Wellness Coaching: The Future of Dietetics?

Zeina Ghossoub El-Aswad

In the next two articles, I will be describing two trends in the science of nutrition and dietetics nthat may very well shape the way we practice this wonderful science. 

You have seen me write time and time again about the challenges we face to "get the job done”. In this case, the "job” is living healthy, no matter how we get to the "healthy” part. You see, it is a journey. Like all journeys, they are different for different people. It has been my philosophy to try and provide you with general guidelines, a road map, if you will, that can serve as a rough guide to everyone. However, each journey is different, and each journey has its own challenges, difficulties, obstacle and course. Ultimately, the goal is to live healthy. 

So, with that in mind, let me describe in some detail the concept of wellness coaching. The words are self explanatory, really. Wellness implies health and prosperity. As you know by now, health and prosperity involve many aspects, not just the nutritional or medical part. We are complex being, and as such, our demands are complex. The WHO defines health as biological, physical, social, psychological and emotional. The science of nutrition obviously deals with the biological and physical parts; but what of the rest? 

Coaching: as defined in Wikipedia, and I quote, is "a structured process-driven relationship between a trained professional coach and an individual or team which includes: assessment, examining values and motivation, setting measurable goals, defining focused action plans and using validated behavioural change tools and techniques to assist them to develop competencies and remove blocks to achieve valuable and sustainable changes in their professional and personal life.” In that definition lies the essence of what a coach is. Simply put, a coach is a trained professional who works with a client to help him/her reach their goals. The goal is simple: Health, according to the WHO.

The Coach You have read about proper nutrition, seen countless articles, and by now, hopefully, have some idea of the notion of healthy eating.  

If I say: Football coach, most of you have no problems identifying with a coach teaching the techniques and tactics of football. How does one become a "life” coach, a "wellness coach”? 

The answer: You study and get the degree. Great, now what? Well, being a professional executive and life coach, let me share with you a few ideas. 

Recently, over the past few years, there has been a noticeable increase in the coaching part of dietetics. Coaches have existed for many years and most of them have been utilized in businesses to basically make them more efficient and reach their targets better. We have now extrapolated that approach to one’s health. The unique gift of coaching is that it can target a small group or a single person. Ofcourse, working one on one is always better to achieve optimum results.

Coaching goes through several stages. Basically, they are: Entering, Contracting, Assessing, Ongoing coaching, and Concluding.

We start of with identifying the main goals of the patient. That may occupy most of the time allocated for coaching. It is not a simple matter. Every patient comes in with different expectations. A coach will discuss these expectations, goals and aspirations, identify the tools each patient has (social support, intellectual ability, resources (financial, physical…) as well any other factor that can be used to achieve the desired goals. After the initial assessment, the coach has to put forth a plan of action that takes into consideration everything needed and discuss it with the patient as they come up with a personalized plan. The plan, again, takes into consideration all the aspects of health, all the resources of the patient, all the means of the patient, and identifies achievable goals. So far, this sounds like a dietitian working.

True, but with a twist!

The coach part of all of this is to identify, using special tools and techniques, each person’s weaknesses, strengths, limitations and help that person achieve maximum results by relying on his or her strongest assets. You have frequently heard people say that a player may have raw talent and will need a good coach to maximize that talent. The same applies her.

The final outcome is a plan of attack, an action plan that will encompass all the discussions, use all the data and information, set a realistic goal, utilize each patient’s maximum efforts and reach the desired outcomes. 

The final outcome is a plan of attack, an action plan that will encompass all the discussions, use all the data and information, set a realistic goal, utilize each patient’s maximum efforts and reach the desired outcomes. 

Last year, I was visited by a 43 year old mother of three. She had a full time job, a caring husband and good social support system. She was interested n "feeling better”. She had been gaining weight and had been finding herself more and more "down” as she mentions it. She had visited several doctors, most of whom had prescribed antidepressants after diagnosing her with a mild form of depression. Nothing was working. She continued to feel "bad” and continued to have health issues related to her weight gain.  

When she visited me, we sat down and had a long discussion about what she perceives to be her problem. We were able to identify a few things that were the most important: Weight, health in general, her sad feelings and their effects on her marriage and family life, and her career. Needless to say, this is a typical approach and as you can see, it encompasses so many facets of her life. In fact, I would argue that no successful weight loss program or health program can work without taking all of these into consideration. 

Over a period of time, we were able to set her goals, identify her true problems, discuss her strong points and weaknesses, and put a plan in motion that is realistic and achievable. My job was to make sure that this patient, with her own set of "raw talent”, can become a superstar in her own life. I used certain evaluation (psychological and personality) tools as well as nutritional measurements and assessments.

1 year later, I am happy to report her life has been transformed. She is still working on herself. Frequently, we find out our problems are deep rooted and if it takes us 43 years to get them, it will take us some time to undo the damage that has been done, get on the right track and achieve our goals.

Dietetics is the science of applied nutrition. Coaching is a science that involves maximizing one’s potential to achieve one’s goals. Research has shown that the combination of the two will help achieve optimum results. Our health is extremely complex. It needs a complex approach. Luckily, that is now more achievable.

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