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- Your doctor is there for you when it comes to diagnoses, evaluations, and treatment recommendations—but what about the rest of the time you spend managing your health? That’s where a health and wellness coach comes in.
- A health coach is someone who helps you take the recommendations from your doctor and turn them into an individualized plan of action.
- Working with a health coach has been associated with improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, A1C, fasting glucose, weight, and more.
Think back to the last time you saw your doctor. How much time did you actually get to speak with them? Did they give you recommendations about how to take care of your health? What about a plan of action to achieve those health goals? Too often, you might find yourself leaving doctor’s offices knowing what’s expected of you in your self-care, and the types of results your doctor wants to see, but without the knowledge of how to make these changes sustainably. Fortunately, that’s where a health coach can come in and fill in the gaps.
What Is a Health Coach?
First, it’s worth pointing out that, technically, anyone can call themselves a “health coach,” as there’s no singular standardized certification (though organizations such as the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching can provide education, training, and certification in health coaching).
Generally speaking, though, a health coach is someone who helps you implement lifestyle changes to improve your health.
“A health coach is there to support you in preventing or managing chronic conditions, help you improve your physical fitness, optimize your nutritional habits, support you in stress management, and so much more,” says One Drop coach, Alexa Stelzer, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). “As health coaches, we’re focused not only on short-term outcomes but also on helping you maintain a level of health that supports your goals.”
While there’s no standardized certification for health coaches, it’s still important to verify your coach’s training, expertise, and any certifications that they do have that could be relevant to your health goals, says One Drop coach, Chauntel Herrod, a certified diabetes prevention specialist who’s also certified by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). She suggests asking your health coach about where they received their education or training—including how many hours they’ve completed in those programs—and whether they have more expertise in one specialty over another (weight management, chronic condition prevention, nutrition, fitness, etc.).
For instance, a health coach who is a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) will hold, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree, and have completed a supervised practice program in their field, passed a national exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), and completed continuing professional educational requirements to maintain their registration. With that background, RDNs can help support your nutritional needs, develop meal plans, and much more.
Or, maybe you live with diabetes and want a health coach who’s specifically trained in the ins and outs of your chronic condition. A certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) is someone who’s not only qualified to support your diabetes self-management, but may also be trained as an RDN, a registered nurse (RN), or even a pharmacist—all of which are qualifying professions included in the CDCES eligibility requirements. In other words, a health coach with “CDCES” in their title is bound to have a well-rounded wealth of knowledge on multiple aspects of wellness, including your chronic condition. (In case you don’t know, One Drop coaches include RDNs, RNs, CDCESs, certified personal trainers, and more.)
Regardless of their exact certification, “health coaches are highly qualified individuals who use science-backed behavioral techniques that drive behavior change, motivation, and success,” explains One Drop coach, Sandra, RD, CDCES, and certified wellness coach (CWC). At One Drop, for example, health coaches follow guidelines set forth by organizations such as the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the American Heart Association (AHA), and receive ongoing training in behavior change, says Stelzer.
The Benefits of Working with a Health Coach
Your doctor may be the one to diagnose you and recommend certain treatment guidelines, but your health coach is your cheerleader. They can actually be there in the trenches with you in the day-to-day ups and downs of managing your health.
That level of support can not only help you better understand your body—whether it’s your heart health or your weight—but it can also make your self-care easier to manage. Research shows that working with a health coach has been associated with both health-related cost savings and improvements in several health parameters, including blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting glucose, weight, and more. And, if you live with diabetes, One Drop’s health coaching and self-care-tracking platform have been associated with reductions in A1C in as little as three months (which can also drive healthcare cost savings of up to $2,450 per person per year).
“Being able to talk through difficult scenarios (like a new diagnosis), prepare for upcoming challenges, and celebrate wins with a live human is only part of what health coaches provide,” says One Drop coach, Amy Crees, RDN, CDCES. And, if you live with a chronic condition, continues Crees, “that can really have an impact on the mental load that managing your health puts on you.”
“Once you feel healthier,” she adds, “you feel better overall; you have more energy, more productivity at work, and more self-confidence.” That extra positive energy and motivation can help keep you on the path toward achieving your health goals.
Finding the Right Health Coach for You
Working with a health coach is a very personal experience; the idea is to find someone who wants to help you create an individualized plan for your health goals, rather than someone who’s simply there to tell you what to do. (That distinction is especially important if you’re working with a health coach to manage your weight.)
“Some health coaches out there may recommend that you follow a fixed exercise program or eating plan, but the truth is that there’s no one-size-fits-all plan for getting healthy,” says Sandra, regardless of what your exact goals may be. “Health coaches can help you find your own values and motivation to make long-lasting changes in your self-care.”
At One Drop, for example, health coaches not only provide clinical expertise and knowledge on the behavioral science of habit change, but they also combine these skills with innovative data science, artificial intelligence, and health monitoring to create a uniquely powerful self-care experience—one that provides you with both the human element of health coaching and the data that can help you see whether you’re on the right track.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations and program design at One Drop.