It almost goes without saying—the food you eat is crucial to feeling and being healthy. Consider this: Poor diet has been found responsible for nearly half of the deaths from heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and it can play a role in the development of at least 13 different types of cancer. There’s also a strong connection between nutrition and mental health.

Moving toward a more nutritious life can be difficult to do on your own, but a virtual nutrition coaching program—such as the one offered by Teladoc Health—allows people to receive individualized guidance from their phone or laptop. Whether you’re looking to improve your performance in the gym, maintain your weight, prevent chronic disease or manage a health condition, here’s what a nutrition coach can do for you.

How can a nutrition coach help me?

Are you looking to reduce your overall calorie intake? Do you need a nutritional performance plan to best your personal record on race day? Maybe you’re looking for ways to reduce your blood pressure. Nutrition coaches can provide the advice and support you need to get there.

“As registered dietitians, we have the expertise to be able to tailor a program to your individual needs,” says Sonia Neale, MS, RD, a nutrition coach with Teladoc Health. “That means understanding your nutritional needs according to your age, sex, body composition, etc. But more than that, we take into account your lifestyle, likes and dislikes, even your culture and where you live. For instance, someone from New York might eat very differently than someone from Texas or California.”

A coach will also consider other factors that are important to you. Are you a vegetarian? Are you allergic to peanuts? Lactose-intolerant? Do you have certain ethnic or religious considerations to keep in mind? Do you hate fish? Gag at the mere sight of tomatoes? A personal nutrition coach will take all of these into account and work with you to build a meal plan that works for you and your lifestyle.

They will also take into account any chronic health conditions you have. “Many of the men we work with come to us for help managing a chronic disease, like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or fatty liver disease,” says Neale. “Some have food sensitivities, allergies, or gastrointestinal issues. Others are interested in sports nutrition and want to gain more insight into how to fuel their body for their activities.”

What happens during an appointment?

Your first visit with a personal nutrition coach will last approximately 30 to 40 minutes, and all you' need is your phone, tablet, or computer. During that time, your coach will ask you to explain in detail your nutrition and performance goals, exercise regimen, health status, medications, lifestyle, and dietary restrictions. You’ll also discuss your motivation for eating better, along with any barriers that you might find are getting in your way.

After that initial conversation, you’ll work with your coach to build a custom meal plan (complete with a shopping list) that includes healthy foods you enjoy and will realistically prepare and eat. Key word: realistically. “We want to make sure the plan we build together is sustainable,” Neale says. So the nutrition coaches at Teladoc Health custom-fit the meal plan for you. Even if you’re too busy to cook or find yourself always eating on the go, they’ll work within what your lifestyle allows.

How often will you meet?

The frequency of visits depends on how aggressive your goals are, but follow-up appointments with a nutrition coach are typically scheduled for every two to four weeks. “It’s much easier to keep these appointments and stay on track with your goals when you don’t have to take time off of work and drag yourself to an in-person visit every couple of weeks,” Neale says. “Utilizing something like Teladoc Health’s online nutrition coaching program allows you to take control and hold yourself accountable.”

At the follow-up appointments, you’ll update your coach on how your plan is working and any challenges you are having. For those managing chronic conditions, you can also utilize Teladoc Health's integrated app to connect all of your health data, providing your coach with a full picture. “We review any data that’s available—such as a member’s blood glucose levels, blood pressure readings, or weight—and problem-solve together to make any necessary adjustments to the plan,” Neale says.

Will I have to give up [insert your favorite meal here]?

Nope, you won’t have to give up eating the foods you love. Any personal nutrition coach worth their salt will tell you that no food is off-limits.

“We never say, ‘You have to eat this’ or ‘You shouldn’t eat that,’” Neale says. “We work more as a teacher, educator, liaison,” to help you better understand how all foods can fit into an overall healthy diet.

The continuous, one-on-one nature of a coaching program—made easier with telemedicine—allows your coach to provide personalized recommendations tailored to your preferences and needs.