By: Claire Pomorski
When someone says they are a “health coach” I wonder what qualifications they have. I have been trained to be skeptical. Dietitians receive years of school training and at least 10 months of intense, supervised training as an intern. Additionally, we must pass a board certified exam in order to practice as a dietitian. I have been told that there are not strict regulations for health coaches, so buyer beware. Yet, many holding a self-proclaimed health coach title on the internet have others around the world following their advice. Until I began this internship, I thought people wanting advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle should simply consult with a registered dietitian. Was there really a need for health coaches? When I realized that my preceptor was not only a registered dietitian, but a national board certified health and wellness coach, I knew I had been missing something. My rotation at Wellness Corporate Solutions (WCS) in Bethesda, MD gave me a whole new perspective
When I stepped in the door at WCS I was warmly greeted by a woman in leggings and a workout top; she was my preceptor. At this point, I looked down at myself wearing business casual (but more casual) clothes and thought, “Yep, I definitely missed the memo on just how casual this place is.” I soon realized that I not only missed the mark on my clothing choice, but my initial assumptions of this company were totally skewed as well. In a little orientation about WCS, I quickly learned that this company is quite literally filled with registered dietitians (RDs) working remotely across the country, but here’s the kicker…they’re called “health coaches.”
In order to get a clearer understanding of the competencies of the WCS’s health coaches , I needed to pick my preceptor’s brain a bit. Here’s what I learned that week. Wellness Corporate Solutions provides health coaching either in person or telephonically to their client’s employees through their wellness programs. Employees have the opportunity to talk to one of these health coaches, who are all registered dietitians, about more than just their diet and weight loss. This is where the distinction is made; the health coach’s role is to provide a holistic, goal-oriented approach that includes mental, physical and emotional health. So, instead of primarily tackling a client’s dietary habits, a health coach’s approach is more broad and wellness focused. The “Wellness Wheel” depicts the eight dimensions of wellness which better describes the approach of a well trained health and wellness coach. An example of seeing this approach play out was a coaching call I observed where the coach advised a client on their physical activity and the mental and emotional barriers for the entire session and helped set new goals for their next meeting. Another example of this approach that I encountered during my time at WCS was volunteering at two health fairs where I engaged with participants on smoking cessation and practicing the act of being grateful in pursuit of a more fulfilling lifestyle. I learned through these experiences that health coaches have knowledge in several aspects of wellness and are equipped to help clients pursue a healthier lifestyle by focusing on mental, physical and emotional challenges.
Being healthy involves more than just what you eat, and the path to living a healthy lifestyle is not linear. There is so much more that goes into a person’s relationship with food, exercise, and overall wellness than just what we eat and how often we move. The health coaching approach that is used by WCS takes all of this into consideration and attempts to work towards overall lifestyle changes with each of their participants. After listening to several coaching calls, it finally clicked for me. I was listening to people come up with their own answers, finding what will actually work for them based on where they are in life. The health coach was there to gently guide the participants towards accomplishing these goals with all aspects of their health in mind. It was a journey for each individual to figure out where they really needed to make these life adjustments. Whether it was actually related to their diet or something completely different, the coach knew the resources and techniques to guide them through a process.
My perspective on the health coach title has changed. I still think dietitians are the best ones to provide nutritional advice, but I have a greater appreciation for how well-rounded and knowledgeable a health coach who is also a dietitian must be to go beyond their job as a dietitian to focus on the bigger picture and lifestyle goals of each individual client.