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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

What is Health and Wellness Coaching?

Oct 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By Hope Knosher
Most Americans are aware that they should implement healthy habits. The difficulty, however, is not that they lack knowledge or don’t know what to do; the difficulty is that they don’t know how to get started, what is standing in their way or how to stay on track. 

Especially as stress levels in today’s society are high, many people struggle to cope with life’s demands and develop lifestyle habits that can negatively affect their health. Many feel uncertain about how to correct bad habits and imbalances so they can lead a healthier lifestyle. It isn’t that they lack information. There are so many seemingly simple recommendations available today about how to live a healthy life: practice self-care, eat healthy, stay active and get enough sleep. There are also plenty of self-help strategies, books and social media posts for people to digest. For people working with physicians, treatment plans can also get overwhelming once they get back home, where they are mired in the busy pace of life. 

So where does one start? What should one do first? And how? These are great questions, but without specific guidance or support, the answers might not come easily. That is where a health or wellness coach can help.
WebMD reports that health coaching helps patients control high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower waist circumference, lose weight and become more physically active. But, unlike physicians, health and wellness coaches do not diagnose, prescribe medication or focus on treating the symptoms of an illness. Instead, they take a 360-degree view, look at a person as a whole and work to address the root cause of the condition by encouraging behavior change. Health coaches observe, ask questions, and manage strategy, guiding people “play by play” and keeping them on track toward their goals for more successful outcomes. 

A Partnership and Collaboration

As the Cleveland Clinic puts it, “A health coach is your personal cheerleader, guide and partner.” Health and wellness coaching is a partnership between a coach, who understands how human behavior impacts motivation and health, and their client, who wants to change. Health coaches use their expertise to help their clients set and achieve goals and build new habits. Simply put, they are change agents. They support their clients to make lifestyle and behavioral changes that are critical to their health. 
Health coaches use a collaborative approach when working with their clients. They don’t lecture or prescribe; they act as partners or guides. According to the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), “Health coaches facilitate the change process and support clients as they create plans and strive for their health goals.” 
Under this model, the client takes on the role of expert—after all, they are the experts regarding their bodies and health. The collaborative approach creates an environment where clients can set their agenda and choose their focus areas, which paves the way for lasting change. 

The Emergence of Health and Wellness Coaching

Employers began exploring wellness programs in the 1950s due to high rates of illness in their workforces. They wanted to reduce healthcare costs as well as improve the health of their employees. By the 1980s, many large companies had well-established wellness programs covering a variety of health concerns. As the programs evolved, the idea of health coaches began to gain more acceptance. 

Health coaches help people discover the “why” behind their health goals. They help people identify what challenges are preventing the change they seek, provide support and accountability to keep moving in the right direction and use broad health and wellness knowledge to help people navigate their health concerns. Ultimately, they empower their clients as the experts of their own bodies, minds and circumstances.
Cragin Boyle, described it this way: “My coach made me feel understood and supported, which helped me make positive changes. She helps me understand my reactions and behaviors and helps me understand what is truly important to me. With this knowledge and my coach’s support and guidance, we chart a specific weekly action plan.”
Health and wellness coaches have a working knowledge of diet, lifestyle and nutrition. They understand how these factors affect the body, and that awareness helps them recognize and empathize with clients’ health challenges. Coaches also help clients build new habits and make lasting changes. This is critical because making authentic, lasting lifestyle and behavior changes takes ongoing effort and support. Whether the goal is getting into peak physical shape, restarting an exercise regimen, reducing stress, managing diabetes, following autoimmune protocols or achieving weight loss, a health coach works to guide their client to success.

Why Hire a Health Coach?

Health and wellness coaching has proven results. The Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a study demonstrating a statistically significant, clinically meaningful improvement after a 12-week coaching program in all five quality of life domains: physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual. Most importantly, the improvements were shown to have been maintained at a 24-week follow-up. Here are a few reasons why people choose to seek the help of a health coach.

Maintain accountability. Support in staying accountable helps people achieve their goals. “Coaches are not there to enforce accountability,” writes Eamon McGrath on the Quenza website. “Instead, they cultivate an environment that encourages clients to take ownership of their actions and outcomes.” The health coaching process includes making “SMART” goals—ones that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time sensitive. Taking small steps over time evolves into big changes without being overwhelming. And a good coach will help clients identify potential obstacles and develop contingency plans, says McGrath.  
Get a personalized approach. Anyone can find a diet plan, exercise routine or other health and wellness technique or practice to try, but how does one know which one will lead to success? Everyone’s situation is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Having a coach helps people sort out the issues and the data, tease out underlying issues and chart a course to address them. 

Manage chronic illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 Americans have a chronic disease, and four in 10 have multiple long-term illnesses. Chronic disease is the nation’s leading cause of death; over one-quarter of American children suffer from chronic health conditions. These conditions are often preventable and manageable through healthy lifestyle choices.
Physicians and health coaches go hand-in-hand. Sometimes physicians recommend health coaches to help their clients understand and implement recommendations from their physicians. According to The Institute for Functional Medicine, “Health coaches extend the provider’s reach by offering individualized guidance and support in implementing therapeutic plans, addressing barriers and working through the day-to-day challenges that arise as patients continue on their journey toward health and well-being. Collaborative healthcare teams that include health coaches not only empower the therapeutic partnership but also enhance lifestyle treatment sustainability.” 

• Increase fulfillment and build self-confidence. People often struggle with their health and wellness because they don’t believe they can make the necessary changes to build a healthier lifestyle. They may have tried and failed to make changes in the past. According to the Health Coach Institute, “Surrounding yourself with people who support, uplift and ‘get’ you is an excellent motivator and confidence booster.” By helping clients break down their goals into small, digestible steps over time, health and wellness coaches help people begin to recognize that they can change, which builds self-confidence.
• Make a permanent lifestyle change. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), long-term behavioral changes are necessary to overcome one’s barriers to healthy living. In fact, fewer than one in five adults reported being very successful at making health-related improvements such as losing weight, starting a regular exercise program, eating a healthier diet and reducing stress, according to an APA poll by Harris Interactive. The study showed that around 78 percent of those who made health-related resolutions reported that significant obstacles—such as willpower, making changes alone and experiencing too much stress—blocked them from making progress. 

Who Pays for Health and Wellness Coaching?

There are many ways to access a health or wellness coach. Employers and insurers offer health and wellness coaching to help increase wellness, decrease healthcare costs and reduce workplace downtime. They are often offered as employment benefits. Health coaches who work directly with clients in the private sector usually require the client to pay directly for the services. 
The NBHWC has been working with the American Medical Association to establish a way to reimburse health and wellness coaches through healthcare plans. To date, this is still under consideration. 
Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts provide opportunities to pay for qualified medical expenses that can result in tax savings. People can consult with their physician to discuss possible medical treatment and care planning. If a physician determines a patient’s condition warrants the support of a health or wellness coach, they can submit a letter of necessity and follow the instructions in their plan.
“The coaching experience has catalyzed a more positive self-image and overall improvement in my quality of life, health and well-being,” says Boyle. “I have gained strength and resilience both mentally and physically. My belief in myself and my ability to handle life’s hurdles with more grace has exponentially improved, and so have my relationships with others.”
Information is not always enough to change behavior—but having the support of a trained health coach can make a difference. ❧
Based in Atlanta, Hope Knosher is the founder of Healthy Living with Hope, offering health coaching, yoga classes and retreats. She is a national board-certified health and wellness coach, a certified yoga therapist and a certified E-RYT 500 yoga teacher. Contact her at 770-789-7782. 

More Articles on Health Coaching

This article is one of three in a special section on health coaching. Here are the other two stories. 

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