But, really, what the heck is a health coach? Coaching outside of sports has been the new cool kid on the block for approximately 50 years; however Health and Wellness Coaching has only been in the limelight for about 30 years. The Health Coach (sometimes referred to as a “Wellness Coach”) is probably one of the least understood and under-marketed coaches that you’ve never heard of!
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few decades, it’s likely that you know exactly what a Life Coach does. They coach you into living a better life through attaining your goals and aspirations. Similarly, a Health and Wellness Coach partners with their clients in order to achieve specific health related behaviors which support a better quality of life. Got 100 lbs to lose? No problem!--A Health Coach can help you with that! Need to develop better eating habits? Awesome!--A Health Coach has your back! Want to stop smoking or stop some other health threatening behavior? Sure thing!--A Health Coach can help you in that department!
You can think about a Health Coach as a Life Coach for your health specific needs. They are trained and certified professional health allies whose focus on behavior change psychology positions them to assist their clients in harnessing their intrinsic motivation to change their unhealthy behaviors. A Health Coach will bring to your attention the state of your total or deep health including wellness in the following six areas: 1) Emotional; 2) Occupational; 3) Physical; 4) Social; 5) Intellectual/Mental; 6) Spiritual/Existential. Financial and environmental wellness might also be considered into the overall health profile of a client. From there the journey to improved deep health and wellness begins as the client takes the driver’s seat in a self-determined approach to collaborating with their Health Coach.
Methods of Health Coaching lean heavily on the psychological techniques of motivational interviewing, positive psychology, and behavior change therapy. Rather than telling a client what to do, the Health Coach views their clients as the ultimate authority and expert on their lives. Instead, they ask open-ended questions, and other motivational interviewing protocols, to get to the source of intrinsic motivation for behavior change and co-create a plan to implement new positive behavioral habits. The client is viewed, regardless of their history, as whole and fully capable of change. This is in contrast with a psychologist who might prescribe a medical drug to address some of their clients’ troubling behaviors. Health Coaches, instead utilize “lifestyle medicine” such as diet/nutrition, exercise/movement, sleep, stress reduction, etc. to co-develop key behavior change strategies with their clients, and provide accountability to such plans of action. When appropriate and beneficial, a Health Coach might refer their clients to another medical or allied medical professional for multi-layered support of their clients’ health journeys.
Positive Psychology plays a key role in the Health Coach/client relationship, where the focus lies in the strengths of the client and harnessing those strengths to bring about change, as opposed to traditional psychology, which is generally more concerned with what is “wrong” with a client that needs to be “fixed.” Using the methodologies of Positive Psychology, Health Coaches can shine light on what has worked in the past for a client and recall these strengths to inform what can work presently or in the client’s future.
Recent research in a clinical study on non-physician Health Coach professionals working with a test group of individuals with various levels of morbidity, has shown “results in clinically relevant improvements in multiple biomarker risk factors (including systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, body weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and cardiorespiratory fitness) in diverse populations.” The conclusion of this study was that Health Coaches work.
But, how do you choose the perfect Health Coach for your life?
Because coaching professions are not well regulated, it’s important to hire a certified coach through one of the top respected, accredited programs. The American Council on Exercise
provides the Gold Standard of Health Coach Certifications, being the only Health Coach certification that is accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which certifies professionals in a wide variety of occupations including physicians, nurses, and therapists.
If you are interested in hiring a Health Coach to better your health profile, or to maintain good health, CNG Fit Lab’s FitNu Life Programs offer options for Health Coaching packages to fit your specific needs and goals.
In case you’re still wondering if partnering with a Health Coach is something you should explore, consider these 4 Benefits of Working With A Health Coach:
#1 Your Health Coach is a Behavior Change Expert.
They bridge the gap between basic information and knowledge-based implementation. Health coaches have expertise in nutritional and physiological sciences, understand how to use screening and assessment measures, and how to design and implement programs. Health Coaches understand their legal, professional and ethical responsibilities and are aware of other professionals to whom they may refer for situations outside of their scope of practice.
#2 Your Health Coach sees the bigger picture and can guide you when you’re stuck.
When clients are faced with obstacles to behavior change success, it is common to forget the “why” of health-behavior change. At these times, a health coach can remind clients about their big picture intentions and help them navigate through challenges.
#3 Your Health Coach is your champion for your success.
Health coaches highly value their clients and praise their results. Because they are not a friend or family member, a health coach can offer nonjudgmental support and encouragement. Furthermore, Health Coaches view and respect their clients as experts in their own lives. Health coaches use proven, evidence based strategies for effective communication to build rapport, listen actively, ask powerful questions and promote self-efficacy. Through this strategy, the Health Coach and client are able to collaborate on a plan for successful habit change.
#4 Your Health Coach supports you to design customized action steps toward behavior change.
Although a client may have many goals, a Health Coach will help their clients organize and focus on the most important ones through co-creating specific action steps and S.M.A.R.T. Goals. Once the action plan has been set, your Health Coach will provide accountability for your behavior change plan.
American Council on Exercise (2013). ACE Health Coach Manual: The Ultimate Guide to Wellness, Fitness and Lifestyle Change. San Diego, Calif.: American Council on Exercise.
American Council on Exercise (2014). Behavior Change Specialist Skills Guide. San Diego, Calif.: American Council on Exercise.
American Council on Exercise (2020). The Professional's Guide to Health and Wellness Coaching. San Diego, Calif,: American Council on Exercise.
About Author: Brandi Nik Kilbourne is an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach. She is the founder of CNG Fit LLC which is the parent company of CNG Fit Lab Fitness & Nutrition and FitNu Life coaching services.