What's in Your Label

I am a certified Health Coach. I got my certification through ACE - the American Council on Exercise. Why do I lead with this statement? Recently labels have come up in conversation a few times and it got me to thinking about the credibility we put into labels and how we use them.

So as an ACE certified Health Coach, I was recently told that the YMCA has “health coaches”. Their “health coaches” clean equipment but have no training or education in true “Health Coaching”. Now, I got my start at a YMCA and believe strongly in their mission statement so although I disagree with their terminology, I still believe in their organization as a whole. Having said that, the fact that the people who clean the equipment, with no certification and no understanding of what a certified “Health Coach” really is, are labeled “Health Coaches” at the YMCA is ridiculous.

I am proud of the steps I took to become a certified “Health Coach”. Todd Galati is the Senior Director of Science and Research at ACE and he explains the “why” of the accreditation process below.

Todd Galati

Sr. Director, Science & Research

Accreditation provides quality assurance that a program, organization or institution has met and maintains predetermined national or international standards. In the United States, there are separate accreditations for education, certification and facilities; each with different purposes, meanings, criteria, standards and time limits. Accreditations are awarded by non-governmental organizations that set and uphold standards of quality agreed upon by members of the accrediting body and professional community.

Many employers in fitness, healthcare and other professions require employees to hold accredited certifications. In addition, certification and licensure programs that have education prerequisites typically require that the diploma or degree be earned from an accredited educational institution.

All four ACE certifications are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the gold standard for accreditation of quality certifications in healthcare, fitness, health coaching and other professions. By earning and maintaining NCCA accreditation, ACE is positioning its certified professionals to gain recognition as legitimate members of the healthcare continuum, providing more opportunities for people to receive services from well-qualified exercise professionals and health coaches.

So, my point here is the YMCA’s definition of “Health Coach” undermines the certification of those who worked for it. A patron of a YMCA would look at what a health coach does at the YMCA and could easily determine that a health coach cleans equipment without realizing the depth to which a certified health coach can truly assist in behavior change and modification.

Labels are everywhere we turn. People have labels - Democrat, Republican, Captain, Sergeant, runner, lifter, father, mother, but the labels they have don’t make them more or less of something. They don’t fully define them and they can often be incorrect labels. There are plenty of parents out there that do not take their roles as parent seriously. They don’t actually parent their children. But some do. Some leaders are in the position of leadership but don’t know how to lead. But some do.

That’s not the only place that I’ve found labels to be deceiving. In a conversation with a client this week, he told me one of his employees told him there are no carbs in vodka. I retorted “That’s absurd! Of course there are carbs in vodka. Where do you think the calories come from?” You’ll have to forgive me, but like so many people do, I jumped on the internet and looked up nutritional value of vodka. If you look it up, you’ll find the same thing I did…a label that tells you there are “no carbs”, protein or fat in vodka. It’s not the only alcohol label that reads that way, whiskey and other “hard liquors” share the same type of label.

So, I went to my true source, Lindsey House, a registered dietician, and asked her why the labels are misleading. I know that if something has calories, which the label on vodka shows 64 calories in one fluid ounce, they have to come from somewhere, from a macro, either carbs, protein or fat and vodka is made from a carb, so it must have carbs in it. Right? Here’s what Lindsey shared with me.

There are:

  • 7 calories in a gram of alcohol

  • 9 calories in a gram of fat

  • 4 calories in a gram of carbohydrate

  • 4 calories in a gram of protein

She said, “I always feel like it it's important for individuals to know that alcohol is absorbed differently and first which can affect our metabolism of other nutrients.”

Now, I knew about the other macros, the fat, carbs and proteins, but labels do not show the calories in a gram of alcohol. She sent me a couple of documents supporting this information which I’m sharing below:

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-3/220-231.pdf

https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/calories/calories-in-alcohol/

So, as you can see even our nutrition labels can be somewhat obscure and deceiving. But that’s not the end of it when it comes to food labels. The nutrition labels are one thing, but you can start with the box itself. Things used to say “sugar free” or “fat free” - which although that may be true, there are still reasons you want to stay away from such foods. If it is low in sugar, it is usually high in fat. If it is low in fat, it is usually high in sugar. Now a days everything is “Non-GMO” or “gluten free”, which leads people to believe these are the healthy options, when the truth is, they may be just as bad for you.

To sum this up, be careful when you label someone or something and be careful when you read labels. Labels are a guide which can often give you some foundational information, but not necessarily defining information. You often have to look deeper than the label to get a better perspective and greater understanding.