In the last few weeks, we've seen a public online spat between high profile Dieticians/Nutritionists and health conscious IIN-qualified celebrities. It's caused a bit of a stir in the health community as Nutritionists defend their 'turf' from the wave of Health Coaches sweeping the Aussie shores.
I graduated from IIN in 2013 and am often asked about the school by prospective students. Having seen (and felt) the online criticism, I wanted to write about my experience with IIN, in response to the debate.
In 2010, before I'd even heard of the school, I worked with a dietician to uncover the cause of my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, with much success. So, I have a clear understanding of what dieticians and nutritionists can do for the public, as well as a full insight into what Health Coaches do, having worked as a Holistic Health Coach for 12 months myself.
I've written this blog post for people considering to enrol in the Nutrition School and for my fellow Health Coaches, many of whom have felt the negativity surrounding the recent backlash. This is also for the Nutritionists and Practitioners concerned about IIN influence on the health community and also for Joshua Rosenthal, the founder of IIN.
This is my honest opinion and experience of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition...
Why I chose to study at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition
- I wanted to create a new opportunity for myself, having come from an unfulfilling corporate career
- I wanted to improve my own health
- I wanted to 'advise' and support people in some way (having spent 7 years in Human Resources I felt I was suited for a people-orientated role)
- I couldn't afford to spend more than $10k on a course
- I wanted to study and still have the flexibility to work at the same time
- I had researched Nutrition and Health Promotion post-graduate degrees but the content, approach and career opportunities did not appeal to me
- I'd also considered a Masters in Psychology (having completed a BSc Psych degree in 2006) as well as counselling courses but they didn't appeal to me either
What I liked about IIN
- How I was taught to question my beliefs and previous education
- The opportunity to create a new career path within 1 year
- Learning over 100 dietary theories and being encouraged to try these theories for myself (to be my own experiment)
- Learning foundational knowledge of how the digestive system works and the biochemistry of food, macronutrients etc
- Learning how other areas of my life (career, relationships, spirituality etc) can have a greater impact on my health and wellness than food
- Being part of a like-minded community
- The variety of passionate, expert lecturers with conflicting opinions and research
- The flexible, online aspect of the course - it was my responsibility to ensure I studied the modules and completed the exams on time
- Developing my listening skills and learning the fundamentals of how to coach clients to better their health
- Learning basic business and marketing skills, enough to start the foundation of my own health coaching business in a few short months
- Update July 2016: IIN now have educational agreements with Maryland University of Integrative Health, Goddard College, SUNY Purchase, Excelsior College, amongst others. This is fantastic opportunity for graduates who wish to continue their education to achieve a bachelor’s or master's degree.
What I didn't like about IIN
- The coaching calls - I was the only British/Australian on my call group and it was difficult to feel connected to the other participants in the US (2016 Update: IIN now have an Australian Coaching Circle which I would have preferred had it been available at the time I studied)
- Lack of Australian support after you graduate - I entered the following 6 month Immersion Program and although some of the handouts were useful, I couldn't relate to much of the material and it lost the 'community feel' that the original 12 month course had, which I felt I needed even more-so once I'd qualified. (2016 Update: IIN are currently developing their Australian presence so there will be more available for new graduates going forward. I have also added a list of my recommendations for graduate support below)
- The 'celebrity health coach' - Like with most advertising campaigns, IIN have used celebrities and 'over-night success' stories to promote their product. However, I would like to see IIN increase their promotion of more 'realistic' health coaching success in Australia, so that new graduates in this country have a clear understanding of what can be achieved. Running a health coaching business (or any business for that matter) is hard work. Not everyone will have the same publicity as Melissa Ambrosini, or will have the opportunity to launch a book and sell as many copies as the Sugar-Free Mum. These examples are inspirational, but so is the low profile Health Coach who's been running a successful practice for over 5 years from home and making significant changes in her community (see Marla Bozic).
Why I am no longer practising as a Health Coach
I opened my practice 'Joanna Brown, Health Coaching' in January 2013 and was over the moon to sign up a 6 month client on my first day! I did everything by the book - I was active on social media, blogged, wrote an ebook and networked whenever possible. I even pushed aside my introverted tendencies to hold a live Tele-class about sugar and stood up in front of 25 people for my Spring Health workshop. Despite all this and coaching 10 clients through positive change throughout the year, I had an underlying feeling of un-fulfilment. It was difficult to admit that I wasn't enjoying the actual coaching part of my business. I was a whiz on social media, loved writing about health, setting up my website, online programs and meeting new people. But when talking one-to-one with clients about their diet and lifestyle, I didn't enjoy it. Being a health coach wasn't for me.
Once I identified this, I also recognised how I had naturally been using my previous corporate talents to support my health peers with the online side of their business. What started as casual virtual assistance to support my coaching career, soon took on a world of it’s own as I dived more into the online world. I took a leap of faith and decided to become a full-time Virtual Assistant for the health community and let go of my coaching practice.
Upon doing this, a sudden shift happened......
When coaching, I spent a lot of time in my head, worrying about whether I was saying or doing the right thing. But, when working on websites, social media, newsletters etc, I felt an underlying sense of confidence, that I knew exactly what I was doing, even though I’d never created a website before in my life!
In January 2014, I officially launched The Healthy VA and within two years emerged as Australia's leading virtual assistance service for the health & wellness industry. Without IIN this would have never been possible. I wouldn't have the health knowledge required to understand what my new clients are trying to achieve in their health businesses. In the end, my transition from a Holistic Health Coach to The Healthy VA began by recognising my strengths and talents and accepting my introvert tendencies (that I do my best work behind a screen). IIN gave me the personal development experience I needed to get where I am today.
What my IIN experience gave me
- A challenging and rewarding journey - both personally and professionally
- It opened up more opportunities for my career
- It made me step out of my comfort zone
- It made me step away from social norms and understand how I can create my own reality
- It gave me a foundation of knowledge both in health, nutrition, business and marketing
- It helped me connect with my body and true self
- It encouraged me to experience life's challenges, see them as learning experiences and go with the flow, rather than resist
- It helped me to identify and develop my strengths
- It's made me a part of something bigger than myself - a positive global movement
- It's made me see that change in the world is possible and that I can contribute to it in my own way
Health Coaching is going to be criticised because it's different and it's pressing on social norms. Our holistic approach, along with our understanding of corporate and government influence means we're lifting the veil on the current health crisis. We're shaking things up!
Criticism of IIN will probably get worse before it gets better as Practitioners continue to feel threatened by our non-traditional approach to health and wellness. But, Health Coaches aren't backing down because we know that change is possible, we've seen it in ourselves.
Nutritionists and Dieticians will always be crucial in supporting the public's health and wellness. I saw first hand the support they can provide when working to identify the cause of my IBS triggers. My dietician presented me with the FODMAPS elimination diet, which was challenging to implement and looking back now, I can see how a Health Coach would have been an additional helping hand - for example, teaching me how to cook meals without my trigger foods and showing me healthier alternatives when food shopping. These examples are not services provided by Dieticians and Nutritionists, so working as a collective unit can provide a patient with monumental support.
Time will show the positive impact Health Coaches are making on society and opinions will improve. I have no doubt that in a few years time Health Coaches will be regarded as a vital part of our countries health model. In my opinion, without Health Coaches pushing to change the current state of the world, rates of obesity, cancer and other diet-related diseases are only going to get worse.
Are there many successful Health Coaches in Australia?
Yes, I regard myself as a success. I may no longer be a practising Health Coach but I have been able to make a profitable, growing business from my IIN studies and Health Coaching qualification. I wouldn't have been able create The Healthy VA and inspire others to become Virtual Assistants, had I not completed the IIN course. I know several other graduates who have used their health coaching qualification in their unique way, such as creating business coaching programs, mentoring for newly qualified yoga teachers and developing online health stores.
It's not the IIN course that's going to make you successful - it's YOU and the action steps you take to create your own reality.
The knowledge I learnt from IIN is immeasurable and I highly recommend the course. I also feel it's important for graduates to be aware that the Health Coach model isn't suited for everyone, and that's ok, because you can still use your IIN skills and knowledge in your own way - like I've done.
If you're interested in becoming a Virtual Assistant for the Health & Wellness industry, take a look at The Virtual Assistant Toolbox >>
And finally, if you'd like to find out more about the IIN course and how to enrol, here's more info about the Curriculum >>
I became a school Ambassador as I knew IIN was something I would want to share and promote to others in my community. I wish every new student the best experience, whether they go on to be a successful Health Coach or use their new found knowledge to better the world in their own way.