We have all been bombarded with news about skyrocketing healthcare costs and how unhealthy the typical American lifestyle is. In response, diet programs have mushroomed and you can pick from numerous liquid diets, portion control diets, no carb diets, etc. And exercise? Gyms are popping up so often that it reminds me of Starbucks in its earlier days. And yet, the unhealthy lifestyle persists. And who doesn’t know someone who went on a diet or started an exercise program, only to wind up heavier when the enthusiasm waned and a sense of failure set in?
To be sure, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is complex and there is no simple solution. However, there are two important concepts related to this issue that are worth exploring:
- that change is a process, and
- that everyone is different.
A coach who understands these concepts can be beneficial in helping individuals pursue a healthier lifestyle.
Changing from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one does not happen overnight. It is a process that takes time and it involves a number of steps*:
–Precontemplation – Let’s say Jeremy and Lauren eat fast food 4-5 times per week and are overweight. At this stage, Jeremy and Lauren are not even thinking about change.
–Contemplation – Lauren and Jeremy are thinking about the pros and cons of eating fast food and exercising but are ambivalent about changing.
–Preparation – Jeremy and Lauren now acknowledge that the benefits of a sedentary, fast food lifestyle is outweighed by the benefits of exercise and a healthier diet.
–Action – Lauren and Jeremy change their eating habits. They now either have fast food fewer times per week or have eliminated it entirely from their diets.
–Maintenance – Jeremy and Lauren work to consistently eat healthier foods and exercise.
–Relapse – Yes, Lauren and Jeremy will undoubtedly relapse and probably more than once! Perhaps they pass a favorite fast food restaurant on their way to a late lunch and the aroma proves irresistible. Who hasn’t experienced this?
EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT
The second important concept is that people respond differently to different stimuli. The bottom line is there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to motivating individuals to lead healthier lifestyles.
A coach can help people like Lauren and Jeremy move through the stages of change at their own pace taking into consideration their individual personal situations. More importantly, a coach will be there to offer constant support that is crucial, particularly when a relapse occurs.
AN EXAMPLE OF HOW COACHING CAN HELP
With a certified, skilled coach, Jeremy and Lauren will be treated as the unique individuals they are. Talking to a coach 30 minutes per week with regular check- ins between sessions can be invaluable. Coaching can:
–Keep Jeremy and Lauren focused and on track with their goals. Perhaps, Jeremy & Lauren, like many people with the best of intentions, follow through for a couple of days, but then lose enthusiasm. Having a coach reminding them of why they are changing their lifestyle while consistently cheering them on multiple times during the week, can help them stay focused on their goals which helps fuel their enthusiasm.
–Provide help overcoming obstacles. Lauren may say that she walked 45 minutes at lunch one day and it was not only torture, but also it made her so tired that it was harder to work effectively after her walk. A coach can brainstorm with Lauren about alternatives. The result may be that Lauren decides that, for now, she is more comfortable walking 10 minutes each day so she is less tired in the afternoon. Gradually she can increase her walking time.
–Provide consistency. Jeremy may get his exercise by running with a friend. Given his hectic schedule or the erratic schedule of his running partner, they may not be able to maintain a consistent running schedule for very long. However, checking in with a coach on a consistent basis will provide the motivation he needs to continue running until it becomes a routine.
–Provide accountability. The coach brainstorms with them each week and they decide what steps they will take in the coming week. Since they decide on the steps to take, they are more motivated to complete their goals for the coming week.
–Provide other types of support. When Jeremy and Lauren relapsed by going for a late fast food lunch, a coach can brainstorm with them about the best way to avoid the situation in the future. They may decide, for example, to always have a healthy snack available or avoid the tempting fast food aroma by taking a different route. A coach also can point out the progress they have made over the past months to bolster their confidence. More importantly, the coach can remind them that relapse is an expected part of the change process. Being reminded of this can stop them from viewing themselves as failures, propelling them into a downward spiral, and likely leading them back into their old, unhealthy routines.
COACHING IS NOT THERAPY
If the reason for the unhealthy lifestyle is a serious personal or emotional situation, like a failing marriage or a family illness, then a reputable coach will let you know that you need the services of a psychologist or a therapist. Coaching is not therapy.
Also, there are times when the services of a nutritionist, a doctor or other professional are required to set a reasonable goal. In these cases, the coach works with the client and the professional to formulate a reasonable goal and the steps needed to achieve that goal.
INSURANCE CARRIERS USE OF WELLNESS COACHES
Many insurance carriers across the country are realizing the benefits of coaching, as well. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield and other companies are using coaching as part of a multi-strategic plan to promote healthier lifestyles in an effort to control escalating insurance costs. **
It’s a win-win for the employers and the employees. The employees are healthier and the employers have employees that are more productive and are absent less. An added bonus is that it can even result in lower healthcare premiums.
Changing to a healthier lifestyle is a complicated process that requires using all possible approaches because, as individuals, we are not all motivated by the same stimulus. Also, using a skilled, certified coach, who appreciates the uniqueness of individuals and understands the process of change can provide on-going encouragement and support, and lessen frustration in the quest for a healthier lifestyle. Finally, a skillful coach can hold clients accountable to move forward with their goals and help them overcome their own personal obstacles. The result is that using a coach can help people live the healthier lives that they want—the lives they deserve to live!
* Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model. UCLACenter for Human Nutrition. <http://www.cellinteractive.com/ucla/physcian_ed/stages_change.html>
G. Zimmerman, PSY.D., C. Olsen, M.D., M. Bosworth, D.O., A ‘Stages of Change’ Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior. American Family Physician (March 1, 2000)
** E. Brandler, Fighting the battle of the bulging health plan. Journal of Business (February 23, 2006)
Iowa Farm Bureau and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Of Iowa Launch One-On-One Coaching Program To Individual Policyholders. BlueCross BlueShield Association (February 13, 2008)
Copyright 2008 Ellen Cohen