Co-authored by Gerda Venter
April is here, and the New Year you had envisioned filled with healthy living choices, renewed energy, lifestyle changes, healthy habits, and hope for feeling your best may feel nowhere near reality for you. You are not alone!
Your goals feel unreachable, and you may feel confused about which health approach to choose to have optimal health and vitality. Should you count calories? Increase exercise? Count carbs? Try intermitted fasting? Meditate? A combination of the above?
You may need a customized approach to transform your health—inclusive of your health history, your family's health history, chronic conditions, lifestyle, eating habits, metabolism, and even your stress coping mechanisms. What you may need this year is a little expert advice in the form of a health and wellness coach.
If you're like most people, you probably think of a health coach is someone who helps you lose weight or get in shape. And while a good health and wellness coach can certainly help with those things, there are many other benefits to working with one.
What is a health coach?
Health and wellness coaches are professionals helping people get to the root of their health problems by focusing on the whole person using whole foods, a healthy lifestyle approach and supplementation.
Health Coaches are specialists in behavioural change. They help people change when change is hard. And change is always hard! They know that just having a prescription or a treatment plan does not necessarily mean that you will make that much-needed change.
They partner with you and other experts because they believe that you are an expert in yourself and your own experience. This relationship is formed with an atmosphere of compassion, unconditional acceptance, and empowerment.
I am a Family Physician. Our Canadian Family Physician guidelines for many diseases are to implement lifestyle changes first. For example: If one of my patients develop type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, I would advice them on lifestyle changes, to eat healthier, move more, lose weight, and come back in three months. Only if my patients are not able to lose weight or address the root cause of their illness, then I would prescribe medication.
I have been surprised at how few of my patients have been able to make these lifestyle changes and how many end up on medication. I must admit, for the first 15yrs as a doctor my patients have had limited success with lifestyle changes. Some patients have had phenomenal results addressing the root cause of their illness, turning auto-immune diseases around, resetting their metabolism to such a degree that we can slowly take them of their diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol medication. Unfortunately, most of my patients did have to take medication.
Only recently, after I trained through the Institute of Functional Medicine I started using Health Coaches trained by IFM in my Clinic. Referring my patients to a Health Coach has been a complete game changer for me as a doctor. My patients find working with a Health Coach gives them that time and space to understand their illness, understand their management plan, implementing their plan, keeping them accountable and someone to trouble shoot obstacles with. My patients have had such incredible success obtaining their desired health outcomes with the help of a Health Coach, that I now use a Health Coach with all my clients at Wellness MD.
A health coach provides many layers of support to eliminate the confusion that comes with working towards losing weight and eliminating health issues—ultimately assisting you in achieving long-term sustainable change while keeping you on track if (or when) you lose hope, momentum, or focus.
Coaches assist clients in developing support systems and recognize and address beliefs and thinking patterns that might hinder progress. They emphasize autonomy and self-regulation while also supporting the need for accountability.
Why do you need a health coach?
If you want to make a change, lead a healthier life, lose weight, recover from burnout, or need a new perspective, then you need health and wellness coaching.
You might feel that health and wellness coaching is not for you as:
You do not feel ready to change certain areas of your life.
You are just thinking about it and are sitting on the fence.
You resist change and may only seek a coach because it's been suggested by a doctor, friend, family member or loved one.
You know you need to change, are sure you want to change, but are discouraged because you have tried so many times and cannot succeed or sustain your health goals. So, you remain stuck.
You don't know where to start the change or how to maintain it.
But do not be discouraged as health coaches work to mentor, inspire, and motivate. They use a holistic approach to support you wherever they are on the readiness spectrum. Working with a health coach will ultimately lead to long-term goals and a more permanent state of change because you have practiced and nurtured a specific set of skills and tools to support that change.
Health and wellness coaches are a great asset to have on your side when trying to improve your health. Here are five surprising benefits of having a health coach that you may not have considered:
1. Encourage behavioral change
Humans naturally resist change, even when change might result in a positive outcome. We are creatures of habit that participate in daily activities without even thinking about it. Driving to work using the same route without remembering the drive. Brushing your teeth without thinking because it's just something you do or reaching for a quick snack out of convenience and a need for fuel without really contemplating the quality of that food. It's only natural to stick to these habits (even the bad ones) as there is comfort and familiarity in the habits we have created in our lives.
The good news is that health coaches are trained in the psychology of behavioural change and making healthy choices and increasing physical activity. To encourage and empower their patients to change, health coaches apply a holistic approach that allows clients to dive deep into the root causes of current behaviours and the difficulties associated with developing new behaviours.
We naturally resist change because it's challenging, but we're capable of adapting to new behaviours when guided effectively. When it comes to changing behaviours, certified health coaches motivate their clients to develop sustainable change and continue to manage those changes effectively to become a natural part of day-to-day life.
2. Help you develop self-resilience
As you move toward new health practices, you may experience some resistance, fear, push-back, and even inner rebellion in making your new habits stick while giving up some old habits that did more harm than good. These emotions are often subconscious, which makes changing patterns more difficult.
Working with a health coach can provide you with the space to identify these challenging feelings and emotions when they arise and allow you to work through them gently and gracefully. As with any significant transformation, having someone to reflect for you—from an objective perspective—can do wonders for creating more awareness and mindfulness in your mind.
Through a partnership with a client, health coaching encourages the development of positive self-talk and self-reliance—both of which support long-term lifestyle change. Through coaching, you will begin to learn how to change your inner voice and get rid of the negative self-talk and beliefs associated with making a change. This will result in improved self-confidence and enhanced self-efficacy. The higher the self-efficacy, the more likely positive changes will occur and last.
3. Improve balance in your life
Health and wellness are so much more than physical activity and nutrition. It's about creating a balance between your life's physical, emotional, social, occupational, intellectual, and spiritual aspects. Because health coaching uses a comprehensive approach to encourage change, you will also find and maintain balance in your life.
One of the most significant contributors to illness and mental health concerns is stress. No one is immune to it. By its very definition, we will all experience stress multiple times in our lifetime. Daily even. I certainly have experienced burnout in my career as a Physician, and also burnout as an athlete.
So, it's essential to be equipped with the tools necessary to manage your stress levels effectively. Health coaching can help you identify healthy coping mechanisms and develop a specific plan to manage stress in a way that works for you.
Time management is crucial when seeking balance. Health Coaching will help you create structure, time blocks, and prioritize your highest needs within your schedule. By learning to prioritize your needs to live a healthier life, whether by improving sleep, practicing self-care, cultivating relationships, or balancing nutrition and activity, you too can lead a balanced life.
4. Encourage you to set realistic goals
Health coaches are trained to look deeper into your health (often through scientific testing) than you or a personal trainer may know how to do. They are trained to be detectives when looking into your behaviours, chemistry, and lifestyle.
Setting realistic goals are often difficult. One way to set goals that are attainable and have the most significant impact is to set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. Clients usually have a loosely defined, outcome-based plan (usually weight-centered) in mind. For example, "I want to lose weight," "I want to reduce stress," or "I want to tone up." These goals aren't specific, and they focus on the outcome versus a behaviour-oriented process.
SMART wellness goals will help you clarify your intentions and identify barriers that prevent you from making sustainable lifestyle and behavioural changes. The right health coach also assists their clients in developing strategies to manage the change process (how to practice portion control or plan for high-risk situations, for example). In short, they are trained to guide you in developing a self-directed, personally meaningful, and customized action plan.
5. Encourages accountability
A health coach can provide accountability. It's easy to let unhealthy habits slide when we're not accountable to anyone but ourselves. Having a health coach means someone in your corner cheering you on and holding you accountable for your goals—someone who keeps the big picture in mind.
Studies have shown that you have a significant increase in your potential for completing a goal if you commit, share your goal, and are accountable to someone. In addition, research show that your chances of success are increased by up to 70 percent if you sent weekly updates to a friend, compared to 35 percent if you keep your goals to yourself without writing them down.
When you are accountable to someone (or a group of people), you engage in what is known as social expectation. This type of expectation alone creates a drive-in for most people. To achieve your goals, you need to be accountable to them.
Making changes to our health can be challenging, and it's normal to feel overwhelmed or discouraged at times. With a health coach, you will have emotional support and encouragement when you need it most. When you take an active role in your health, it leads to greater achievement of your health goals. The fact that you will feel great as a result will radiate from inside out, shining light on a happier, healthier, more vibrant you.
You can find a Health Coach at ifm.org. If you live in Ontario, you can become a member at Wellness MD and work with me and one of our amazing team of Health Coaches.
1. 6 Reasons Why You Need a Health Coach - Chopra. https://chopra.com/articles/6-reasons-why-you-need-a-health-coach
2. Stress, Burnout, HPA Axis And How To Heal: A Discussion .... https://player.fm/series/wellness-md/stress-burnout-hpa-axis-and-how-to-heal-a-discussion-with-nutritionist-gina-alfieri
3. Why Do I Need a Health Coach? – IOFBC. https://iofbc.com/food-label-claims-separating-fact-from-fiction-2/
4. Family Health - MAHEC. https://mahec.net/patient-information/family-health