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Fresh fruit and vegetables
Image by Mundoo via Flickr

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensd Massage Therapists, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Today an article about Wellness Coaching caught my eye.  There’s been a new study that shows that using wellness coaching has had a positive effect on people maintaining their health after completing their cancer treatments.

Read the excerpt below from the press release from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, “Wellness Coaching Study Finds Long Term Benefits for Cancer Survivors,” by Tim Kelly of the Office of Public Relations of Galloway Township, NJ to find out more.

New research published in the International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences and conducted by The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, showed that wellness coaching, a relatively new type of health intervention, had significant, immediate, and lasting impact in reducing anxiety and depression, while simultaneously improving quality of life and increasing other healthy lifestyle behaviors.

The American Cancer Society recommends survivors maintain a healthy weight and engage in healthy lifestyle habits to reduce risk of recurrence, mortality, and other chronic diseases, yet the majority do not, according to recent research. This study looked at the initial and longitudinal benefits that wellness coaching might have with cancer survivors.

The Study

Principle Investigator, Dr. Mary Lou Galantino, PT, PhD, MSCE, professor at Stockton College and Adjunct Research Scholar at University of Pennsylvania, said that it is the first research published utilizing this methodology as a single intervention, which has promising results and potential application in other areas.

The idea to apply this methodology to cancer survivorship came in 2004, when wellness coach and fitness professional, Pam Schmid was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was a leader in the new field of wellness coaching and recognized the wide reaching benefits coaching might offer survivors, after struggling personally with the challenges treatment brought her way.

Pam Schmid said, “Being a professional, I knew what I needed to do to be healthy and feel my best, yet so many obstacles came my way. I watched others struggle and saw no real support for them. Some health behaviors can reduce risk of recurrence or dying of their cancer as much as 50 percent. It’s critical to support survivors to do the things they can do to not only improve their risks but to improve their quality of life.”

Read Pam’s blog, Priorities Simplified, here.

In this observational cohort study of 30 breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors, participants received six coaching sessions over a three month period. They were followed for a year after the intervention to evaluate the sustainability of changes through the wellness coaching. Wellness coaches are credentialed professionals who are trained and certified as coaches.

How Wellness Coaching Helps Patients

In this study, a fitness professional certified as an ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) Health Fitness Instructor and Wellness Coach (through Wellcoaches Corporation – in partnership with ACSM) served as the coach.

Wellness coaching moves people from point A to B says Schmid, “Instead of being stuck, they have a partner to start moving ahead to be their best. As one survivor told me, ‘This is not like anything I’ve experienced. It’s given me a pathway out … I need to move forward to do the things I know I need to do to be my best’.”

To read the entire press release, click here.

And, according to the actual study reported in the International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Wellness Coaching helped study patients improve their lifestyle habits using goal setting, increased food choice awareness and exercise.  Working with a personal coach helped subjects by providing  motivation and feedback. Patients reports that their consumption of fruits and vegetables increased, and their BMI and weight was reduced with the help of Wellness Coaching.

Link to the actual study abstract in the International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences here.

What is Wellness Coaching?
Coaching focuses on building self-efficacy and autonomy from a strength-based approach that encourages the individual to think about what is going well, where they have been successful in the past, and what will support success in the future and is delivered using a number of tools from evidence based domains/theories such as positive psychology, motivational interviewing, and appreciative inquiry.

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Experts share tips about choosing a fitness professional who can put you on the road to better health.
By Annabelle Robertson
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Laurie Heit couldn’t imagine working with a wellness coach. In fact, she didn’t even know what a wellness coach was — until one transformed her life.

A compulsive overeater, Heit had struggled with her weight since childhood. She went on diet after diet, and was finally ready to join Overeaters Anonymous when a friend told her about wellness coaching. She suggested Chere Bork, a registered dietitian and coach. Heit jumped at the chance.

After her first appointment, Heit was so impressed that she decided to do more. She has now had 12 telephone coaching sessions with Bork at a cost of $75 each. She insists they were worth every penny.

Although Heit has made significant improvements to her diet and lost weight, she says she’s gained something far more important. Through the coaching process, Heit discovered that losing weight wasn’t what she needed most. She longed to be at home with her family. So after debating the options, Heit quit her insurance job and became a full-time homemaker. She’s never been happier.

“My goal didn’t change, but how I got there did,” she explains. “The time and exploration of the right food plan helped me explore myself and my wants in life.”

Fitness Trends

According to a recent survey by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), “educated and experienced fitness professionals” now constitute the most important fitness trend in the world, having jumped from third to first place since last year. “Personal trainers” rose from seventh to third place.

“We want to be well. We yearn to be in control and feel better. We want more energy,” says Margaret Moore, founder of Well Coaches, the only health and wellness coaching certification program endorsed by the ACSM. “But there is an enormous gap between wanting to be well and the everyday reality of living with the mental and physical health penalties of overeating, underexercising, and having too little down time.”

That gap is growing. The CDC reports that more than 66% of adult Americans are overweight or obese.

Doctors’ Views on Wellness Coaching

That’s one of the reasons why Moore and other wellness coaches have been working to increase awareness about the field among medical professionals. Moore readily admits, however, that although the idea is becoming increasingly popular with the public, it’s only beginning to catch on with doctors.

“Physician referral to coaches is still at an early stage,” she says. “We don’t have reimbursement, and it’s going to take years to fall into place. We see grass-roots, small-scale doctors coming to us. But most physicians just aren’t into it yet. It’s still very new.”

One doctor who has embraced the idea is Michael Lano, MD. Director of the Ridgeview Clinics, a group of primary care facilities in suburban Minneapolis, Lano refers several patients a month to Bork.

“I’m a family physician and I always tell my patients that it’s my job to help them live a long, healthy life,” he says. “But 98% is their part, and that’s what the life coach helps with — everything from diet and exercise to emotional well-being. It’s the same thing that we [doctors] deal with, but she deals with it from a lifestyle perspective.”

Lano says he sees significant improvements in patients who work with Bork. Most begin exercising and eating better. Many make other important changes as well, which tend to have a boomerang effect on their overall outlook and lifestyle, as they did with Heit.

Ideal Candidates for Wellness Coaching

However, not everyone is a good candidate for wellness coaching, says Lano. Some may be too old or sick to change. Others may simply be unmotivated. The ideal patient is someone who may not be doing anything bad, but they’re not doing the good things, either, he says. “They’re not eating well. They’re not exercising. They’re stressed. They’re stuck. They’re not making progress.”

Jim Harburger found himself in that situation. The 66-year-old clinical psychiatrist began to gain weight 32 years ago when he abandoned his heavy smoking habit. Gradually, his weight began to creep from 165 pounds to 220 pounds.

Much of the problem, Harburger says, was stress from his high pressure job as the director of a large behavioral health organization. But the trigger was the daily gift of sweets offered by his secretaries, which Harburger found irresistible.

“The metaphor was that I was being eaten alive by my job, but I was actually eating to handle the anxieties from my work,” he says.

Harburger joined a gym. But like so many others, he found it hard to get there and went only sporadically. Desperate, he finally decided to hire a personal trainer. The gym recommended Ellen Albertson, a staff member who was a registered dietitian, a licensed nutritionist, a certified personal trainer, and a licensed corporate wellness coach.

Albertson began each session with 20 minutes of walking, during which time she and Harburger would talk.

“One might think I could walk on my own, but what she was doing was listening to me about my life, learning about how I managed eating, the stressors in my life, and my relationship to my body,” he explains. “She became familiar, almost like a good therapist, with all aspects of my life. And slowly, she built a relationship that I started to value.”

Albertson also helped Harburger manage his cravings. A self-confessed sugar addict, he likened it to withdrawal from cocaine. “I felt my body shaking, I couldn’t think, and I was in total transition for almost a week,” he says. “Now I know that if I have a cookie, I need to separate myself from what I am eating or I will just keep eating.”

The result? Harburger, who visits the gym almost every day now, dropped 40 pounds over a three-year period.

Albertson says she sees it all the time. People come in expecting to be told what to do, but what actually works best for them is to slow down, think about their goals, and then determine the path themselves.

“People are out of touch with their bodies. When you listen to your body, you eat when you’re hungry, you stop when you’re full, and you enjoy food for its rightful place in your life,” she says.

Looking for the Right Wellness Coach

Michael Arloski, PhD, is the author of Wellness Coaching for Lasting Change, a training manual used by several coaching programs, works with dozens of corporate clients, training them on the finer points of coaching for long-term lifestyle changes.

“We need to move from ‘prescribe and treat,’ or what I like to call ‘education and implore’ — where we’re begging someone to change after we give them a lot of information — to a coaching model where we’re advocating for change and becoming an ally with that person,” he says.

To determine whether a coach is reputable, Moore suggests checking references and asking for testimonials. Look for people with degrees or certification from reputable organizations such as WellCoaches and then interview them extensively about their background.

Moore advises choosing a coach who makes you feel the most energized and confident. You should be inspired after a coaching session, with lots of “Aha!” moments, as well as motivated about your ability to make needed changes in your life.

Plan to pay between $50 and $150 a session, and expect to spend at least three months with a coach before seeing meaningful progress, which is typically defined as the creation of two or three healthy new habits. And don’t hesitate to end the relationship if something doesn’t feel right.

In addition to his dramatic weight loss, Harburger says the changes have had a positive effect on his career. Harburger’s wellness coaching has led him to return to private practice and reduce his workweek to 75%.

“I struggled with giving myself permission to do that, but it was miraculous. Before, I would never have initiated that. Now, I feel so unencumbered,” he says. “It’s like I’m on constant vacation.”

Link to article in WebMD .

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