We hear a lot of questions about wellness coaching: Do I need a wellness coach? How do I find a wellness coach? What do I look for in a good wellness coach? Let’s examine a few of these questions.

First, think of a wellness coach as your personal change agent.

Your first step in determining whether or not you need to find a wellness coach is wanting to and being ready to make a change in your health habits. Maybe you’re approaching a 50th birthday and want to improve your fitness routine; maybe you want to lose 30 pounds just to look and feel as good as you did five years ago; maybe your doctor told you that you are at risk for diabetes and you need to make a change in your diet. Whatever your reason, the commitment to change needs to start with you.

But once you are committed to change, having a relationship with an experienced change agent will help you stay on track and reach your goals. Finding a wellness coach boosts your chances for success. It’s up to you to supply the commitment, but your coach can help with the tools and strategies, as well as the support to keep you on track. A wellness coach will be one-to-one support geared to your specific goals and needs.

A wellness coach provides several things: Guidance, support, subject expertise and knowledge of and experience in how to support people through change. Change involves much more than just establishing a meal plan, an exercise regime or a quit plan – it requires addressing the psychosocial and emotional issues that can be involved in change. Health improvements generally involve some degree of behavior and lifestyle change. It’s important for a wellness coach to be experienced in behavioral health issues as well as physical health issues. Often, mental and emotional issues may be factors contributing to unhealthy behaviors – or vice versa.

By definition, a wellness coach must be a health advocate. He or she must hold the fundamental belief and value that making positive health changes will have a beneficial impact on people’s lives. A wellness coach should be knowledgeable about and experienced in one or more of the major disciplines of wellness: nutrition, fitness, stress management, or smoking cessation. They will be a topic expert who stays current on research, help resources and tools.

Look for someone who is certified or credentialed in some way: Do they have a related degree, training or certification? Are they affiliated with a reputable organization? You should also seek experience. Does the coach have a track record of helping others? How many years have they been coaching? How many people have they coached? Can they offer references or success stories?

How do you find a wellness coach?

If your employer offers a wellness benefit, that’s a good place to start and would likely be your most cost-effective option. This is generally telephonic counseling and support. Ask your HR manager if your program offers a wellness coaching benefit, not all do.

If your employer doesn’t offer a wellness benefit (and why not?), you might ask your physician if he or she has any wellness coaches they would recommend. Depending on your plan, your health insurance provider may also offer some wellness options, so check your benefits. Community hospitals and healthcare clinics sometimes have programs in nutrition, weight loss, smoking cessation or stress management. Gyms sometimes offer one-on-one coaching with physical trainers. Individual in-person coaching can be costly, so often wellness programs through clinics or gyms are group-oriented, rather than one-to-one.

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