When I say that I’m a Registered Dietitian, it’s generally understood that I am skilled in counseling clients regarding their nutritional needs during various stages of life for weight management, overall wellness or during times of illness. Food that tastes good and is good for you is my jam; that’s easy to convey. When I also mention that I am a Certified Health Coach, eyes frequently glaze.
The term “health coach” conjures-up a lot of images – often ones that lead to an eye roll. This is totally understandable. Health coaching is still in its infancy in terms of its regular use in the field of healthcare. Fortunately, more providers (myself included) are beginning to recognize the field’s potential for promoting positive, lasting change. And the statistics – particularly in the areas of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight loss and stress management – are pretty impressive.
A Certified Health Coach is a professional who, with a prior degree or certification in an area of healthcare, adds to their practice by becoming credentialed in offering a conversation that is a step above the standard “Do this. Don’t do that.” Or in my case, “Eat this. Don’t eat that.” A coach goes beyond the traditional model by encouraging us to confidently achieve our goals by allowing ample time to listen intently, assist in creating a realistic plan and design a mutually agreed upon system of accountability.
In my opinion, this is an aspect of care that has been sorely missing. The traditional model often misses the mark, not due to a lack of compassion or knowledge on the part of the provider, but rather a lack of time necessary to create long-lasting change. Hard truth: real change only occurs when we OWN our situation. In order to own it, we must understand why the change is necessary, how we will accomplish it in a way that actually works in our lives, and genuinely have the desire to reconfigure our priorities. For most people, this takes time and contemplation, not mere instruction. And frankly, as providers, we are largely educated to instruct rather than to guide.
A coach’s priority is to foster strong communication and trust. To listen closely – and without judgment – to reasons for ambivalence. To offer safe, constructive suggestions that make moving from goals to action possible. The best outcome is that we, as the patient, are challenged to identify our values surrounding our health, articulate them well and take responsibility. The basis of health coaching is to facilitate a collaborative environment that allows us to be truly heard and puts us in charge of our wellness.
My beloved grandfather was a family doctor and surgeon in an age when we simply listened and didn’t question medical advice from a trained professional. He was both an amazing doctor and man, who deeply believed in personal responsibility. I think he’d be pleased that patients are embracing self-advocation.
And listen, I’ve been there. As a 30-year sufferer of the mystery that is migraines, I have seen my share of specialists in some of the country’s most respected facilities. I have been on the frustrated end of the doctor/patient conversation for decades. There is a point when your trusted go-to has offered what they can, and you’re still not where you’d like to be. A health coach can fill this gap by helping you collect the pieces and put it all together.
If you’re considering hiring a health coach ask yourself these questions: Do I fully understand my healthcare provider’s recommendations for my current goals and challenges? Do I need more time with a skilled professional to discuss what’s working about these recommendations and what isn’t? Do I need suggestions about how to create and manage a realistic plan for what’s been recommended? Do I need help managing the anxiety that accompanies a major lifestyle change? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, a heath coach is a worthwhile investment.
In my practice, I focus like a laser on assisting clients in overcoming obstacles to – and confusion about – recommendations including nutritional needs, diet planning, medication compliance and managing the stress that surrounds significant lifestyle adjustments. I offer the time necessary to fully address these issues and offer ongoing support. We’re going to do the hard work, and love (almost) every minute of it. We’ll ultimately make it a joy rather than a chore. Change is always a challenge, but when given the tools to firmly visualize the good things to come, change becomes a hopeful and positive journey. I’m here to walk it with you. LET’S WORK TOGETHER!