News & Politics

Personal Trainer Caught in Sting Operation for Offering Diet Advice Without a License

If you want to lose weight, you might hire a personal trainer. It’s normal to ask your trainer what you should be eating along with the exercise program.

Heather Kokesch Del Castillo thought she was just helping out a client, but it was no client. The Florida Department of Health was running a sting operation on trainers who give diet advice without being licensed as a dietician.

She was fined $750.

As C. Jarrett Dieterle and Shoshana Weissmann report: “While at first blush it may seem reasonable to require those providing health and nutritional advice to obtain a license, the reality is much more complex. Many non-dietitians have good reasons to provide both formal and informal diet advice to clients. For instance, physical trainers and health coaches will often advise their clients on how to eat healthier.”

So why don’t trainers just get licensed as dieticians?

As Dieterle and Weissmann note, that’s easier said than done:

It’s far from clear that requiring licensure for dietary advice produces healthier or safer outcomes, but licensing makes even less sense for non-dietitians such as health coaches and trainers. For one, the costs can be prohibitively high. To obtain a dietitian license in Florida, one has to complete a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, partake in 900 hours of supervised practice, pass an exam and pay over $300 in fees.

Even if trainers and health coaches clear all these hurdles, many do not want to become dietitians or nutritionists because they are uncomfortable with some of the prevailing dietary guidelines in those fields. As one example, a dietitian in Minnesota recently gave up her dietitian license after repeatedly clashing with the state licensing board over its preferred diet recommendations.

Occupational licensing laws can often seem like little more than protection rackets for certain occupations. In this case, dietician licensing boards have a history of pushing constantly changing, even politicized dietary guidelines that may or may not benefit the client.

Of course, as Dieterle and Weissmann write: “[T]hroughout history people have received diet advice from friends and family without endangering themselves or needing government approval.”

Del Castillo did precisely what anyone else in her line of work would do. She tried to help her clients. Presumably Del Castillo has successfully avoided being overweight, so she might have as much to share on eating right as anyone.

I can’t help but notice that this is Florida.

The state has the time to go after a fitness pro for telling people how to eat healthier. But it couldn’t arrest a disturbed kid after dozens of warnings.