Are we spending too much time talking to our clients about food?
I think it’s time to clear up the misconception that Health Coaching is for people who want to find a new way of eating. Yes “food” is inevitably a part of health and wellness coaching. Clients frequently set goals around specific nutritional improvements but these goals are only one part of the change process.
Yet we are hearing more and more confusion around the term “Health and Wellness Coaching” (particularly “Health Coaching”) as people believe a health coach’s role is to help their clients find the ultimate state of wellness through food. By sharing their knowledge of what they believe to be the magic formula for health through nutrition, their client will achieve all their wellness goals. This is not health and wellness coaching.
Our profession is growing. In the U.S. there is now a Medical Board certified exam for health and wellness coaches with rigorous criteria around training and experience. And the international version is not far behind. And guess what? Only 20% of the competencies relate to health and wellness knowledge; the other 80% is to coaching competencies. And of the 20%, Nutrition is 1 of 16 of the competencies in that category. The exam therefore gives about 1.25% of its focus to healthy eating. Health and wellness is so much more than food.
Now I love food. In fact, on a recent trip I felt frustrated when I kept being served what seemed like platefuls of white food! I didn’t think to myself, “now where’s the B12 or calcium in this meal?” I looked for a variety in colour, taste, shape and texture – the things that appeal to me and give me an appetite (and generally lead to a well-balanced diet). I came back to Australia realising how lucky we are in the availability of so many fresh nutrients.
So what is the role of food in health and wellness? This is the way I see it:
- Food fuels us
- Food is a tremendous source of pleasure – it is a way of showing love, of sharing special time with loved ones and forms part of our culture.
- Insufficient or imbalance in nutrients can cause a host of medical problems
- Food can heal us – to a degree.
- Specific sports performance requires careful examination of daily intake. However,
- For many people food now represents the holy grail. They have discovered a way of eating that has worked for them and they want to share that knowledge.
- For others food has become an obsession and is linked to emotional eating for comfort or other less useful reasons.
- Food is linked to obesity but is only one of several factors
- Social pressure on being slim has led to an increased obsession with food.
So can obsessing about food be detrimental to our health? I think so.
Here’s another way of looking at it. Wellness, or let’s say, “barriers” to wellness are many and diverse. Poor eating can sometimes be a symptom rather than a cause of other poor lifestyle habits. Here are some links:
- People are overloaded with responsibilities – leads to lack of time and poor meal planning or irregular eating patterns.
- Stress can be caused by many things but the end result is that we don’t believe we have what it takes to do what we have to do – we look for ways of self soothing – poor food and alcohol are frequent choices
- Poor personal organisation – although linked to the above factors can also create a problem with nutrition
- Lack of physical fitness – exercise regulates appetite, not exercising is often tied in with poor eating patterns
- Lack of direction or sense of meaning – food fills the gap
- Poor sleep patterns – research has shown this is linked to obesity – the more tired we are the more we eat and not necessarily the good stuff
- Negative thinking and lack of self-belief –food becomes a reward and a punishment
Jim and Janice Prochaska, in their book, “Changing to Thrive” note that people do better working on multiple behaviors in parallel. For example, establishing regular activity usually increases engagement with healthy eating. Which is the chicken and which is the egg?
You may not agree with all that’s written above, but what is apparent is that food is not the only answer. People need support in many areas and my concern is that if we make food the answer, we increase the growing obsession that so many people have with what they put in their mouth. (If 95% of your Facebook posts this year have been pictures of food, then this is about you. Unless you are selling something. But maybe you are.)
Food should be a pleasure, not a source of deprivation or guilt. Our nutrition is only one factor in our health.
So, if you are a Coach who works purely in the area of FOOD, please consider calling yourself a Food or Nutrition Coach – not a Health and Wellness Coach. Then we start to have clarity. And perhaps there needs to be separate credentialing for this type of work. Dieticians and Nutritionists would no doubt have valuable input.
Health and Wellness Coaches support people in achieving self-determined goals which involve often changing multiple behaviours and habits. Providing information on food and nutrition if it is requested by the client and if it is within the scope of our background and training.
If you agree with this article, or any of it, please SHARE so we can reduce confusion around this growing profession. If you disagree, then please comment. Let’s get some conversation going around this topic and see if we can clarify what Health and Wellness Coaching is and what it isn’t