Do you need a wellness coach to lose weight?

By Meg Jordan

Some new research from StayWell Health Management supports the notion that it takes a village (or at least a coach) to make the kind of lifestyle change that most people say they want, but can’t seem to accomplish. Participants who completed a telephone-based, health coaching program lost an average of 3 pounds, compared to 1 pound for those who did not complete the program. Others in a study from Duke University not only scored higher on goals compared to the non-coached group but they retained new health behaviors beyond the study.

Coaches assist you to not only set goals, but make sure your goals are yours, and not imposed by significant others or employers. For example, some companies have attempted to set body composition (BMI) standards on employees, citing that obese individuals cost more in loss productivity and higher absenteeism. But coaches know that a goal imposed from an external source has a strong chance of back-firing. You feel discouraged and give up too soon. Coaches hold their clients in positive regard, never attempting to “fix” them, but instead building supportive alliances that demystify the change process.

Plus, wellness coaches receive special training in nutrition, weight management, fitness, motivational psychology, and stress reduction. They warn you when you’re about to embark on a nonsense diet (“I think I’ll just eat grapefruit for a week”) or keep you from spending money on some worthless exercise gimmick (“…but the Fat Vacuum was seen on TV!”).

Finally, a knowledgeable wellness coach can help design a comprehensive approach to weight loss that fortifies you with strategies that are cutting-edge and evidence-based. I teach graduate students in a masters program to critically analyze health studies, and learn the difference between an adaptogenic herb like red reishi that has the benefit of thousands of years of safe human usage, versus a short-term clinical trial of the latest weight loss pill with unknown side effects. Adaptogens can help you reduce stress levels, which in turn, modulate cortisol levels, a hormone that promotes abdominal girth, the unhealthiest fat. Coaches link you to resources and allies.

More than anything, coaches stretch you to draft a vision for your life that works for the long-term. A greater sense of well-being emerges because you’re no longer fixated on short-term results. Coaches reinforce and acknowledge your success along the change path. The average study participant at StayWell who teamed up with a coach lost an average of 15 pounds—and had a built-in buddy to celebrate with.

Dr. Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, CWP, is a medical anthropologist known as the Global Medicine Hunter®. She is an integrative health specialist, international health journalist, and a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

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