor, or anyone else with a medical license to interpret blood tests and prescribe medications are not any competition to me. (For the record, reviewing and interpreting blood tests are two separate things.)

In fact, if you want to know the truth, I have had RD’s make many rude remarks to me and to my community because “they knew best,” and clearly I didn’t. And so, when people come to me for an RD recommendation, guess whose names I do not give?


And I give out a ton of referrals within the medical industry; RD’s, doctors, dentists, hospitals, various organizations, etc. When it comes to gut health, gut healing, and chronic illness I get asked it all. And I love when I can refer someone to the help they need.

But it’s not now, nor will it ever be, a “them vs. me” scenario.

You Need a Team

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

Well, it also takes one to heal your gut.

I can help you get started building your own, personal team HERE

What is the Difference Between an RD and a Health Coach #healthcoach #rd #nutritionist takes a village quote

And besides, what I do at A Gutsy Girl is actually just a support system and/or funnel for the other work you do with your RD or other licensed medical professional:

  1. Health Coaching

    Whether you do just a quick 30-minute session or my full, exclusive program – I only do health coaching things. We go through my three pillars: diagnosis, diet, and lifestyle. And when you share with me more about each, I give you ideas, thoughts, and resources so you can move ahead with confidence for your next doctor’s appointment. I’m not going to prescribe you medication, tell you how many supplements to take, or write a meal plan complete with a percentage of carbs, fats, proteins, and all vitamins and minerals. It’s not in my scope, and I don’t play like it is.

  2. E-Books + my book

    These are guides to get you started and ideas to bring to your practitioners. There are no calories or dietary plans in any of them. They are filled with thoughts, ideas, and factual information to help get you going. 

  3. This website

    100% informational, supportive, and both community + educational-focused. The things I write and share are based off of cited research and/or personal experience plus opinion.  

  4. My brand new gut-healing journal!

    I recently announced that we have begun working on this journal. It will release sometime this summer, and the goal of it is to be a resource for both the Gutsy and medical communities. It’s a 90-day journal that will allow you to record everything from both a food and lifestyle standpoint to then be able to take with to other medical appointments. This is so that everyone is on the same page, you are at the center of it, and less guessing games have to be played.

Do Beware!

All of the above said, just because someone tells you they are a gut healing RD, doesn’t mean they are better for you than any other RD (or other medical practitioner in general). 

This is a true story. 

I was once listening to a presentation where a supplement company had hired an RD to speak on their line of gut health supplements. In the presentation, she said SIBO (cee-bo) like (SI-BO; sib-ling). That’s right. She didn’t even know how to pronounce it, much less what it actually was.

In other words, taking an organic chemistry class isn’t the end-all, be-all when determining who to work with.

I’ll leave this post with two final things:

  1. If you’re looking for an RD or health coach, review everything I said above. And honestly, the best thing to do is not to have it be an RD OR health coach. Instead, think of it as an RD and + and/or a health coach + and and/or everyone else you need. There are so many great medical professionals out there waiting for you. Find the best one for you and your situation.
  2. If you are an RD or anyone who has taken organic chemistry, know this – I see you, respect you, and promote you constantly. In fact, if you’ve taken my 7-Day Online Niche Defined E-Course, I help you build as big of an online practice desired. I want you to succeed because what you do is highly important. Furthermore, I will never stop creating tools like my journal as an additional resource for you to use with your clients.

As a Certified Health Coach, I love being part of a team. And as a former IBS and IBD patient, I know that it takes an awesome team and robust village in order to truly get well again.  


If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

  1. Master List of Digestive Health Coaches and Nutritionists
  2. 8 Reasons to Attend the Institute for Integrative Nutrition
  3. 3 Pillars for Ultimate Gut Healing


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