Health coaches are specially trained health and fitness-care professionals who do one-on-one consulting in the wellness area of individual’s lives. Take Mike Anderson-Thomas as an example. He is zeroing in on the big Five O birthday. In his heart, he knows that it is time to get healthy. After his annual physical, his physician gave him a not-so-healthy report card with a dose of advice and offers for medication solutions. If he didn’t make some immediate changes the doctor was going to require pharmaceutical solutions.
Dorothy Sager, Wellness Coach and Certified Heart Zones Trainer
In the past, Mike developed his own solutions. Over the past twenty years, he joined and quit a half dozen health clubs, used the services of personal trainers, and subscribed to web-based weight loss programs. Then, he learned of health coaches. He invested in a health coach to help him clarify his vision and support him with a new, fresh approach.
His new health coach helped him to focus on health first and foremost. He learned that he was focusing on the wrong goals that resulted in his poor performance on the tests from his primary physician. At the health club he lost his commitment to cardio training because he was training solo, without workout buddies. The personal trainers developed a strength and cardio training program, but ignored diet, stress and sleep habits, all elements that contribute to wellness or will derail a program. And the web weight loss programs promised quick weight loss using their proprietary brand of foods. He found that he was hungry all of the time, spending hundreds of dollar a month on a plan without accountability. Mike needed the motivation of accountability and having an advocate who will work with him as a whole person.
Mike hired a health coach. His new health coach took a different approach. Rather than focusing on the symptoms and problems, the health coach directed Mike to focus on the whole person. Mike discovered that when he focused on weight loss that he lost his energy, he fell into borderline depression, and he lost his peace of mind. The health coach listened to him and helped develop strategies for Mike to lead a different lifestyle, advised him to choose new friends who worked out and live a healthy lifestyle. The health coach explained the new definition of weight loss was getting rid of what was holding him down. Losing the emotional weight was the first step as he started to shed the stress, develop new friends to lighten his load, and gave him a powerful set of tools to strengthen his motivation and belief in himself.
Mike’s struggles might sound familiar to you. You may face these same challenges of adopting a healthy lifestyle when choices to do otherwise are strengthened by advertising and an environment situation that lack what you need – personal empowerment and confidence in yourself. Enter the health coach, the mentor, the new relationship.
As Seattle-based Dorothy Sager, principal, Synergy Wellness NW explains, “Living a lifestyle with the habits and actions that support optimum health isn’t how many of us were raised and changing behavior takes commitment. It often takes a support team of health professionals and modalities including education, a nutritional component and physical activity along with emotional fitness as a firm foundation. We begin with the motivation of the clients personal vision for their healthy and happy life, using that to empower commitment to goals and changes that meet their need and situation.”
Health coaches need to be creative in their approach because there is no one size-fits-all program for living a healthy life today. There is a variety of old and new approaches that health coaches are using but they share a common set of principles. Chief among them, according to Sager, is that a coach “has to look at the whole person not a single problem and provide whole strategies and solutions.”
Coaching is a relationship strengthened by trust and the accountability that it inspires. As a result, success in coaching is dependent on the ability to mentor others, to develop a friendship-based relationship. Though there are a growing number of employers providing life and health coaches at their expense, the relationship regardless of who pays only works when the fit is right. And with customers and patients and with a healthcare industry that is desperate for solutions, just doling out advice alone doesn’t work.
With employers bearing an increasing share of the rising cost of employee health costs, it is appearing more and more that health coaches’ motivation, support and trust that form the foundation may translate to lower corporate costs when it incorporates personal relationships and support along with medical information and treatments.
As Mike Anderson says, “now when I get in a tight situation and spiral down to my old behaviors, I pick up the phone and call my health coach who provides me with concrete actions to support my new habits. What a relief and exactly what I need to feel like a success rather than a failure.”