What is Health Coaching?
I’m Jenna Edwards, a trained health coach & former Manager of Business Training & Coaching curriculum at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I now produce a cooking YouTube channel & offer coaching packages as a freelance health coach. I’ve found that most people (coaching students included) don’t know how to describe how coaching works, so I’m attempting to with my experience. I believe whole-heartedly in the coaching modality & that all of us should experience coaching at some point in our lives.
This is the first post in a series about coaching, if it’s right for you, & how to find the coach that’s right for you.
Coaching seems to be everywhere these days: life coaches, career coaches, business coaches, relationship coaches, executive coaches, pageant coaches, & now, health coaches. What’s this all about? Is it the next pyramid scheme? Will a coach simply keep pointing out places you need help to keep you spending money with them?
Years ago, I hired a health coach because I wanted her love for food. I felt like my relationship with food was tense, tumultuous. I felt food worked against me & my goals. My health coach gently worked with me to make micro-changes that turned my life around. As a product of a highly effective health coaching program, I continue to use the techniques she taught me through each evolution of life & stay in touch with myself. Now I work to bring the same love of food to others who want to use food to support their ambitious goals.
In this article, I’ll discuss four basic tenets of what coaching is & is not with the intention of bringing both coaches & potential clients to a clearer understanding of the coaching modality.
First, coaching is separate from consulting, especially in the health realm. Generally, a coach refrains from advising or telling you what to do. We don’t make a decision for you & we don’t give you directives to ensure success. For instance, as a health coach, I will not give you a meal plan designed for weight loss without also guiding you through a lifestyle transition. Nor will a coach require the use of products sold by them. A coach will have you articulate what you already know you should be doing, & help you work out why you aren’t.
Everything is client-driven in coaching. You determine which goals to set, what you need to reach them, & how to get what you need. The coach uses tools like guided questions, exercises, or visualization techniques to help you clarify what’s right for you. A health coach may introduce a new food to you & include some basic information on its benefits, but you can google that stuff yourself & that’s not why you’re paying a coach for, right? The coach may help you with some functional options for implementation, but the real value is an exercise in trying something new & implementing it into your habits.
It is this act of implementation, combined with accountability, that is different from other forms of self-help (books, seminars, etc) & makes coaching effective.
As a coach, I provide a space for you to say, out loud, your goals & visions, your fears & concerns, & your limiting beliefs. Without judgement or opinion, a coach will walk you through a clarification process so your goals & your plan for attaining those goals are realistic & achievable. This, in & of itself, is a powerful process because where else would you have this space?
“People who are dead serious about meeting their goals benefit tremendously from the feedback and accountability system afforded in a coaching process.” (via Inc.com)
A coach may hold you accountable by pointing out patterns that hold you back, questioning your limiting beliefs to get you to explore beyond what you thought you knew, and being a positive anchor in your life while you navigate the newness.
Second, coaching is not some rock-your-world program where you swear off all bad influences to immediately start a clean life with the next sunrise. It is not meant to open the floodgates of change and drown you with all-new food and habits. In fact, really good coaching is the opposite. It’s micro-transitions based on where you are right now. It’s sincere conversations about what reaching your goals looks like/feels like, how that may upset the current status quo, & how to prepare for sabotage (by yourself or otherwise!). Good coaching is anticipating common setbacks & fears, then equipping you with the space to work it out.
If you like videos, watch my interview with Mastin Kipp about why people pay for health coaching.
Third, coaching is a deliberate conversation. A valuable coaching experience requires mental & emotional investment. The work is seeded in the session with the coach, but you’ll be asked to journal, or complete a worksheet, or keep notes on thoughts/reactions outside of the session. It is work. And clients often underestimate this importance. If you’re imagining coaching is like a scene from Karate Kid, where a wise old sage trains you through sweat, blood, & tears into your new wisdom & maturity, I’m sorry to burst that bubble!
The majority of a coaching session isn’t lightening bolts of breakthroughs. Clients & coaches can easily get disappointed when a session just feels like basic conversations. A coach shouldn’t convince you to take a direction in the conversation, but they may ask you to go deeper on a point you find mundane.
This is where the client’s “coachability” may come into play. Are you willing to dedicate the mental energy to the program? Just having the time to show up for sessions isn’t enough. You may experience some success, but a really good coaching experience comes from engaging yourself between sessions & bringing your observations to the next session.
Fourth, coaching is not therapy — we won’t dig up your past & inspect it with a microscope (although the experience can be therapeutic with the appropriate professional). We will explore what parts of your past might be influencing your future & your options for working around, with, or through that. I know it sounds vague, but one-on-one coaching is custom to your situation. That’s why it’s more effective than a book or a digital program (those can be extremely helpful for a beginner, though) & why it’s an investment.
In my health coach training program, I was taught that true wellness comes not just from food, but also our relationships, home environment, physical activity, spirituality — all these other elements that contribute to stress & anxiety. It’s quite common for clients to quickly reach food-based health goals & for our time together to move into this other realm. So while we may talk about non-food aspects of your life, it is only in the interest of looking forward & how the you, the client, can create more of what you want.
Coaching also believes there is healing in feeling heard. So simply talking about past pains, without evaluation or dissection, is beneficial. Because, believe it or not, good health is more than just diet & exercise.
You know you’re ready for coaching when you’ve already started implementing a shift in perspective or even started trying new foods & new recipes. You’ve entertained ideas of how to “be healthier,” & you’re feeling like this time you want it to be different. You’ve probably tried “being better” before, but it didn’t stick. And you can’t even articulate why. You might even be experiencing some overwhelm. And this article has whet your curiosity for more.
If you want to move forward, google search the kind of coach you’d like to try. Include specific descriptions like entrepreneur, busy mom, boss lady, foodie…coaches try to niche themselves so they connect more easily with a particular group of people they have something in common with. Try googling your specific “problem” or goal. A lot of coaches write blogs or record videos on these topics. Ask friends for recommendations — personal referrals are the best source for finding a coach.
For instance, I focus on coaching foodies who start with wanting to cook more at home. We share a genuine love for food & recognize food’s role in supporting our goals — health & beyond.
If you like what you see, join a few email lists & “date” them for a while. In the next installment of this series, I’ll cover how to choose a coach.
If you like food & want more cooking in your life, join my email list to get my newest demos & recipes sent directly to you, every other week. Or, if you want my freebie, “Bowled Over” — a technique manual for making luscious meals at home, register here.
Originally published at cookingcompaniontv.com.