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The Importance of Health Coaching in Medicine


The term “health coach” is a term you have likely heard thrown around if you are at all involved in the health and wellness community. In fact, online health coaching has grown exponentially over the last few years. It is a popular career choice among those who desire the flexibility and self-fulfillment that comes along with helping others with their health and nutrition using an online platform. As you probably know, both Jaci and myself are certified through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN) as health coaches. Because the training we received through IIN was integral to the development of “Follow Your Gut MDNP,” I decided to devote this week’s blog post to discussing the importance of health coaching and nutrition in the conventional medical world. You also may know that I gave a presentation on this topic at the “IIN Live” event in Miami last month. The feedback I received was incredibly encouraging, so I wanted to share some of the message of the presentation with you, our readers.


I often get asked why I decided to do the IIN program in the first place. My initial motivation was to further my knowledge in nutrition. As sad as it sounds, us physicians are not adequately trained in nutrition and its relationship to health and disease. While we do get a brief, 1-2 hour overview of the National Food Guide and are educated about the basic macronutrients, that is hardly enough considering that the majority of chronic diseases are, at their root, related to lifestyle factors. Any nutritional knowledge I had going into the program was the result of self-directed learning- and I think I speak for my fellow conventionally trained medical practitioners when I say this!


Although nutrition education was, by far, what attracted me to IIN, it was the program’s depth of focus on primary foods such as relationships, career, physical activity, and spirituality that kept me hooked. As a physician, I can tell you right now that I can counsel my chronic disease patients on nutrition and medical therapies until I am blue in the face. But without taking a look at, and addressing, the underlying factors in their life that may be contributing to their physical and/or mental health issues, I am missing a vital aspect to their healing. And this is where health coaches truly shine.


The reality is, us physicians have limited time with a patient. Even if we WANT to council them on lifestyle changes and nutrition, we often have to direct our focus towards diagnosing, managing medications, and ordering investigations. Having a health coach within the practice gives us medical providers a way to provide patients with the mentorship they need and helps to integrate the medical and holistic aspects of health. For me to give generalized and superficial advice like “you have to eat healthier and exercise more” is not helpful for a patient. They need someone to sit down with them and really take the time to learn about their current lifestyle and identify areas that need to be improved. They need someone to give them that one on one support and accountability that I, as a physician that has, at most, 15minutes with them, cannot provide.


I say all of this to emphasize the importance of the role of health coaches. If you are a medical provider, I encourage you to consider integrating one into your practice if at all possible. If you are a health coach yourself, I encouraged you to reach out to physicians in your community to discuss how working with you could help benefit their practice. And if you are neither or these, I urge you to seek out a trained health coach to help you reach your health and wellness goals. Without health coaches taking an active role within the medical community, we will surely continue to see diseases rooted in lifestyle factors increase exponentially. I think I speak for a lot of my medical colleagues when I say that we NEED them.


On a personal note, I want to note how grateful I am that I had the opportunity to experience the IIN program and how much it benefited me- both as a person and as a physician. Not only did it help to build on my nutritional knowledge- which not only benefits me but my patients- it enhanced my counseling skills and awareness of primary foods and their role in health and disease. The program has forced me to take a look at the areas of my own life that need work and attention and forced me to step out of my comfort zone. It encouraged me to make some changes within my career as a physician that are allowing me to practice in a way that is more in line with my values and passions. It even inspired Jaci and I to start sharing those values and passions with YOU, our readers, in the form of this website and blog.


Lastly, I want to remind you (especially if you are a fellow medical provider) that it was Hippocrates, the grandfather of medicine, who said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I think it’s time to stop neglecting this philosophy and give nutrition and lifestyle factors the attention they deserve in the conventional medical world.


As always, continue to follow your gut,


Erin

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