This paper is being written to explore the effects of the coaching process in the area of weight-management and leading a healthy lifestyle in contrast to some of the more traditional approaches to weight-loss on the market today. In order to make this comparison, the author’s own personal experience as both a weight-loss counselor and more recently as a healthy lifestyle coach will be drawn upon. In addition, three other healthy lifestyle coaches were interviewed in order to ascertain their coaching approaches to weight-loss.
There are probably hundreds if not thousands of weight management programs on the market today. The one thing that most of them have in common is that they are directive in nature. In other words, they have the client come in for an evaluation, one which encompasses both their medical and weight-loss histories, and then after going over the client’s relevant information, they are enrolled in that particular brand of weight-loss. Subsequently all the details of the program are gone over, and then the client is instructed on what to do and what not to do. Once the client gets started, they report back on a regular basis, and in so doing, they discuss their results with the counselor relevant to their compliance on the program. Both the logistics of the client’s compliance as well as her emotional components are usually discussed. Challenges are also addressed and often brainstorming occurs. Then both the client and the counselor come up with mutually agreed upon solutions, and the client goes off on their own to repeat another week on the program.
Where these traditional approaches to weight-loss tend to differ from the coaching process is that with these, the client often has little or no say in the main components of the program. In other words, based on the ideology of the program, the weight-loss consultant instructs the client on how to proceed, and only after that does the client come in for follow-up visits and problem solving. Coaching on the other hand is client-directed, and therefore the client has much more of an active role in their own approach to losing weight and/or getting fit and healthy. The goal of this paper is to highlight how the coaching approach facilitates this process of getting fit and healthy and whether or not it makes a difference in the client’s success.
Previous Experience in The Weight-Control Industry
When the author of this paper was employed by Nutri-system as both a behavior breakthrough counselor and a nutritional specialist, he was able to see first-hand how the program worked. Once the client enrolled in the program, they came in for a health assessment by a trained nutritionist, and thereafter were put on a meal plan based on their age, gender, health concerns, current weight and goal weight. Once they received instructions on how to self-administer the meal plan, they purchased a week’s worth of food and then went on their way to put what they had just learned into practice for the week. They would then come in every week for a weigh-in with a nutritional specialist, attend a behavior breakthrough class, and finally purchase their food for the following week. Although the visit with the nutritional specialist was designed to address both logistical and emotional concerns in terms of the client’s compliance to the program, it was only designed to be ten to fifteen minutes in length, and the nutritional specialist was usually not formally trained in either counseling or coaching. Thus it was very difficult for her to address any negative underlying beliefs or deep-seated emotional concerns that the client might have had along the way. It was more about compliance and overt behaviors rather than what felt good to the client.
The behavior breakthrough classes were designed to teach the clients how to bring about positive changes in their eating behaviors, ones that would eventually replace the old ones, the ones that got them into trouble in the first place. The intentions of these classes were great, but again they were instructional in nature, and not based on what the client wanted to talk about, but rather on what was on the weight-loss center’s agenda for that week. These classes did not normally go beneath the surface and thereby did not uncover an individual’s potential road blocks to losing weight and getting healthier. There were several other drawbacks to this kind of program: The food choices were limited, so after a while, most people became bored with the food and as a result tended to veer off the program. Another drawback to the program was that if the people got so used being told what and how to eat, it was that much harder for them to know how to make healthy choices on their own once they weaned themselves off the program food. In the end, most people did not learn lasting behavioral changes, and as a result gained most or all of their weight back within a year’s time. Usually after that happened, they wound up feeling worse about themselves and as a result were more reluctant to attempt to lose weight the next time around.
After about four years of working in the capacity of both behavior breakthrough counselor and nutritional specialist at Nutri-system, the author of this paper purchased his own weight-loss franchise, aptly called, “Diet Center”. This program was somewhat more client directed, because at least the client was able to choose her own foods based on her own specific caloric recommendation. In addition, the franchise owner had much more flexibility and thus the opportunity to spend as much time as he felt necessary with each client. There was however, a booklet with foods from which the client was supposed to choose, and therefore they did not have the option of introducing their own foods into the program. As with Nutri-system, the weigh-ins and visits were based more on compliance to the program and less on emotional components that might have been getting in the way of their following the program correctly. Because at that time, the franchise owner was not trained in the coaching process, it was difficult for him to veer away from giving advice and for him to uncover what factors might have been seated underneath a client’s non-compliant behaviors. In short, his counseling was compliance-oriented rather than client-oriented. It is difficult to know if utilizing coaching competencies would have brought about more success for the clients in terms of weight-loss and weight-maintenance than it did, but the facts remain that virtually 99% of the clients at that time either did not reach their intended goal weight and/or did not maintain their weight-loss for even one year after they had lost all of their desired weight. After about four years at The Diet Center, the author of this paper left the diet- franchise business, because it had become apparent that in reality diets did not work!
Coaching Experiences in the Area of Weight-Control
The author of this paper worked with a total of five clients in the area of weight-control. One of them was a neighbor and came in weekly for personal coaching. The other four were done over the phone. Of those four, one was a very close friend who had had lap band surgery last year and was already losing weight, but welcomed the idea of coaching in order to spur her on and keep her focused on her healthy lifestyle goals. The three others were ICA students, who were very interested in losing weight and thus found this coach on the forum and contacted him. Except for the client who had already started losing weight according to a plan she had devised for herself, the other four were given guidelines to follow, based on the coach’s own personal experience and education in the field. However, he was extra careful not to tell them specifically what to eat and how to distribute their meals. They were each followed up with one once a week and were coached rather than counseled. In other words, they were asked powerful questions, supported in coming up with their own solutions and acknowledged rather than advised. Of the five clients that were coached, two of them were very successful in terms of losing their desired weight. Another one had over 100 pounds to lose, and although she stated that she had been ready when she initially contacted this coach, she later realized that she had a lot of road blocks to losing weight, both logistically and emotionally and had ultimately decided to put her weight-loss venture on hold. This coach’s friend is still losing weight, although more slowly than she would like. She is, however, still very motivated, and because of that will most likely continue to make healthy choices for the foreseeable future. The neighborhood client was not been very successful on the scale per se, but feels much better about herself for making healthier choices and for getting on the right track. Because she had and continues to have a lot of stress factors in her life, she stated that she always felt great about coming in and being able to talk about them.
At one time or another during the coaching process, each and every client took some time to talk about what was going on with them emotionally in other areas of their lives as opposed to how they were doing on their weight-loss program. They all indicated that it was refreshing for them to be able to break free from the weight-loss mentality from time to time and focus on their emotional well-being. This is where the coaching process becomes a most valuable tool for the client. It helps both the coach and the client focus on the client as a whole person, rather than just as a person being coached on losing weight and the numbers on the scale. It is difficult to conclude if these people were any more successful at being coached in the area of weight-control according to the author’s skillset and knowledge base than they would have been on any of the more traditional programs on the market, but it was observed by the author that they felt good about themselves during the process and gained some more insight into what was lying underneath the surface. This should help them in the future to overcome any healthy lifestyle challenges that may resurface from time to time.
Conversation with Chere Bork
The first wellness coach interviewed was Chere Bork of chereBork.com/Savor your life today, (Personal phone conversation on April 5, 2012). She is a dietician and also has her masters degree in nutrition. She has been a certified coach since 2003, and makes her living with one on one coaching, group calls, seminars and workshops. She was asked what the main difference was between what she did as a dietician and what she now does as a coach. She said that as a registered dietician, “I was the “expert” and I used to tell clients what to do. Now as a wellness coach, I help clients find their own answers. They are in charge, and as a result they come up with their own goals. First they establish a vision, then they took a look at motivators, and finally they develop three month goals.” As a dietician, she only saw her clients sporadically, maybe once a month or so. Now as a wellness coach, she sees her clients every week, either in person or on the phone. She sees now that change is a process, not a state. In other words, getting healthy is a continuous process and does not have a clear-cut beginning and ending point. She went on to say that this has really changed how she works with her clients. She said that she sees much better results now than what she used to see, and the results are more sustainable, which she was very happy about. She now focuses on habits and who they want to be, not just what they want to do. In addition, it is important how their behaviors relate to their personal needs and values and to their hearts and not their brains. She said, “If you tie it to their brains, it becomes about doing. If you tie it to their hearts, it becomes about their values and what is important to them.”
Chere did not have statistics on how many of her coaching clients were able to maintain their lifestyle changes and ultimately keep their weight off indefinitely. She did however feel confident that her coaching approach was a more powerful way to go. In effect, Chere indicated that coaching was about eliciting responses from her clients on what was important to them. She also emphasized that whatever process the client chose had to align with their core values and come from the heart.
What Chere stressed the most was that tying a client’s healthy lifestyle goals to their core values and what was in their heart was extremely important. This coach had always asked a client why it was important for them to lose weight initially, but he seldom mentioned it again as they continued to struggle with losing weight. Now he will focus more on healthy lifestyle changes and continue to remind them of how those changes align with their core values throughout the coaching process. This should help them to stay more focused on why they want to adopt a healthier lifestyle in general and make it easier for them to permanently incorporate healthier habits into their life around food and eating.