The Making of a Lifestyle Coach

VendittiReflections of a Health Psychologist and Trainer of Behavioral Lifestyle Interventionists

By Elizabeth M. Venditti, PhD

As someone who is often called upon to share my expertise related to principles of healthy lifestyle behavior change I note with more than a touch of irony that I spend many days sitting at a computer for ten hours or more.  This includes eating my lunch desk side (a nutritious one, packed from home) while taking conference calls or answering emails that I try to keep to less than 1,000 in the inbox.  This doesn’t feel as balanced as it could or should but it comes with the territory of being a researcher in a large medical center.  Being desk bound for a living is something I share with millions of others and scientists are starting to study the best ways to intervene (1). I’ve stumbled upon my own best ways to break up sitting with marching in place or stretching while waiting for the microwave to cook my lunch. I’ve learned how to make excuses to take little walks to deliver mail across campus.  Helping others to solve dozens of “day in the life” problems like these is what good lifestyle coaches do.

Teaching lifestyle coaches to implement programs is one of the most enjoyable and energizing things I do as a health psychologist.  It helps that we have an excellent (albeit not perfect) evidence based road-map to guide behavioral weight management and group facilitation for healthy lifestyle.  I love spending the better part of two days on my feet, talking with new groups of interested learners who are eager to elicit from their patients or research volunteers their own personal strategies for moving more, sitting less, and building a healthy yet satisfying diet.   However, lifestyle coaches inevitably do much more than help others achieve a number on the scale and on the pedometer.  The best coaches help their participants fully embrace the daily tedium of making countless little behavior changes so they can move forward with greater skill and competence.  The best coaches know that one of the most important hurdles is to help the learner develop confidence about the process of habit change and not give up on their efforts altogether when they experience slips.

feature20150213When conducting Group Lifestyle Balance™ training programs we cover the same ground (principles of behavior change) over and over again but it never seems tedious or boring to me.  Rather it feels very human and connected and universal. Psychology teaches us that it is 100% normal to avoid making changes when we are ambivalent.  Often the first step is self-acceptance followed quickly by a willingness to learn new ways of behaving (2).  Too often, coaches and students get derailed by the latest intense debates about a particular nutrient or Dr. “I Peddle Weight Loss Remedies on TV”.

There are indeed many compelling avenues of empirical research that may one day help those who struggle to maintain weight loss and prevent diabetes do so even more effectively (3) but in the meantime many of our citizens are looking for high quality lifestyle prevention programs to get started, right now.  Creating a good and sustainable model for training high quality lifestyle coaches is a critical step in this process.

I look forward to the next energizing Group Lifestyle Balance training workshop in Pittsburgh!

What have you learned as a lifestyle coach about the human journey toward good health? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. For more on lifestyle coaching and diabetes prevention, be sure to subscribe to our blog.