With approximately 80% of the formula for healthspan management linked to lifestyle behaviors, small, incremental tweaks to our habits around nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management can make a huge difference in preventing, managing, and even reversing chronic disease. This also happens to be where most of us could benefit from some expert help. Let’s be honest, whether you are trying to address chronic disease or just improve your current health status, building new, healthy habits and sticking with them is challenging. Identifying and prioritizing which ones to target in light of where you are is more than a notion and often requires some technical knowledge.
That’s where the increasingly popular concept of the health coach can be a game changer. Part motivational speaker, part accountability buddy, and part health advisor, a health coach can spell the difference between making consistent progress towards your health goals and staying in the stop-start cycle of progress and regression.
What is Health Coaching?
Health coaching is different in scope than other medical or wellness areas, but is no less strategic a part of an integrative treatment plan. A health coach receives training in motivation and lifestyle management to help their clients achieve their health goals. Health coaches typically use a whole-person care model when addressing patient needs—they look not only at your health markers and physical condition but also at all lifestyle aspects including sleep, psychosocial factors, social connectedness, etc.
Like with any emerging practice, health coaching today covers a pretty broad spectrum of activities and isn’t yet a specified field of study. You may find doctors, nurses, dietitians, and other qualified healthcare workers who double as health coaches in their fields; health coaches might also be former health and fitness experts who, through some formal training, acquire the knowledge they need to address all aspects of preventive health.
A health coach can be useful for managing chronic illness or simply helping you adopt healthier habits. Some areas where you may find a health coach helpful include:
- Chronic disease management (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc)
- Weight loss
- Stress management
- Sleep counseling
- Mental and emotional wellness
- Goal setting
- Adopting an exercise routine
- Nutrition basics
- Healthspan management
- Performance optimization
So how do you find a health coach and how do you pick the right one? We did the research to find out. This is what we learned:
The first step in finding a health coach is setting some basic parameters that will allow you to better target your search. These criteria are:
Determine your health and fitness goals
Start by being clear on the objectives you want to achieve. It’s okay if you only have a vague idea of what you want in the beginning. The point of this first step is to get you oriented in the right direction and to use your goals as a guide to find a health coach.
Your goal can be as simple as…
- “I want to lose weight”
- “I want to maximize my healthspan”
- “I want to feel more energetic”
- “I want to learn stress management skills”
- “I want to improve my sleep”
- “I want to avoid another heart attack”
Given the broad set of skills that health coaches can have, having clarity on these objectives will make it easier to identify the right fit. Look for someone who specializes in the area where you need the most help.
Decide how much you want to spend.
Because health coaching covers a broad spectrum of approaches, the costs can vary quite a bit. So before you set out to find one, figure out how much you are prepared to spend per month (you should probably estimate a 3 to 6 month period of work with your coach). Unfortunately, health coaching is not yet covered by most health insurance programs although you might be able to use a health savings or flex spending account (HSA/FSA) to pay for the cost.
Keep in mind that coaches with high-level credentials and licenses such as lifestyle medicine specialists and even some dietitians who double as nutrition coaches will charge premium rates for their services; coaches with more experience also tend to charge more per session.
We found some data on this health coach training platform that can give yous a sense of the range in price of what you are likely to spend on health coaching services:
- New coaches: $50-75/session
- Experienced coaches/coaches with high-level credentials: $100-200/session
- Coaching packages: $500-$2,400/package
The amount you're willing to spend may also depend on how pressing your health needs are at the time. Individuals with experience and high-level credentials will have a greater breadth of knowledge and more experience in patient care that makes the extra cost worth it. However, for less pressing health needs a standard level or even a new health coach is more than capable of meeting your needs at an affordable cost.
Determine what level of expertise you’ll need to reach your goals
Think back on your goal. Is it a basic need or are you trying to get a handle on a complex health issue? The answer to this question can help you determine whether or not a coach has the right level of experience and credentialing to help you reach your goal.
Our recommendation is to look at any potential coach’s biography or “about me” on their website to gauge their experience. As a general rule, look for a health coach who holds a certification in health coaching or a related field (e.g., CNS, CHES). Coaches with bachelor’s level or advanced degrees will have greater knowledge in the area they work in and will likely have a greater level of experience working with clients to achieve specific health goals. Consider educational history and work experience with clients when you’re screening potential coaches, and keep in mind that all education might not be formal.
Decide what type of coaching style/services might work best for you
Take a moment to think of the answers to the following questions:
- Are you an independent learner or do you like doing things in groups?
- Do you have 6-12 weeks to dedicate to a program or would you prefer monthly or bi-monthly follow-ups?
- Do you prefer to interact in person or do you like video chat and interacting online?
The answers to these three questions will help you to refine your search further. Working with a coach who doesn’t meet your style requirements makes for an uncomfortable experience for both coach and client, can diminish the quality of services you receive, and may even stall your progress or prevent you from fully achieving your health goals.
One you have thought through your criteria, you are ready to search for your coach.
Finding a coach
We found two alternative paths to finding a health coach. The first is the DIY approach. This boils down to browsing through individual practitioners to surface the ones that fit your criteria. The advantage of this approach is that you can really customize your search to your individual needs. The downside is that the process will be more time intensive as you find and try different options.
If DIY is your jam, one good resource to start your search is The National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). This is an organization set up in 2012 to advance the development of the health & wellness coaching profession. They do so by setting standards and validating training for health coaches through a certification. In 2016, the NBGWV partnered with the National Board of Medical Examiners to establish a board certification examination, which more than 5,000 practitioners have earned. This is their database of certified coaches and here is the list of approved training programs.
For health coaches with a focus on nutrition, particularly plant-based, we found two good resources: The first, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is an organization of MDs that promotes a preventive approach to treating chronic disease with a strong emphasis in plant-based nutrition. They provide a searchable list of their members. The second, is Plant-based Docs, a group of health professionals that take a food-as-medicine-first approach to preventing and reversing the epidemic of chronic illnesses plaguing our nation and the world. Here is their list of health coaches.
The other route to working with a health coach is by signing up for a program with a preventive/integrative/functional health medical practice (they all tend to use health coaches in their patient model). By doing this, you get much more than a health coach, although the coach you get assigned will likely be your key point of contact as you go through their program.
Practices vary widely in their approaches. You can get a soup-to-nuts data-driven healthspan maximization program, as you do with Wild Health (our favorite), or you can opt for a highly targeted plan as those offered by Nourish Balance Thrive. There is also a growing number of telemedicine platforms that are taking a functional approach to their practices. Two options we liked are Parsley Health and Dr. Frank Lipman’s The Well.
Once you’ve identified a few options that fit your criteria, dig deeper into each one by scheduling a Q&A session or a free consultation. Most coaches and medical practices will offer a free introductory exploration. The point of your initial consultation is to test the dynamic with your coach. You’ve already deemed that they are a good fit on paper, but it’s important that your personalities mesh well. That is the key to success in a health coaching relationship. A clash of personalities can make it difficult for you to work together and for you to derive the full benefits that a health coach has to offer.
Another purpose of the consultation is to tell the coach a bit about your goals and allow them to present you with some solutions. During your appointment, your coach might:
- Help you put a vague goal into more specific terms to make it easier for both of you to measure progress
- Ask you about your desire to change and your willingness to commit to a new habit
- Ask for a health history and basic health markers
- Ask about your work life, relationships, spirituality, and stress levels
- If you have multiple needs, ask which goal you’d like to begin with first in order to focus both of your efforts in a common direction
You will also have the opportunity in your consultation to ask your coach questions. Think back to what you read about them and address any lingering questions about their experience, education, or service offerings. You may also want to ask the following questions:
- Have you ever worked with someone like me?
- How long do you anticipate it will be until I start to see progress?
- What type of monitoring do you do on your clients?
- May I contact you if I have a question or problem between our appointments?
- May I give your information to my primary care so that you two can coordinate my care?
By the end of your consult you should walk away knowing the following:
- Your primary goal and how you and your coach will measure your progress
- Your baseline health data
- A general idea of which strategies your coach thinks will benefit you
NOTE: Your coach may also give you homework to complete for your next visit. Generally, homework assignments are short and are designed to reinforce what you talked about in your appointment, get you started on working towards your goal(s), or to provide your coach with any additional information they need in order to help you.
A health coach is both your guide and your biggest cheerleader. The work you do together may prove to be just the push you need to start or stick with healthier habits so you can maximize your healthspan. Are you ready to get started? Let us know!
Share your experiences finding or working with a health coach or anything we may have left out: firstname.lastname@example.org
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