Health Coaching

by LESLIE CHANG

To get better acquainted with the rising popularity of health coaching and what it entails, Total Wellness obtained an inside look from Julie Skrupa, an American Association of Drugless Practitioners board-certified health coach. Skrupa completed the Health Coaching Training Program with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York City, a school whose holistic approach to health coaching focuses on lifestyle factors that create optimal health. She has been employed at UCLA since 2007 and now works with the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families, and Communities. The following features her answers to a few questions that Total Wellness had regarding Health Coaching.

 

What is Health Coaching?

A health coach is a wellness authority and supportive mentor who motivates individuals to cultivate positive health choices by educating and supporting them as they work towards achieving their health goals through lifestyle and behavior adjustments. Health coaches understand how to work with diverse groups of people and how to mentor and motivate individuals to make positive and healthy lifestyle changes.

By enrolling in a health coaching program (which often integrates Eastern and Western medicine to promote holistic healing), students have the opportunity to learn from experts in the fields of nutrition, health, wellness, and medicine. In addition, students are introduced to all of the dietary theories; they learn how problematic diseases with chronic symptoms such a diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity may have underlying causes in nutrition and mental health, and they are given the tools to build their health coaching business. Currently, preventative health care is in high demand. Individuals that are able to make healthy lifestyle choices have a reduced risk of developing certain debilitating diseases.

 

What Separates Health Coaching from Related Fields like Nutrition or Medicine?

Health coaches are no medical practitioners like doctors, nutritionists, or registered dietitians. A health coach training program is a certification program, much in the same way that a personal fitness trainer is a certified trainer with knowledge and expertise in certain areas. A school like IIN is partnered with some universities and colleges (for example, Goddard College in Vermont and SUNY Purchase in New York) to offer students who successfully complete the coaching program eligibility to earn college course credits. A coaching program is different from a traditional academic program that offers degrees like PhD, MD, ND, or RD, because it does not offer the same in-depth curriculum as a formal degree program.

Health coaches can also collaborate with doctors, nurses, nutritionists or dietitians to help create individualized plans for patients that may include a variety of healthy living choices including medication, food, and lifestyle changes. Since doctors may only have few minutes to spend with patients, having a resource such as a health coach in the doctor’s office can be beneficial. Health coaches do not have a professional license to prescribe drugs. Instead they use their expertise to review the prescriptions, lifestyles, and dietary habits of patients and offer suggestions after learning about past and current living situations. Unless a health coach also has formal medical training qualifying them to examine a patient, make a medical recommendation, or write a prescription, he or she will refer the client back to their medical practitioner for more serious medical guidance.

 

What are possible jobs associated with a health coaching degree?

Health coaches can pursue a number of careers. They can work as mentors and counselors to people who need support and guidance regarding making healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices. Many have private coaching practices and work with individuals or groups, while other coaches offer their services and corporations, universities, alternative healing centers of medical offices. Coaching can also serve as a stepping stone for other health related avenues like writing books or blogs on health-related topics, public speaking, running cooking and baking classes or workshops, leading grocery store or health food store tours, and creating specialty health, wellness, and food products. By learning the basics of nutrition and understanding the importance of relationships, career, spirituality, and physical activity, students can use their knowledge to pursue the ventures that they are most passionate about.

 

What are important topics from health coaching that you want readers to know?

Primary Food

This is IIN’s philosophy and it is rooted in the concept that everything we consider a source of nutrition - actual food - is a secondary source of nourishment. The food we eat is secondary to other aspects of life that feed us and satisfy our hunger for life. While food can fill you, it cannot fulfill you. These other parts of life include healthy relationships, regular physical activity, a fulfilling career, and spirituality (while this can be religious, it can also be something that brings you comfort and makes you feel refreshed and at ease, such as meditation, writing, or playing music).

Bio-Individuality

This term means that each person is unique with individualized nutritional requirements. No single way of eating works for everyone, and personal differences in anatomy, metabolism, body composition, and cell structure can all influence a person’s overall health and determine the foods that make them feel their best. This also means that the best food for each person depends on a variety of factors including body type, age, sex, and lifestyle. Two of the main factors influencing bio-individuality are ancestry and metabolism; these determine how the body breaks down food products. Understanding these factors can allow people to choose foods that support their bodies.


What are some resources that are important to health coaches?

There are a variety of resources available. Finding information from experts in their respective fields can be one of the best ways to learn about cutting edge research and new and innovative ideas. Here are just a few experts: Neal Bernard, MD (founder and president of the Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine), Mark Hyman, MD (pioneer of functional medicine), David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe (author of Naked Chocolate), Cory Reddish ND, (a naturopathic physician), Andrew Weil, MD (pioneer of the Integrative Medicine field), John Douillard (chiropractor and Ayurvedic physician), Walter Willett, MD (chair of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health), and David Katz, MD (founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center).


There are also a number of websites that provide excellent information about current health, wellness, science, and nutrition topics. Here are two:

  • CSPI: Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • MindBodyGreen: Your Guide to Wellness 


Winter 2013 | Vol. 13 | Issue 3