health coaching

Q & A: Can I be a health coach if I’m not in perfect health myself?

August 15, 2017

I’m Kim.
I’m an M.D.-turned-entrepreneur and I’m dedicated to helping you build your dream career + lifestyle. Welcome to my blog, where I write (and podcast) about wellness, business + success!
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If you’re trying to get a health coaching business off the ground, I think you’ll appreciate today’s question.


I’m trying to build a business as a health coach, but I have a dark secret. I’m not in perfect health myself. I mean, I’m working on it! I love everything about nutrition, leading an active life, and working on my self-care…but I’m not in peak shape. I see all these people on my Instagram feed, these young, gorgeous nutritionists who look like model-perfect athletes and…well, that’s not me. I worry that clients will look at me and think—why would I take advice from HER?


I definitely have some thoughts on this issue. And to be clear, this is MY opinion only. Other people may have a different perspective, which is fine! But here’s my point of view.

First, whether you use the term “wellness coach” or “health coach”, the common theme, obviously, is the word “coach”. So let’s look at that. What does it mean to be a coach?

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as: “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”*

In their definition, they go further to distinguish the ways a coach functions differently than other service professionals. In other words, they specify what coaching is NOT. For example, coaching is not therapy (which deals with healing pain, dysfunction, and conflict). And coaching is not consulting, where the consultant is an EXPERT who diagnoses problems and prescribes/oversees change. They explain it like this:

“With coaching, the assumption is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks.”

Also, coaching is not MENTORING. ”A mentor is an expert who provides wisdom and guidance based on his or her own experience. Mentoring may include advising, counseling and coaching. The coaching process does not include advising or counseling, and focuses instead on individuals or groups setting and reaching their own objectives.”

Nowhere in any of that does it state that a coach needs to be an expert or an ideal role model.

The whole basis of coaching is to work collaboratively with clients—to discover options, co-create a plan, and provide accountability and support throughout the process of change. Again, none of that requires a coach to have it “all figured out” for themselves.

So that’s my answer to the question above: no, you do not need to be in perfect health to be a health coach.

Now, granted, there does seem to be a highly visible set of health coaches in the wellness sphere who are in pristine shape, have impeccable diets, unimpeachable habits, and are model-gorgeous. And if you happen to be one of those people—that’s amazing!! I know you’ve worked hard to get to where you are, and this topic is not meant to detract from your efforts in any way. However, to the rest of you who don’t fall into that category, don’t sweat it! To be an effective coach, you do not need to be in Instagram-perfect health.

In fact, it could be argued that for some clients, a “perfect” coach—however you define that—is not the best fit. Someone who appears perfect (at least on the outside) can be intimidating. All kinds of things may come up in coaching sessions, where the client wants to please the coach who is perhaps up on a pedestal. A client may strive to come across more together than they truly feel, and may be inhibited from admitting the full truth to their coach (as in: I ate an entire pizza last night….I blew off all my workouts last week and went on a House of Cards binge instead…). These are topics that would be great for growth, for learning, for collaboration. They are the exact things a client needs to feel comfortable divulging.

On the other hand, some people enjoy the inspiration of their ideal role model pushing them harder (#fitnessgoals, right?). But that’s okay. You will not be able to coach everyone. You don’t need the world as your clientele. Much of this comes down to choosing a niche.

try this next: 5 STEPS TO CHOOSING A HEALTH COACHING NICHE (article & worksheet)

For many people, a more human, infallible, relatable coach is one we can identify with, connect with, and feel a collaborative relationship with. A coaching relationship built on *those* tenets may have a stronger chance of achieving success, which is the whole point.

And from a business-building point of view, if you wait to get into “perfect shape” before marketing yourself as a health coach…well, you just might be waiting forever. Don’t put it off, just get going. Get yourself out there. There are people to help—and they really don’t need you to lose those last 5 pounds before you can serve them.

Bottom line: if you feel like you’re not in “perfect health” yourself, do NOT let that stop you from pursuing a path as a health coach. Truth is, we are all a work-in-progress. And don’t forget—even people whose Instagram feeds show nothing but perfection…well, we all know they have their own issues going on, too. We all do.

“Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.” – Anne Lamott

In my opinion, the idea that “I can’t become a health coach because I’m not in my peak health yet” is a myth. The truth? This is not something that should stop you from pursuing a career as a health coach! Being in tip-top health is NOT a requirement. It’s perfectly okay—encouraged, even—to continue to do your own work and to evolve right along with your clients! Life, health, happiness…it’s a journey, not a destination.

*ICF definitions

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in my free PDF guide for health coaches: HOW TO GET MD REFERRALS.

Cheers! Dr. Kim xo


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