Some people dream of traveling the world, owning a business or scaling Mount Everest. Others dream of having a family, finishing school or learning to walk after a traumatic injury.
And then there are the millions of people whose dream is to lose weight and find their way to a healthier lifestyle. This might seem like a piece of cake next to some of those loftier goals that involve, say, climbing 29,000 feet. If you're struggling with slow, stubborn weight loss, though, you know that this seemingly simple dream can sometimes feel about as accessible as that mountaintop.
It's important to remember that dreams don't have to be solo endeavors. From physical therapists to academic tutors and fertility doctors, there's a trained expert for virtually every aspiration. If you're feeling defeated, doubtful or just plain done, it may be time to seek out the services of a health coach to help you get over the hump that's slowing your progress toward the life you're envisioning.
What is a health coach exactly? No, it's not someone who follows you around all day swatting cookies out of your hand or nagging you to get to the gym. Ellen Goldman, who has been a health and wellness coach for well over a decade, says that although health coaching isn't a licensed industry, it is a distinct profession. "Certified health and wellness coaches help clients identify the areas in their lives that they want to change or improve, and help them create a plan to get there," she says. "We then provide structure, accountability, expertise and inspiration to enable clients to grow, increase self-awareness, commitment and confidence beyond what they can achieve on their own."
Still skeptical? Discover 10 things a health coach can do to help make your healthier, happier dreams a reality.
1. Helps You Reframe Positive Thoughts
I can't. It's too hard. I'll never lose all this weight.
Anyone on a weight-loss journey has likely experienced these types of self-limiting thoughts. Stacey Morgenstern, co-founder of Health Coach Institute, calls it "critter brain"—the negative self-talk, doubts and fears that creep in and bring your progress to a screeching halt.
"A health coach is an expert at helping you reframe negativity in a positive light, turning obstacles into opportunities for personal growth and transforming fears into faith," says Morgenstern. "A coach helps you get out of your own way so you can embrace the bravest version of you."
2. Interrupts Bad Habits and Create New Ones
Liza Baker, a health coach with Simply: Health Coaching, uses a three-pronged strategy with her clients. First, she helps them observe their diet and lifestyle behaviors to identify the patterns that aren't serving them. Next, she helps them interrupt these destructive habits. Finally, she guides them to create new actions that are small enough to easily become healthy habits.
Morgenstern describes a health coach as a master of change, someone who will help you let go of habits that no longer serve your highest good and embrace healthier habits that you can manage. "Big changes start with small changes," she says. "And if you can succeed in truly breaking even the smallest habit, this can result in powerful transformations and huge personal growth opportunities."
3. Teaches the Art of Accountability
When you're the only person who knows you're supposed to run three miles or cook roasted chicken and veggies for dinner, it's a lot easier to ditch those plans in favor of a cheeseburger and fries on the couch.
On a weight-loss journey, excuses are your worst enemy. How many times have you blamed a missed workout on cold weather or fatigue, or hit the drive-thru after convincing yourself you don’t have time to cook? To succeed in this dream, you must take responsibility for your actions (and inactions), and hold yourself to a higher standard…and that's a whole lot easier when you're answering to someone who is also invested in your success.
"We tend to settle sooner when we are only accountable to ourselves," says registered dietitian Ilana Muhlstein. "We may have experience letting ourselves down in the past with our health goals, but would feel uncomfortable letting someone else down, too. Working with a kind, supportive and positive coach can inspire you to want to do well for both of your satisfactions, and that can serve as an amazing motivator in and of itself."
4. Helps You Focus Your Efforts
When you’re just getting started, the prospect of getting from where you are to where you want to be can seem overwhelming and exhausting. If losing a single pound is difficult in and of itself, how are you supposed to lose what seems like an impossible amount?
The key is to focus on this day, this hour and this minute, not a month or a year from now. Although weight loss is a marathon, it is made up of countless singular decisions and actions. Jessica Matthews, ACE-certified health coach and national board-certified health and wellness coach with the International Consortium of Health and Wellness Coaching, says partnering with a health coach will enable you to focus your efforts on the initial, small steps needed to effectively and efficiently move toward realizing your personal goals and dreams.
5. Joins Your Journey Without Judgment
A good health coach will approach your situation objectively, with an unconditional positive regard for your well-being. No matter how dire your situation, he or she will guide you toward the next right choice, without dwelling on your past mistakes.
"Health coaches understand without judgment where you have been on your journey and where you ultimately aspire to go, and seek to support your efforts and well-being on all levels: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually," says Matthews. "They see each individual as a unique and amazing person who is capable of change and resourceful in regard to reaching their dreams."
6. Recognizes Barriers and Helps You Overcome Them
A good health coach has a positive mindset, but doesn't wear rose-colored glasses. Everyone has their own unique weaknesses and triggers. Instead of denying or dismissing them, your coach will help you identify any hurdles or unforeseen challenges and employ self-directed strategies to overcome them.
Rui Li. owner of New York Personal Training, has many clients who come to her with the goal of losing weight. "I will often point out that they have some mobility issues, so we need to correct those before we can perform harder exercises that can be more conducive to body fat loss," she says. "They eventually begin realizing that focusing on function and performance is much more fulfilling, and the aesthetic results will follow."
7. Asks the Right Questions
To get honest, meaningful answers, you first must ask yourself the right questions, and that's exactly where a health coach can help. "A qualified health coach truly understands and respects that ultimately, you are the foremost expert in your own life," says Matthews. She says health coaches are skilled in mindfully listening and then thoughtfully asking the right questions, enabling you to find the answers that will empower you on your journey.
8. Reminds You to Stay Flexible
Just as life is fluid and dynamic, so too is coaching. "Partnering with a great health coach will equip you with the skills needed to navigate the ever-changing tides of life with confidence and ease, allowing you to 'go with the flow' while still moving forward toward your personal aspirations," says Matthews.
When an injured knee shuts down your planned three-mile walk, for example, your health coach might suggest a yoga session or a swim instead. Or if you overdid the hors d'oeuvres during the company party, he or she can help you get back on track without getting discouraged.
9. Finding Your Unique Recipe for Success
Morgenstern points out that health coaching cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach, as everyone is unique and needs a different set of action plans to fit their personal goals.
"There are as many diets and fads out there as there are people on the planet," she says. "But what works well for one person’s body type and constitution, might not work at all for another's [body]. A health coach works with you holistically to uncover the beliefs that are stopping you from having the healthiest mind-body-spirit connection for your unique self."
10. Get Perspective on How Far You've Come
When you're losing on a slow, steady basis, the effects may not be immediately obvious to you. On the days when you're feeling discouraged or impatient for more dramatic results, your coach can help you recognize how far you've come.
"You may get frustrated that you haven't seen progress in a week or two, but the health coach can help you zoom out and see that you are still so much stronger and farther along than you used to be," says Muhlstein.
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