Over the last years many law suits have been filed by local states and regulatory agencies demanding health professionals an health coaching to stop advising their clients about nutrition because they don’t have the proper state licenses.
Is it legal for health coaches to advice people about nutrition or healthy living? Is it a crime?
At the Lifestyle Prescriptions University we agree 100% that a high quality education is absolutely essential. But as reported by Dr. Mercola we need to speak up for freedom of speech and for the freedom to practice common-sense health coaching.
Heather Kokesch Del Castillo made a living as a holistic health coach and providing one-on-one health coaching for clients. No licensing is required in California to provide dietary counseling, but Del Castillo sought out licensing privately anyway and completed a certification program in New York for holistic health coaching.
When she moved to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Del Castillo naturally continued with her successful coaching, helping clients eat healthy, lose weight and live better lives until she received a cease-and-desist letter and a $754 fine from the Florida Department of Health for practicing without a license.
Steve Cooksey, a prominent Paleo diet blogger received a 19-page letter from the North Carolina Board of Dietetics / Nutrition with accusations of dispensing nutrition advice or counseling without a license.
The board ordered that Cooksey take down the nutritional advice or face prosecution including potential jail time. They even said he could not offer such advice for free to friends over the phone or email.
With the help of the Institute for Justice Cooksey filed a free speech lawsuit against the State Board in 2012. In 2015 they won a huge victory and the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition issued new guidelines confirming that Cooksey and other like him have the right to offer advice and guidance on nutritional issues (if paid or for free).
But unfortunately 21 U.S. states still have nutritional licensing laws in place that restrict the freedom of food speech.
CrossFit bloggers Russell Berger and Russ Greene reported that “Nutritional licensure largely traces back to a special interest group, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Not surprisingly, the AND often grants special treatment to AND-certified nutritionists and dietitians, at the expense of fitness trainers, health coaches and anyone else who would like to warn others about junk food.”
Is advising people about healthy eating a crime?
The core of the issue is the fact that ordering any holistic health coach to cease-and-desist is a violation of the First Amendment. According to Institute of Justice:4
“Under binding Supreme Court precedent, laws that restrict speech based on its subject matter are subject to the most rigorous level of constitutional scrutiny. Moreover, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the mere fact that a person is paid for their speech has no effect on its level of constitutional protection.
In this case, there is no possibility that the state of Florida can satisfy the highest level of constitutional scrutiny … In this area, as in most areas of life, the First Amendment protects the right of listeners to decide for themselves which speakers are worth listening to.”
Interesting enough even Registered Dietitians (RDs) may get into trouble if they give nutritional advice that is considered outside the box. For example, Cassie Bjork, RD gave up her dietitian license after fighting with her state licensing board for five years over what nutritional advice she could give:11
“I told my clients to forget fat-free or low-fat and embrace full-fat diets; to eschew calorie counting and eat more of the right things; to swap out margarine for good old-fashioned butter; to quit slaving at the gym and work out less but more efficiently … the board didn’t like what I was doing.
They didn’t think I should be talking about thyroid, hormones, supplements or really anything other than low-fat, no-fat, low-cal food. The results I got for clients, in the end, didn’t matter. They wanted me to stick to ‘the rules.’ And so I had a choice: I could change how and what I teach, or I could relinquish my license.”
While AND claims its licensing standards are in the interest of protecting public health, this would imply that seeking nutritional information from someone other than an RD is dangerous. But AND has not provided evidence of adverse events or harm occurring in any such cases.13
As it stands, in states that have laws under which only RDs can provide information about healthy food and diet, your health freedom is at risk. While it’s reasonable for AND to require anyone calling themselves an RD to undergo their specified training and requirements, it’s a whole other matter to seek to eliminate all other competition from the marketplace and turn others seeking to provide nutritional advice into criminals.
It’s also interesting to hear this statement from AND: “Every registered dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a registered dietician.”
What are health coaches allowed to say or do?
RDs go through a rigorous 4-year training, licensure exams before they’re qualified to offer medical nutritional therapy (MNT) and treat medical conditions like obesity or diabetes through a diet.
Therefore as a health coach you want to be aware of their credentials and know about your own credentials and your own expertise which is focused around education and coaching.
Therefore as a health coach you CANNOT:
- diagnose medical conditions
- prescribe diets to treat symptoms or any medical or clinical condition
If a client asks you how to treat their diabetes or obesity or any other disease then treating these medical conditions would be outside of your scope of practice.
It’s best to avoid “treating” or “prescribing” or “diagnosing” medication or any form of medical or therapeutic treatment.
Focus on educating your clients, empowering them to become aware of their lifestyle habits and helping and guiding them to find new lifestyle habits, resolving emotional hurts, consciously choosing new beliefs and thoughts, decrease stress, eat healthy and exercise more and develop more love and support.
Excellence in root-cause based health coaching, being competent and confident in your skills is absolutely essential. But nutrition and healthy eating are part of the puzzle which often might not be enough to help clients.
We’ve seen tremendous improvements in health outcomes once health professionals and health coaches start looking at “The 6 Root-Causes of all Illness” and the Art and Science of Self-Healing especially when working with chronic health issues.
Second, all health coaches need to know their local laws and regulations and follow them consciously.
Third, be aware of your right to freedom of speech which as we know comes with personal responsibility.
And for clients and people wanting to improve their health and life:
- Check the credentials of the health coach you work with.
- Get a Complementary Consultation first and ask these highly important questions:
* What’s the root-cause of my symptoms?
* What’s the time line? Why do symptoms appear now? Why chronic?
* Which lifestyle habits, emotions & stressors affect my specific symptom?
* What’s the health coaching plan you suggest?
If a health coach or health professional can’t answer these questions with confidence and you’re not satisfied or feel not 100% sure that this is the “one” to help you towards self-healing … then continue your search and find someone else trained in Root-Cause Analysis & Solutions based on the Body-Mind-Social Connection.
- Most important trust your own instincts (not your doubting or busy mind but rather your own truth deep inside). Act upon that inner feeling and guidance and know that self-healing is a journey.