Health Coaching Demystified

As I began my journey to becoming a health and life coach, I had many questions. In this blog post, I will address the following basic questions related to health and wellness coaching.

  • What is a health coach?  
  • What do health coaches do? 
  • Who needs a health coach? 
  • How do you find a health coach?

What is a health coach?

Per the Health Coach Institute (HCI), “A Health Coach is a trained professional who is passionate about healthy living in every area of life and wants to help others make that commitment to healthy living, too” 

Aside from having our basic necessities met and to be happy, most of us wish to live a long and healthy life, right? I know I do.

Well, maintaining a healthy lifestyle sometimes needs more than hopes and knowledge. It also requires a transformation in your mindset and behavior. A Health Coach is a partner in the behavior transformation process. This process often involves the use of evidence-based methods to facilitate behavior change, while holding you accountable. 

What do health coaches do?

Health coaches are like personal trainers for your diet, eating habits, and lifestyle. In most cases, they are able to dig below the surface and uncover your intrinsic motivation. It is your intrinsic motivation that drives lasting habit and behavior change, and by extension, improves your health. And even the smallest habit change, aside from being innately rewarding, can move you in the right direction.

I can personally relate to the above statement about intrinsic motivation and a personal non-health related goal. When I was planning my year-long self-sponsored sabbatical, the desire for this experience was intrinsic and there was almost nothing that could have stopped me from putting in place the necessary action steps that I needed to achieve that goal… and I did.

Aside from the fact that Health coaches often have access to an extensive database of resources and tools, more specifically, a health and wellness coach can; 

  • Educate you with succinct, evidence-based instruction and tools relevant to habit change.
  • Provide you with general guidance, or tailor it to suit your unique situation.
  • Assist you with uncovering your intrinsic motivation.
  • Empower you to become the expert on your body, mind, and circumstance.
  • Guide safe and realistic goal setting, relative to health conditions.
  • Identify hurdles that are preventing you from developing sustained habit change.
  • Provide you with support and accountability.

It is also equally as important to recognize what a health coach is not. A health coach cannot/should not;

  • Diagnose and/or offer treatment or cure for any acute or chronic diseases.
  • Replace the care and judgment provided by your health care provider (Doctor, Nurse, Pharmacist, Dietician, Therapist, etc.)
  • Use non-scientific approaches towards habit change.
  • Make grandiose claims or guarantees, that you would achieve a particular result.

Health coaching can also fill an important void that exists in our healthcare system, between the health care provider’s assessment and the goals you need to reach. To put it in other words, a health coach provides the behavior change needed to bridge the gap between health information and the desired health goals. Finally, a health coach can help you navigate the overwhelming and contradictory nutritional information out there, to figure out precisely what works for you.

With my years of practicing as a clinical pharmacist, I have had a front-row seat to witness this gap, and recognize the value that a health coach can offer in the form of behavior change.

Who needs a health coach? 

There are circumstances where it is clear that a person would benefit from a health coach. For example, a person struggling with maintaining optimal health due to the presence of multiple high-risk chronic conditions. Other examples include people that need help with;

  • Weight management
  • Smoking cessation 
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Increase energy levels
  • Education on self-care
  • Personal goal setting and follow-through

But what if you don’t fit nicely into any of these categories, can you still benefit from a health coach?

Take me for example, I am in my late 30’s and healthy, with no serious chronic diseases at this time. And from the outside, I appear fine, and many would say that I am mostly of sound mind 😉 but like many, my life isn’t always optimal. I struggle with drinking enough water and taking in adequate micronutrients. I also sometimes struggle with low energy, mood swings, as well as stress management. From the outside, some of these issues are not obvious but I come face to face with them on a daily basis. But as I progress through this training program, I am already taking small steps in the right direction.

What I have found during my research and training so far is that everyone could possibly use some guidance, at one point or another, throughout the course of their lives.  Whether it is for a moment, a short course, or an extended period. It could be to help you achieve a particular goal or get through a new or challenging phase in your life that is negatively impacting your health and wellness. 

Okay, so we have an idea about who would benefit from the services of a health coach. But who wouldn’t benefit, or possibly be harmed by it?

Well, you shouldn’t get a health coach if you are looking for a magic bullet or a quick fix to solve all your health and wellness problems. Health coaching forgoes quick fixes and instead, focuses on sustainable habit change. You also shouldn’t get a health coach to bypass seeking help from your health care providers. A health coach is not a substitute for your doctor, health care provider, or therapist.

How to Choose a Certified Health Coach

So, have I convinced you to start working with a health coach? If no, pass this information along to someone that you think might find it useful. If yes, an obvious next question is how can you go about finding one?

Unfortunately, the field of health coaching is still evolving and is currently not well regulated. This means that solely because someone has the title of “coach” in front of their name, doesn’t mean they have the credentials, skills, or experience needed to drive transformational behavior change. In addition, there might be others that misrepresent their expertise or make unrealistic claims. 

The good news is that there are many highly-trained coaches out there and organizations providing certifications. The National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) is one of them. 

The objective of NBC-HWC is to provide a minimum standard and measure of foundational competencies essential to the practice of health and wellness coaching

Aside from providing standardization and competency assessment, they also provide an online directory to help you find a board-certified coach or an NBHWC approved health coaching program if you are looking to becoming a coach yourself.

In addition, referrals and word of mouth are great ways to find a certified health coach. Do you know someone that has benefited from the services of a health coach? Talk to them. Another reliable way is through your health care provider. Many health coaches partner with doctors and other health care practitioners, so it is a good idea to check with yours.  Also, gyms, yoga studios, and health stores may have resources on health coaches located within your community. Finally, don’t forget to check with your insurance company, as many insurance companies offer coaching programs and sometimes with nice incentives for completing a health coaching program.

Finding a health coach that can partner with you and align their actions with your beliefs and values is particularly important, as it supports the bigger picture of improved health, wellness, and well-being.



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