You feel like you’ve tried everything to improve your digestive health, increase your energy and lift that brain fog. Instead of feeling better after trying keto (or was it paleo?), low-FODMAP (or was it whole 30?), you just feel overwhelmed. You try to get motivated to exercise, but struggle with consistency. You hate to admit it, but you are super confused about what is healthy, and are feeling overwhelmed. Quite frankly, you are ready to give up and eat cookies for breakfast. However, you value your health and are worried after your last doctor appointment revealed new health concerns. You just don’t know what you need to do.
If the above situation isn’t familiar, maybe you can identify with this scenario. After your recent doctor appointment, you have a list of recommendations in hand: 1) Eat a healthy diet; 2) Go to bed earlier; 3) Exercise; 4) Reduce stress. It is slightly embarrassing when you find the same list crumpled up on the bottom of your drawer, dated exactly a year ago. You know what you need to do, and how important it is to take care of yourself, but you just can’t seem to make it happen.
On the surface, these two scenarios may seem different, but they have one thing in common; both would benefit from a health coach. Patients and health practitioners, it is time to meet your newest essential health care worker.
What Is a Health Coach?
A health coach is an individual trained to guide their clients to achieve their health goals. These goals can range from implementing an exercise routine and reducing sugar to incorporating stress management techniques and improving sleep hygiene. The profession is holistic in that health coaches acknowledge the importance of nutrient-dense food; however, of equal importance is sleep, stress management, exercise, spirituality, joy and more.
Coaches instill confidence and provide guidance, tools and resources, along with strategies to empower their clients to make sustainable changes. They provide a supportive and nonjudgmental environment where sessions are individualized to the client’s desired health outcomes.
Patient and Health Practitioner Benefits
More and more individuals are benefiting from the power of health coaching, and health practitioners are starting to notice. Recently, New York Times personal health columnist Jane E. Brody highlighted these transformative results seen by patients and health practitioners alike in her article “We Could All Use a Health Coach.” Dr. Russel S. Phillips, director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care, shared with Brody that “health coaching should be an integral part of primary care. It helps patients better manage chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension and improves outcomes.”
Health practitioners such as physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, naturopaths, and osteopathic doctors to name a few, recognize that it’s not just enough to give their patients instructions. Dr. Rushika Fernandopulle, a primary care physician in Hyannis, Massachusetts, said that a “doctor may tell a patient to eat less, exercise more, take your medicine and come back in three months, but not how to execute this plan.” This is where health coaches come in, offering benefits to both the patient and practitioner.
Benefits to the patient:
Improved patient follow through
Improved patient outcomes
Patients who understand nutrition and other health topics
Patients who better understand their own medical condition and treatment
Benefits to the health practitioner:
Less health practitioner burnout
More time to focus on evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment
Choosing a Health Coach
Health coaching is currently an unregulated profession, however this will likely change in the near future. In 2016, The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches teamed up with the Board of Medical Examiners (the board that certifies physicians) to create a national standard for health coaches. To become board certified, coaches must attend an approved coaching school and pass the board exam.
Many insurance companies have already approved CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes for health coaching and board certified coaches can now apply for NPI (National Provider Identifier) numbers. So, does that mean that you should only work with a board-certified health and wellness coach? Not necessarily. There is a diverse community of health coaches and many highly qualified coaches who are not yet board certified. Here are several questions you can ask a coach you are thinking of hiring:
Where did you receive your training?
Are you certified by your coaching school?
Are you nationally board certified or considering board certification?
Are you selling me a program? (i.e. shakes, bars etc.)
What is your approach?
Is your program one-size-fits-all, or is it individualized?
What kinds of clients do you have experience working with?
Do you have a degree in another field of practice?
Scope of Practice
Often the role of a health coach is misunderstood. It’s important to know what a health coach is and what a health coach is not. Health coaches cannot act as dieticians, naturopaths, nurses, psychologists or social workers, for example, unless they hold a current license in that profession. Responsible health coaches refer to other qualified health professionals when the client’s needs fall out of their scope of practice.
Health coaches DO NOT:
Diagnose your condition
Prescribe meal plans
Health coaches DO:
Assist you to achieve your health goals.
Help you find the foods that work for you.
Provide strategies, tools and accountability.
Instill within you a sense of confidence and empowerment.
Meet you where you are with a plan that works for you.
Educate you on nutrition, and other health topics.
Listen and encourage.
Respect your autonomy.
Health coaches are passionate about helping their clients. They really care about your health and well-being and are ready to hear about your health struggles and inspire an atmosphere of success. Imagine that you could feel good again, regain energy, focus on what is important to you, and have a partner to support you on that journey. If reading this article has inspired you, here are some tips to help you find a health coach who is right for you.
Check out the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches website (https://nbhwc.org/) and click on the link to “find a board certified coach”.
Explore health coaching websites and testimonials to see what resonates with you.
Speak to others who have worked with coaches (i.e., clients and health practitioners.
Set up a free consultation with a health coach that offers this option.
Wishing you much healing and success wherever you may be on your own health journey!
Jill Friedbauer has been working in the field of health and wellness for 20 years. She is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, Licensed Physical Therapist, and author of the book “Heal Your Soul, Heal Your Gut.” Jill is available for one-on-one health coaching, family health coaching, group coaching and speaking engagements. Jill can be reached via email at: [email protected] or to book a consultation, visit her website at: www.jillfriedbauer.com.