National Board Certification for Health & Wellness Coaches

I’m taking a brief detour from my journey around the Wheel of Health to share some exciting news! I found out yesterday that I passed the new national certification exam for health and wellness coaches. I am now officially a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (or NBC-HWC, for short). I am very proud to be one of the inaugural coaches to hold this distinction – and I want to share a few thoughts on why this national certification is so important.

Until now, anyone could essentially hang a shingle and call themselves a health coach regardless of whether they have had any education, training or experience as a coach. There are many individuals who are passionate about health and wellness, and long to share that passion with others based on their own experience and self-study. I think that passion is wonderful and that’s where I started back as a young adult in high school and college, taking ownership of my health and wellbeing for the first time.  However, I quickly realized that there was a lot that I did not know when it came to health and the science of behavior change, so I chose to pursue formal education and training in that profession.

I earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Public Health, with a concentration in Health Behavior and Health Education, and I have held the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) credential since 1998. I have always identified as a health educator even when my official title may not have reflected that role. A few years ago, I decided to pursue additional training as a health coach. I have to admit that before I completed my coach training at Duke Integrative Medicine, I thought a health coach was essentially the same thing as a health educator. I would advise people about how to improve their health. I would share resources and essentially tell them what changes they needed to make around their diet, exercise, sleep and so on to be healthy. Boy, was I wrong.

My health coach training was eye-opening, even for someone who has been in the healthcare field for 20 years. I learned that coaching is a client-centered process – that the client is the expert on his or her own health, not me. As a coach, I am the expert in the process of health behavior change, but I am here as a partner and a guide for my clients. I help them define their personal vision of optimal health, create goals and action steps to achieve that vision, and provide support and encouragement as they incorporate new health behaviors into their lives. I don’t tell them what to do to be healthy, I empower them to find the answers within themselves. And I do this mostly by listening carefully and asking key questions to help reveal those answers. Simple, yet so powerful.

I share all this to help you understand that there is still great variability among health coaches right now, as these new national certification standards are just starting to be implemented. For this reason, I encourage you to do your homework and review the credentials of any coach with whom you may consider working. Although this is not medical care, where you could be harmed if treated by a professional that does not meet minimum professional standards, it is in your best interest to work with a coach who has had adequate training. After all, you want to achieve the best outcome possible – to be in your best health – especially if you are paying out of pocket for your coaching experience.

The International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching (ICHWC) has been working since 2010 to create these national standards for health and wellness coaches. In 2016, they partnered with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) to establish a national certification for individual health and wellness coaches. The NBME  has been credentialing medical professionals for 100 years, and they applied the same rigor to the health and wellness coach exam as they have for other medical professional credentialing exams. Therefore, this national certification will allow proficient coaches to stand apart from coaches who have not received adequate coach training or assessment of their coaching skills and knowledge.

You can learn more about the Consortium and the National Board Certification of Health & Wellness Coaches here. The Consortium will soon be creating an online registry to include all health and wellness coaches who are National Board Certified, making it easier to find a qualified coach to assist you on your journey to optimal health. After all, if you are going to invest in your health, why not choose a partner who can best help you succeed?

Personal and Professional Development

As I discussed in my previous post about the Wheel of Health, your wellbeing encompasses more than just physical health. Today we will explore the importance of personal and professional development on your journey to optimal health. For many people, these two areas are closely related, which is why I have chosen to discuss them together.

Personal and professional endeavors can be a source of enjoyment and energy, or emotional drain and stress. Some individuals have personal lives that are fulfilling with family, friends and hobbies that provide joy and meaning, while others have not yet reached the place of contentment they desire. The same may be true professionally – some people have careers that are meaningful and resonate with their purpose and values in life, whereas others struggle in demanding jobs that provide little personal or professional rewards. There are also many people who struggle to find balance across these two domains. Regardless of where you are personally and professionally, these areas of your life can affect your health either positively or negatively.

Like other areas on the Wheel of Health, Personal and Professional Development is very personal and varies from person to person. In general, we are referring to whatever gives you meaning and purpose in life – those activities that give you a sense of fulfillment and joy. It may be your family or your work (or both!); it may be continuously learning new things or volunteering through your church. It can be relationships with family, friends or colleagues at the office. Personal and professional development means exploring your own values and finding out what brings you joy and meaning.

Personal Development

For some people, personal development may be tied very closely to their professional pursuits. For others, it may be very distinct. For almost all of us, optimal health may best be achieved by balancing the two, which we will explore later in this post.

There are several areas of the Wheel of Health that relate to personal development, such as spirituality, relationships and communication, and mindful awareness.  However, personal development goes beyond the Wheel and can include topics such as music, art, reading, travel, gardening, and other hobbies and intellectual pursuits. Activities that bring us pleasure and satisfaction enhance our sense of contentment, joy and overall wellbeing. These may be “doing” activities such as those mentioned above, but they can also include “being” activities – for example, star-gazing, sitting on the beach, or meditating on a mountaintop. All of these things can be sources of deep personal development.

Professional Development

For many people, being involved in meaningful work can bring a profound sense of satisfaction and joy. You may have heard the saying: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” These individuals have a sense of meaning and purpose, knowing they are contributing to the world in a way that has significant meaning to them and a positive impact on others. However, there are others who find themselves in careers or work that drains them, and it can negatively impact their health. Many times, dealing with stress, dissatisfaction or boredom with one’s work leads individuals to make poor choices around food, alcohol or drugs.  I have worked with several clients who, through exploration of all areas of the Wheel of Health, realized that their job was the root cause of their health problems, such as weight gain or lack of sleep. They chose to focus on finding new work that was less demanding and would allow them to prioritize their health and wellbeing.

Professional development can also entail taking stock of where you are and where you want to go in your professional endeavors. Perhaps it means going back to school for an advanced degree to move up the ladder at work – or shifting roles within your given profession to allow for more time with your family. For others, it may mean a complete change in career focus to better align with their values and goals.

Balancing Personal and Professional Development

Many people find it challenging to balance their personal goals with the demands of their professional endeavors. Finding enough time and energy to focus on both can be stressful. Often times, the demands of full-time work can leave us with little time or energy for family and our personal pursuits. For others who have given up careers to raise a family or pursue other goals, they may find that they miss feeling “productive” or that their skills are going to waste.

Being mindfully aware of how you have structured your life and the impact it is having on your physical, mental and emotional health can help you achieve optimal health. It is helpful to assess where you are with personal, career or life goals, particularly at times of transition or milestones. These may include work-life balance, financial goals, and personal growth that will support optimal wellbeing. Regular assessment of your goals can also reinforce healthy behavior choices.

Below are some questions that can help you develop greater awareness of how your personal and professional endeavors are fostering or hindering your optimal health. Feel free to choose the questions that are most relevant for you. Take time to reflect deeply, perhaps writing down your responses or sharing them with someone you trust.

  • If money and time were no object, what would you love to do that would bring you a profound sense of satisfaction, joy and/or purpose?

 

  • How balanced are your work (what you do to earn a living) and your personal interests? What would you need to do to bring them more into balance?

 

  • If you continue with your current balance of personal and professional development, including time and energy spent on each, how will your life be 5 years from now? 10 years from now?

 

  • Is there a dream that you would like to resurrect and pursue? How are you stopping yourself? What are some first steps you could take to start pursuing that dream?

 

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

I had the opportunity to attend a program at Duke Integrative Medicine last week focused on Decoding the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Before we move on from the topic of nutrition, I thought I would share a few highlights from this program that may be helpful on your healthy eating journey.

Inflammation: acute vs. chronic

 You’ve probably heard or read about eating a diet that reduces chronic inflammation in the body, but why is this so important? As you may know, there are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the immune system’s natural response to heal an injury or fight an infection – and it’s a good thing. It’s meant to be short-term and stop after the injury or infection is gone. However, research has shown that many of us are now subject to chronic, or ongoing, inflammation that is linked to several preventable chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. One example of how this works: if you have fat build up in the walls of your heart’s arteries, the body responds by sending inflammatory chemicals, as it sees this as an “injury” to the heart. This ongoing inflammatory response could trigger a blood clot that causes a heart attack or stroke.

Why diet matters

You may be wondering what food has to do with inflammation and chronic diseases. We now know that diet plays a critical role –  the types of food you eat affect how much inflammation you have.  There are some foods that can cause this inflammatory response (“prooxidants”) and some foods that help prevent it (“antioxidants”). The recommendations are probably not surprising, and my goal is to offer an overview of the general recommendations about what foods to eat and which to avoid if you want to reduce chronic inflammation in your body.

Basic recommendations of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

  • Eat whole foods which are minimally processed before purchase. Once again, we are back to the advice that if it comes in a box or bag and has more than five or so ingredients on the label, it’s best to put it back on the shelf and keep shopping. Keep reading to learn more about which whole foods are best for reducing chronic inflammation in the body.

 

  • Choose a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. You have probably heard the expression “eat the rainbow” meaning select fruits and veggies from all the color families, from red to violet (don’t forget white too). The reason behind this approach is each color provides particular nutrients that help your body function at its best. For example, orange-hued fruits and veggies offer plenty of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, plus vitamin A and often vitamin C. These nutrients help with eyesight, immune function and healthy skin. Choices include butternut squash, oranges, carrots, mangoes, pumpkins, sweet potato, and cantaloupe. Click here for more examples of how to eat the rainbow.

 

  • Choose whole grains over refined grains, including non-wheat grains. This may be one of the most challenging changes for most people as it means limiting foods made with refined grains such as white bread, white rice, cookies and cakes, and replacing them with healthier options such as whole wheat bread and brown rice. Whole grains are rich in antioxidants, B vitamins and they are high in fiber, which is great for digestion and regularity. There are many choices when it comes to whole grains, so if you cannot or prefer not to eat wheat or gluten, you can select grains such as quinoa, millet, whole oats, or buckwheat.

 

  • Rethink your protein sources. If you choose to eat meat, opt for fatty fish such as Wild Alaskan salmon; organic, grass-fed lean meats; or skinless poultry from organic, cage-free chickens. If you eat eggs, choose omega-3-enriched eggs or organic eggs from free-range chickens. However, not all protein has to come from animal sources. Consider replacing some meat options with plant-based proteins including beans, nuts and seeds. Some examples include black beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and lentils (note: you can use canned versions, just drain and rinse them before use). Beans are rich in folic acid, magnesium, potassium and soluble fiber. You can eat them either whole or pureed into spreads like hummus.

 

  • Eat foods rich in essential fatty acids. Did you know there are certain fatty acids, needed for cell membrane integrity and chemical transport, that your body cannot make on its own? These include the omega-3 and omega-6 dietary fats. Each of these has a number of health benefits for your body. However, it’s important to get the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet as an imbalance may contribute to a number of chronic diseases. Although omega-6 fatty acids have many helpful benefits, they also have some prooxidant or pro-inflammatory effects; thus, the need to limit them in our diet. The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is 4:1 or less. However, for most of us that ratio is between 10:1 and 50:1, so we need to try to reduce our omega-6 intake and increase our omega-3 intake. Below are some examples of each:

 

  • The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. If you cannot or prefer not to eat fish, alternative sources include chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds – or you can take a fish oil supplement.

 

  • The most common sources of omega-6 fats are refined vegetable oils, such as soybean and corn, and foods cooked in those vegetable oils. In addition, these fats are found in foods like mayonnaise, walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds and cashew nuts. You may now see why the standard American diet contains more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids.

 

Before moving on from fats, let’s take a moment to discuss the “bad” fats that you want to reduce or preferably eliminate from your diet due to their harmful effects. There are two types of fat that should be eaten sparingly: saturated and trans fatty acids (or trans fats). Both can raise cholesterol levels, clog arteries, and increase the risk for heart disease.  Saturated fats are found in animal products (e.g., meat, poultry skin, butter, and eggs) and in vegetable fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as coconut and palm oils. Trans fats are used extensively in frying, baked goods, cookies, icings, crackers, packaged snack foods, microwave popcorn, and some margarines. Bottom line: you want to reduce your intake of these two types of fat as much as possible in favor of the healthier fats discussed above.

Some of you may be wondering where dairy products fit into this diet. We discussed some dairy products such as eggs and butter. In general, the recommendation is to limit whole-fat dairy products, and choose high-quality natural cheeses, such as Swiss or Parmesan, and yogurt (just be careful of products with high sugar content). When it comes to dairy products, this is one area where you may want to listen to your body and how it handles dairy products. For some, dairy can have inflammatory effects particularly in the gastrointestinal area and/or in the sinuses. If that is the case, consider dairy alternatives such as milk and cheeses made with soy, or almond.

I hope this information helps take some of the mystery out of the anti-inflammatory diet. If you believe your current diet needs improvement based on these recommendations, just remember that you can succeed by taking small steps, one at a time. You don’t have to completely revamp your entire diet overnight. Start with one recommendation and choose one small change you can make this week. Good luck!