What is health coaching – and how could a health coach help you?

Written by Emilie Rouvroy

Inspiring sustainable lifestyle changes and motivating people to take their health into their own hands, health coaching offers a multi-faceted approach to taking care of our health and wellness.

With health coaching a rapidly growing field, you may have heard of it by now. But for a lot of people, the idea of health coaching is still pretty vague. What does a health and wellness coach do, exactly? What are the benefits of health coaching? Can you see a health coach alongside your regular healthcare providers?

As a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, I’m here to answer these questions! From what a health and nutrition coach could do for you to what we don’t do, here’s everything you need to know about what health coaching is.

What is health coaching?

According to the UK Health Coach Association, a health coach is a “whole-health professional and expert in behaviour change, partnering with clients who want to make sustainable lifestyle changes to improve their whole-health and wellness”.

This health coach description sums up what we do, but many people may still be unfamiliar with the idea of ‘whole-health’, or how behavioural change could improve health and wellness. And that’s completely normal!

When thinking about health, western cultural norms mean that most people only think about their physical health – the body and its symptoms. This narrow field of vision ignores the fact that your health is more than just physiological processes – which are largely ignored until something stops working as it should. Whole-health is based around the idea that our overall health and wellbeing is made up of the interplay between our physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual health. You may also hear this referred to as holistic health.

The other important point surrounding health coaching is that it is focused on sustainable lifestyle changes. Most health-care providers only treat the physical or mental symptoms of a disease or pain after it has arisen, with a singular approach (most often with drugs). Health coaching, on the other hand, explores what other lifestyle factors – such as relationships, stress, nutrition – could be contributing to a health issue. Rather than looking for a quick-fix, health coaching recognises that health is a lifelong journey and therefore sustainable, long-term habits are the key to restoring and maintaining balance in all areas of our health.

What does a health coach do?

Health coaches aim to motivate and inspire positive behavioural and lifestyle changes. While nutrition is discussed, there is a larger focus on non-food forms of nourishment such as physical activities, the ability to relax, sleep quality or stress. These other issues may well be the root cause of nutritional or health imbalances.

Health coaches assess the client’s overall well-being through questions and active listening to get to the heart of the matter.  Then, we empower clients to recognise that their solutions come from within and working together with them, propose recommendations to help enact health-supportive lifestyle or behavioural changes.

The client is always in the driver’s seat, defining the objectives of the health coaching process. The coach is in the passenger’s seat, guiding the client in the right direction and making sure that the driver keeps the focus on the road.

Instead of telling the person what to do, a health coach will mainly use motivational interviewing.  Rather than saying “You should lose weight, you should stop eating sugar”, the coach may ask “what is it that makes you want to eat sugar?”, or “what do you think the cause of this craving is?” Through open questions, the aim is to discover the root causes of certain behaviours, perceptions or mindsets that may be having a poor effect on the client’s health.

The most important take-away points about what health coaching is, are:

  • It deals with whole health, not only physical health
  • It encourages sustainable lifestyle changes to restore balance instead of quick fixes
  • It explores the roots of poor health rather than only looking at the symptoms that arise
  • It aims to improve health through changing behaviour
  • It empowers clients to be in control of their health choices

What are the proven benefits of health coaching?

  • Weight loss (1), (2),(3)
  • Lowers BMI (4)
  • Improving eating behaviour including weight, blood pressure, and fruit, vegetable and fat intake (5)
  • Management of chronic conditions (6)
  • May improve health and quality of life of cancer survivors (7)
  • Improves health outcomes of stroke survivors (8)
  • Meeting personal health goals (9)
  • May also improve sleep and self-care
Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

How could a health coach help you?

  • Accountability

Sometimes, knowing that someone will ask us what we have done with our best resolutions may trigger faster changes, or keep us motivated to keep going for longer. Being held accountable by your coach can play a big role in how far you commit to lifestyle changes.

  • Motivation

As with any lifestyle change, we all can slip back into old habits. But your coach will become your number one cheerleader when it comes to motivating you to keep going with your health goals. Although ultimately change comes from within you, it helps to have a little extra motivational push to remind you why you’re on the journey or help you reach your goals!

  • Without judgment, your coach will hear you

No matter where you start and no matter what your health goals are, the health coach will support you in your journey. We’re not here to impose preconceived ideas about what health is onto clients but listen to what their health goals are and help them achieve it.

  • Long term solutions

Change doesn’t happen overnight! Health coaching usually involves a coaching program of 3-6 or 12 months. Dismantling and rebuilding healthy habits takes time and repetition, and your coach will be by your side for the long run – if you’d like them to be.

What health coaches don’t do

  • Drive conversations to areas clients are uncomfortable with
  • Diagnose, treat, or heal diseases – a health coach is not a replacement for your usual medical practitioner
  • Force clients to adopt behavioural changes – it’s up to you what you’d like to take on board and try out
  • Impose a specific diet or lifestyle. Some health coaches may prefer to support clients with certain diets they know well, but they will never impose.  From a coaching perspective, the best diet is the diet that the client feels is best for them!
  • Advise clients to stop taking medication, stop seeing their doctor or medical practitioner, make major dietary changes, begin a strenuous fitness routine, or make any potentially harmful behaviour changes.

If you’re wondering how a health and nutrition coach may be able to help you reach your personal health goals, book a free 30 minute discovery call with me to find out more!