What exactly is a health coach?
The field of health and wellness coaching is growing, yet many still ask, “what is a health coach?” To be honest, I’d never really understood what a health coach was before I became one myself. So today, I’m answering that question.
If you had asked me that question, “what is a health coach” just a few years ago, I would have looked at you with a blank stare. And maybe replied with… “a health what?”
I knew of medical doctors, researchers, PhD’s, acupuncturist, even functional medicine doctors. I did work in healthcare after all. But health coaches, not so much.
Yet today, I’m now one. And for very good reason.
Our narrow focus on sick care
Think for a moment how much time your doctor spent with you during your last visit? 15 minutes? Maybe 20? If you’re lucky, right?
Studies have shown that a large percentage of primary care physicians book patients in 15-minute intervals. Ever feel like your doctor has his eye on the clock more than you?
He does. He has too.
Because in that short period of time your doctor needs to quickly assess your symptoms while strategizing remedies to make those symptoms disappear. His or her primary goal is to stabilize you and get you on your way.
Many times, your doctor will do this by leveraging prescription drugs, which may not have been necessary. And the thought of using non-drug alternatives? Not even considered.
So you’re no longer on your deathbed coughing up a lung? Success! Even though you’re clearly not the poster child for abundant health.
But it’s what they do. It’s what they can do – focus on sickness.
And in all honesty, it’s not an enviable position.
Does your doctor have time to chat with you about your health habits or nutrition? Nope. Time to discuss your lifestyle and activity levels? Nope. And clearly, no time to discuss any added stress in your life from a crappy boss or a bad relationship.
But not so surprisingly, these are exactly discussions that may actually keep you well. And out of the doctor’s office to begin with.
The complex medical arena
Even if your doctor did have the time, the truth is they’re not trained in these areas. They never acquired the skill set of how to develop a long-term plan to keep you healthy and motivated, while holding you accountable. Not part of med school curriculum.
And they sure as heck didn’t acquire much nutrition guidance – a major building block of wellness – during med school either.
Instead, science has gotten so complex with genomics, the microbiome, diagnostics, medical devices and personalized pharmaceuticals that doctors have become extraordinarily niche focused.
Think for a moment how often you get referred from one doctor to another? Probably quite frequently. And what’s the reason they provide? Something along the lines of… your health concern is “out of their specialty.”
Today’s doctor are required to have more depth of knowledge in a narrowly defined niche – and much less breadth. With vastly less time for personal interaction and “tell me about your self-care routine” chatter.
Our modern healthcare landscape creates the need for health coaches
Not only has science changed the healthcare landscape, but our diseases have changed as well. Acute diseases are being outnumbered by chronic diseases, at an alarming rate.
According to the CDC, “As a nation, we spend 86% of our health care dollars on the treatment of chronic diseases. These persistent conditions—the nation’s leading causes of death and disability—leave in their wake deaths that could have been prevented, lifelong disability, compromised quality of life, and burgeoning health care costs.”
And preventable, chronic diseases – most of which are lifestyle-derived – are not what our current medical landscape is well equipped to manage.
You can’t pop a pill for a lifestyle-related disease.
Enter health coaching
Many health coaches, like myself, were propelled to become health coaches after personal experience with this gaping hole in our healthcare system.
The short of it goes something like this: after years of frustration, non-personalized attention and unremarkable results, we learned to heal ourselves through simple nutrition and lifestyle changes.
Wait what? That’s really possible?
Not only is it possible, I left my career in corporate healthcare – having worked for a world-renowned cancer research facility, national diagnostic imaging company and cutting-edge molecular diagnostics laboratory – because of it.
Yep, I believe that strongly in the power of health coaching.
So what exactly do health coaches do?
In a nutshell, we support our clients to achieve their health goals (as varied as they may be), through lifestyle and behavior modifications. Everything from losing 10 pounds, to de-stressing and gaining energy, to improving nutrition and even helping to tame an autoimmune disease.
An added bonus of a health coach? We listen. Not only are we trained wellness authorities (I’ve personally studied over 100 dietary theories), but we mentor, inspire, guide and motivate our clients to cultivate positive health choices. It’s heart-centered health care at it’s finest.
The reality is that most people know what they need to do to be healthy, but they just don’t do it. You know that eating a Twinkie is not healthy. That’s not rocket-science. But there’s a lot of factors that go into why you still eat it.
We have the time to delve into that…medical doctors don’t.
But there’s good news! Many traditional doctor’s offices have now realized the importance of health coaching for filling this nurturing and hand-holding gap – to keep patients motivated and accountable.
So they’re adding trained health coaches to their staff. A definite win for the patient!
A more positive wellness future
As medical doctors and traditional healthcare increasingly embrace the field of health coaching and proactive wellness, I’m hopeful that we’ll begin to reverse the statistics on preventable, lifestyle-related chronic diseases.
The future can be bright. Glowing even.
If we can partner a “back-to-basics” approach of nourishing food and wholesome living, with advancements in genomics, epigenetics, medical devices and the microbiome (which is sure to provide awesome, geeky insights), we might just be able to reverse the trend of ever increasing diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, some cancers and much more.
Now that’s a healthcare future that get’s me excited!
If you’d like to learn more about the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the health coaching program I attended, click here to get a copy of the curriculum guide.
Other health coaching posts you might be interested in:
Could you see yourself working with a health coach? What lifestyle changes would be tops on your list? I’d love to hear!