The question I get asked most often these days is, “Um, so what exactly is a health coach?” Or, I get the look that says, “I have no idea what that is” while the person I’m talking to nods and smiles.
A health coach is an advocate for whole-body health. A mentor. She is a part of the integrative or functional medicine system which strives to offer clients more individualized healthcare focused on prevention and identifying root causes of disease. As an Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) health coach, I offer more than advice on macronutrients, calorie counting, and portion size.
Don’t just eat well…be well
You may have noticed that I have changed my tagline lately. This is to reflect the greater understanding of what it is I do and who I want to portray myself as professionally. I want to make it clear that I don’t just want to focus on your diet and expect food to solve all of your problems. You are more than what you eat. You are a spiritual being in a material world, meaning you also have emotions, hang-ups, pain points, and belief systems. You can eat really well–you know, all the stuff they eat in the blue zones–but if your lifestyle is super stressful, or if you are not happy, you will not be well.
A health coach is in an intermediary position, somewhere between the patient and the doctor. She is able to spend the time necessary to really get to know her clients. Her focus is not to figure out what the problem is, but to encourage the client to dig deep and figure out the problem for themselves. It’s a little like teaching a man (or woman as the case may be) to fish rather than giving him (or her) a fish.
No one diet is right for everyone. Not everyone will benefit from the latest fad diet. Not everyone will benefit from Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem, either. These systems don’t know you. True, they might take into account your gender, your age, or your BMI. The really good ones might consider your blood type or some genetic information. But they all recommend the same general exercise and food recommendations based on a one-size-fits-all paradigm.
Plus, just because you lose weight, what makes you think that these plans are good for your whole-body health?
What happens in a traditional system is this:
Take a 30-year-old mother of three who struggles to balance soccer practice and ballet with a rigorous volunteer schedule and home duties, all while looking amazing and being an attentive wife. She is fatigued and taxed to the limit but is otherwise healthy, as far as she knows, except for a bit of extra weight here and there. Having always been a little prone to weight gain, she has subscribed to cutting calories when needed to drop extra pounds, but it doesn’t seem to be working as well lately. She admits to not having enough time, or frankly energy, to eat right and exercise.
Then consider a 40-year-old best-selling author who works for herself when she wants to and is financially secure with a paid off dream house and plenty of time to rest and reflect. She is happy with her success and grateful for what she has, although she does wish she had someone to share it with. She has always been introverted and, since she preferred books to people, never sought a partner. She is naturally thin and has never worried about her health much but is starting to experience thinning hair, lack of energy, and a bit of weight starting to show up around her middle.
According to most of the commonly embraced nutrition theories out there, these two women would be given very similar diet and exercise recommendations. But they are obviously vastly different people with very different needs!
This is where the concept of bio-individuality comes into play. Bio-individuality is a term coined by the founder of IIN, Joshua Rosenthal. It means that everyone is different and has different needs. Profound, right? This concept is the basis of our personalized wellness plans and attention to individual needs as IIN health coaches.
Consider Primary Food
At IIN, we are also taught to consider Primary Food before Secondary Food. Primary Food is all of the other things in your life besides actual food. It is what you are truly hungry for when you stare into the refrigerator at 10pm. It is your relationships, career, social life, finances, spirituality, hobbies, and all of those other things that add up to a full life. In order to be truly nourished all of those things have to be balanced.
When we talk about cravings, investing time in prepping good food, investing money in buying good food, and what to do if you fail, primary food becomes a big deal. It encompasses your sense of self-worth, your stress level, and your desire or capacity for change.
What if you do lose the weight? That’s great! Now what? If you’ve been solely focused on weight loss and ignoring the other pieces of your life you will soon find that your problems are still there even though the fat is gone. Many people gain the weight right back because they realize that fat wasn’t really their problem. It was just a small piece of the whole pie.
As a health coach, my job is to ask the right questions to encourage you to dig deep for some real answers. I want to get to know the real you, not just your measurements. Then we talk about food and exercise, but we come up with personalized recommendations together based on what we have discovered truly nourishes you.
What if weight loss isn’t your goal? What if you simply want more energy in order to perform at your highest potential?
A health coach is perfect for you. Because the focus is on Primary Food first, we can get to the bottom of your energy crisis and get you operating at your peak level. In fact, that’s what happens on the weight loss side of things, too. We focus on whole-body health first and the weight comes off and energy increases as a side effect. Cool, right?
The body has this fantastic ability to heal itself by itself. If you have a cold you get better by yourself, right? If you cut your finger your skin heals itself. Your heart beats all day without us having to tell it to. All we have to do is get out of its way.
A health coach may discover, through careful listening and quality time spent, that their client is in need of qualified professional care. In this case, she would refer her client to an appropriate doctor and then support her client based on this professional’s recommendations.
For example, if I discovered my client had an eating disorder, I would refer her to a qualified counselor or therapist to get the help she needs. Similarly, if a client wasn’t happy with the diagnosis or recommendations she was getting from her doctor, I would encourage her to get a second opinion from another qualified doctor. It is not my job to replace or contradict medical advice.
I don’t diagnose, treat, or prescribe anything. I don’t heal you. You heal you. Or rather, I make it possible for you to give your body half a chance to heal itself. Real, vital, wellness is possible for you!
Are you ready to discover ultimate wellness for yourself? Or maybe you just want to discover what this is all about. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request your free initial wellness consultation. Simply drop “Free Initial Consultation” in the subject line and write me a note to say “hi” or tell me a little about yourself. I will get back to you within 24 hours.
Don’t take my word for it. Read How to find the best coaches and mentors to be sure you are hiring the best coach possible!
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