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Picture by Tina Koustenis

Health coach Allie LeFevere sources local produce from a farmer's market with a client.

Health coaching: a rising alternative for changing a lifestyle

by Debra Lipson
Dec 04, 2012


Debra Lipson/MEDILL

Health coach certification programs, ranging from 12 weeks to one year, are becoming more popular. Pictured are four national programs and their comparable price points, including the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Click to enlarge.

Hiring a health coach to restock your refrigerator, suggest an exercise regimen and teach you to manage emotional stress is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to Western medicine.

“Health coaching is not about quick fixes but a lifestyle change that will give people the tools to live a sustainable, healthy lifestyle without deprivation,” said Allie LeFevere, a coach who serves on the Health Coaches of Chicago board of directors. “We want healthy habits to become a natural part of life rather than a forced plan.”

A health coach acts as a holistic authority and supportive mentor hybrid, different from a dietitian or trainer. A registered dietitian uses a scientific approach to their practice; they are trained to administer diets in hospitals or analyze a client’s food intake.

A health coach’s reach goes beyond this. They work to enhance quality of life through nutrition principals and are trained to support clients’ health goals in order to encourage lasting lifestyle changes instead of fad dieting trends.

For example, coaches may shop local food markets with clients to give their pantries a makeover and instruct them on what healthy products to buy.

Several graduates of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, the world’s largest nutrition school in New York with more than 30,000 health coach alums, relocated west to form the Health Coaches of Chicago two years ago.

“We wanted to legitimize health services people weren’t so familiar with and form a group we could bring to the community,” said LeFevere.

“Not everyone wants to go to a traditional doctor,” she said. “Some people have more holistic needs that aren’t met through Midwestern ways.”

Chicagoan Laura Jackson wanted to improve her health before she turned 30 this year. The vegetarian since age nine suffered from fatigue and decided to look for help outside her general practitioner’s office.

“I feel that doctors primarily mask problems with medicine rather than find a healthful solution to an illness,” she said.

Jackson found health coach LeFevere through a Google search. The health coach is teaching her about healthy vegetarian options, as well as sensible portion sizes for her meals.

In two and a half months, Jackson lost eleven pounds.


“I have experienced a large spike in my energy, even my finger nails are stronger,” she said.

Instead of facilitating or executing diets, health coaches analyze all aspects of wellness habits. They work independently or in a practice’s partnership, exploring ways to physically, mentally and spiritually improve how people look and feel.

Coaching programs typically last three to six months and start at $100 an hour, though rates vary.

“Each coach has his or her own areas of interest and individuals they want to work with,” said Kathleen Kasprzak, a registered health coach in the northern suburbs.

Health coaches hone their unique area of expertise, which may stem from an additional career position. Some moonlight as nutritionists or chefs in combination with their coaching.

“For us, there is a behavioral element and accountability factor unique to health coaching,” said local coach and natural food chef Amanda Skrip.

She said clients know what they should be doing - eating a healthful diet, exercising five times a week - but do not follow through with these plans.

“We work to remove that block keeping someone from making choices they should be making for self improvement,” Skrip said.

If someone has an issue with food, they usually are struggling in other areas of their life, said LeFevere. Health coaches work on stress management and confidence-building exercises and teach clients to make lasting peace in their relationship with food. 

Some clients seek health coaches for specific ailments. LeFevere said her clients’ most common concerns are “a minimal lack of energy, healthy and reasonable weight loss and a general feeling of not living optimally.”

When choosing a coach, LeFevere encourages clients to find someone “who is their advocate and will incorporate healthy habits for the long haul.”