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So What is a Health Coach?

And why pursue a career in health and nutrition coaching?

· Health and Nutrition

The WHAT

Health is a journey, and a health coach guides and supports someone on their journey to become the best and healthiest version of themselves.

Health is not just about food and diet, but also about exercise, relationships, career, spiritual, and other life factors that relate to someone’s overall well being. I like to say that all the kale smoothies in the world can't help someone in a toxic relationship or a draining career. So a health coach integrates all these aspects in their support of a client.

A health coach is a coach, guide, motivator, and supporter of a client as they progress towards their health and wellness goals. If a client wants to get healthy, they are there to help them.

An example of a health goal could be sticking to a change in diet or lifestyle, something that could be a personal decision, or something prescribed by a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist. Some health goals might include weight management, stress management, dealing with food cravings, getting better sleep, or having more energy. For others, health goals might be related to athletics and performance. For me, my main health goals currently revolve around fueling for endurance and recovery, and trying to optimize my diet for ultramarathon running and triathlons.

80% of preventable disease risk factors are influenced by behaviors like smoking, chronic stress, poor diet, and lack of exercise. The problem is that we are bad at changing these behaviors.

Getting healthy can be difficult, because change in general is hard, behavior change is tough, lifestyle change is burdensome, sticking to a new habit or letting go of a bad habit can be painful. We set these resolutions and goals, and fail over and over again. So the role of a health coach is to help overcome some of the barriers, and tackle some of the challenges we face in making lasting positive change.

Sarah Wilson, IIN alumni and author of I Quit Sugar, explains a health coach this way on her blog: “A health coach is to a nutritionist what a personal trainer is to a physiotherapist. Or, a health coach is to a nutritionist what a life coach is to a psychologist. Like a PT or life coach, a health coach steers and motivates clients to fulfill their health outcomes. They don’t medicate or prescribe. They educate and inspire."

And that being said, a health coach IS NOT a doctor, or registered dietician or nutritionist. Health coaches can’t/shouldn’t work with the very sick people, they should leave that to doctors and registered dietitians. They don't replace a medical practitioner, they don't diagnose, treat, or prescribe, and they don’t come from a place of authority or responsibility, but instead act as an ally and take a more supporting role. Most people aren’t "very sick," they just need to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones. A health coach encourages positive changes within client-driven wellness goals.

People know what to do - they know they should exercise more, they want to eat more healthy, but they don’t! They don't, not only because behavior change is hard, but also on top of that, there is confusion and misinformation everywhere! The environment we live in makes it harder not easier... and health coaches help with that. One of my favorite quotes is from Derek Sivers, "If information was the answer, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs." Information is not the answer, and misinformation actually only makes things worse. The answer lies in attitude, work ethic, discipline, commitment, and other intangibles. A health coach thrown into the mix can add that extra bit of accountability and perspective that could be the difference maker.

Health coaches often work alongside doctors and other medical professionals. Many conventional doctors, those that practice Western medicine, often have an approach to treat disease, to prescribe and use procedures to get the disease to go away. Doctors that practice alternative or functional medicine seek to get to root causes of the diseases, and treat that, often by prescribing changes in diet or lifestyle. Either way, most doctors don’t have time to work with clients on lasting behavior and lifestyle changes. Health coaches more help with the behavior and lifestyle changes needed to live healthier, and potentially prevent disease. It goes beyond diet, to exercise, relationships, stress, sleep, career, spiritual - nutrition comprises all things that nourish the body. In this sense, health coaches often work alongside doctors to help patients in an ongoing manner.

Regardless of title - doctor, nurse, nutritionist, dietician, therapist, chef, health educator, health entrepreneur, health coach, health leader - there is a massive global health crisis that requires an army of dedicated workers that work together towards the cause.

Rich Roll describes the US health crisis like this: "Imagine four commercial airliners crashing every single hour of every single day of every single year. It’s unfathomable. And yet that is how many Americans die from heart disease annually. In fact, an unbelievable 1 out of every 3 people in the U.S. will perish from this one disease. Meanwhile, 70% of Americans are obese or overweight. In the coming decade, 50% of Americans will be diagnosed diabetic or pre-diabetic. An economic disaster, 75% of all health care costs in America are attributable to these and a few other chronic lifestyle illnesses. It’s devastating. And yet the most heartbreaking aspect of this crisis is that 80-90% of these illnesses are very easily preventable and often entirely reversible via some rather simple diet and lifestyle alternations."

It's a big problem. The solution lies in one person, one kale smoothie, one healthy habit and positive change at a time.

The WHY

I enrolled at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition because health coaching is a collision of two big passions: coaching + health.

Coaching is a big passion of mine. I spent 10 years at a company where I got to coach college students on leadership and business skills, and help them launch successful careers. I got to be a career coach, and still get asked all the time for career advice from recent grads. I got to be a sales and performance coach, and even created my own iPhone app that helped people set and manage their personal goals and habits. I loved giving talks on leadership, productivity, discipline, and overcoming fear. After I left the company, I've continued to coach people on personal goals and habits through the Coach.me platform, and really hope to build a long term career where I am able to continue coaching people.

Health and nutrition has been a more recent journey I've found myself on, for the past 4 years or so. I've watched every health documentary on Netflix, which helped me wake up to my own health issues and spark some initial changes. I always loved the health episodes on my favorite podcasts, whether it's Tim Ferriss with Dr. Rhonda Patrick or Dr. Peter Attia, or Kevin Rose with Dr. Valter Longo, longevity expert, or Joe Rogan with Matthew Walker, sleep expert. I remember listening to a podcast a few years ago that was all about the gut microbiome, and thought to myself, "maybe I should have majored in nutrition or biology in college" haha! More recently, my favorite podcasts are Rich Roll and Aubrey Marcus, which tend to be about health more often than not, and who I look up to as two of my favorite influencers in the health space.

I've only gotten more and more into health and nutrition over time, because as I've gotten healthier, my health goals have gotten bigger. Ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons seemed so crazy a few years ago, and now are a monthly occurrence. I attended a webinar a few months ago called Fueling for Endurance, all about how to optimize my diet for performance and recovery in endurance sports, and thought it was the coolest thing, and thought of maybe being able to work with athletes like myself one day down the road.

So when I randomly heard about nutrition school through a sponsored Instagram ad, I thought, "wow, I get to learn more about health and nutrition, and potentially help others and make a career out of it... sign me up!" Actually, it wasn't that sudden, I definitely had many hesitations about spending the money and jumping back into school. But after more research and deliberation, and some good timing, it seemed like the right move.

What really excites me is that many IIN alumni combine their athletic passions with health and nutrition, like health coach and ultra runner Heidi Jones, and Katie from The Athlete Afterword who helps ex-athletes transition into a healthy lifestyle post-sport. Some alumni get to work directly with athletic brands and athletes, from recipe creation to retreats, events, and training camps like Lottie from Running on Veggies who is a runner and triathlete, and about to race her first Ironman.

Some health coaches work with companies on corporate wellness programs, and some work directly with entrepreneurs, to help these overworked overachievers destress. I even read an article about how a VC firm actually provides their startup founders with health coaches, to help with their physical, mental and emotional wellness, in an act that goes against Silicon Valley's glorification of long hours and personal sacrifice. And some IIN grads become super successful entrepreneurs themselves, and launch health products or natural foods brands like Elizabeth of Purely Elizabeth. And some become successful authors and speakers like Sarah Wilson of I Quit Sugar.

For me, I'm excited about these alumni stories, and the possibilities. I still don't know exactly what I want to do, but I do feel like I am on the right path, going in the right direction.

*The next day after I wrote this, I came across The Body and Mind Coach, who works with athletes and young professionals on mindset and performance. He is a World Surfing League approved coach, works with pro surfers, is a contributor on The Inertia, and runs surf and wellness retreats. Could that be more up my alley or what? Haha.

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