News and Events

Who can forget 2020, the year full of adversity, fear, and constant change? Now that we have faced shutdown and survived COVID, how can we reach a place where we can move forward and begin to thrive again? This series of workshops will explore this question and dive deeper into the stress responses of survival, shutdown, and social engagement and implore participants to move from shutdown and survival modes to the active, socially engaged mode of thriving.

We invite you to join us for a FREE virtual monthly spring series brought to you by UNCG Health Coaching Programs and HealthyUNCG. Series will be presented by Amber Reed, Board Certified Health Coach & Qualified Mental Health Professional.

This is a 4 part series, held the first Tuesday of each month beginning March 2nd at noon.

Workshop titles and brief descriptions are listed below and in the attached flyer. While each workshop can stand alone, participants will receive the most benefit by attending all sessions. Zoom link will be the same for all 4 sessions and reminders will be sent.

Register here via Eventbrite

Session 1, March 2nd: What Happens In Vagus, Doesn’t Stay In Vagus

Got stress? The better question probably is, “Who doesn’t?” Our routines, lives, and social support systems have been turned upside down over the past year trying to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. This workshop will look deeper into our body’s stress response system and introduce polyvagal theory, a newer way of thinking about our reactions to stress which posits that the nervous system is made up of three branches instead of the more well-known two. Participants will have the opportunity to identify signs and symptoms of stress, quantify their level of stress and assess their perception of it. Long-term strategies to lessen stress (and build resilience) will be discussed, along with ways to cope with acute stress and reduce it as needed throughout the day. Participants should leave with an idea of how to work toward the goal of stress reduction.

Session 2, April 6th: Freeze: Tag! You’re It!

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by life or circumstances that you didn’t know how to proceed, questioned your judgment, or doubted your ability to change things for the better? Much like the game Freeze Tag played as a kid, the Freeze response leaves us unable to move from our current state of overwhelm, leaving us waiting for someone or something to tag us back into life. Following up on the first workshop in the series, this workshop will look specifically at the Freeze response to stress and how it can manifest itself as burnout, depression, and shutdown. Participants will be able to identify signs and symptoms of the freeze response, assess their risk, and begin to explore strategies to get moving again and prevent burnout in the future.

Session 3, May 4th: Moving Mindfully: Strategies for Moving Out of Stress, Fatigue & Burnout

What is movement? Does it conjure up images of extreme exercise, contorted yogi masters, perfect bodies, or dread? Further, is it enough to only move our bodies as society may suggest, or do we also want to move our minds and spirits to be able to gracefully navigate our lives? This workshop explores personal definitions of movement and attempts to redefine and reframe the ideas we have around movement, thereby making it applicable to many areas of well-being. Through the use of mindfulness techniques and self-care, participants will begin to move and connect these ideas to mind, body and spirit in ways that empower and guide them toward change, as well as toward resiliency.

Session 4, June 1st: Forget Motivation. Got Drive?

What motivates you to make changes? If motivation is enough, then why do many of us lose momentum and find it hard to change? This workshop will argue that while motivation is a moving force that gets us going, it alone just may not be enough to lead to lasting change. This is where drive comes in, changing the trajectory by sustaining motivational forces. Insights into motivation and drive, as well as building awareness around personal drives and resiliency factors will be discussed. Participants should leave with the information they need to create an action plan that incorporates self-care and stress mastery into their lives, thus guiding them toward self-efficacy, change, and ultimately greater resiliency and social engagement.

Click Here to Register

Amber Reed
Email: adkey@uncg.edu
Pronouns: she/her/hers

Amber Reed takes time to refresh her own sense of wellbeing first before helping others take the best care of themselves. For ten years, Amber spent her career in academia and teaching before she decided to take time for herself with a focus on self-care and personal wellness. A realization that some of her painful medical struggles were something she didn’t want others to go through is an important part of understanding her story and journey.

  “So you plant your own garden and embellish your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring flowers to you.”
 -Jorge Luis Borges

Amber tended to her own garden. After completing her BS in Nutrition at UNCG , Amber had a realization and sums it up to say she “…didn’t want to tell people what to do.” Health coaching became a way for Amber to be able to help people look for ways to care for themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She even thinks of health coaching as the “missing piece” in the health care system.

With three degrees from UNC Greensboro in Biology, Nutrition, and Sociology (as well as a minor in psychology), Amber added the credential of National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) to qualifications. Amber’s current position as a Peer Support Specialist at a local non-profit is balanced with her health coaching practice Balanced Energies, LLC. And Amber doesn’t stop there! She is certified in Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and HeartMath as well. Along with her long list of accolades, she is taking several courses which will result in her becoming a certified and registered yoga teacher in the upcoming future.

Any of Amber’s clients can expect an empathetic ear- a special time away from the busy day where you can express your feelings, needs and fears and be heard. Amber has a calming presence that may have come from her academic accomplishments yet could be informed by her self-compassion and personal journey to wellness. Amber’s coaching practice incorporates a range of strategies to assist her clients as they create sustainable change in their life. From a healthy mind and body with even a focus on gut health, if the client is interested. While the pandemic may have caused a dip in her coaching practice, you can be sure to know Amber is still tending to her garden and continues to share her harvest with all around her.

Written by Faith Culbertson

In her free time, Beate enjoys brewing her own Kombucha, making her own yogurt, growing sprouts and microgreens, broadening her knowledge and use of mindfulness, and introducing children to meditation by volunteering at local schools. 

Clear your mind. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Hold for a few seconds. Release your breath slowly through your mouth. Repeat as needed. You just participated in a mini-mindfulness exercise by breathing with intention, and refocusing your mind to the present. 

The practice of mindfulness may be new to some, but Beate Winterstein has been studying and integrating mindful practices into her personal and professional life for years. Before becoming a Certified Health Coach through UNCG, Beate had earned her Masters in psychology while still living in Germany. She became interested in mindfulness as a tool for herself to reduce stress and gain insight into her emotional health. Beate took several courses and trainings to better understand how mindfulness worked, and the proposed benefits of practicing intentionality in all aspects of life. After grasping the basics, Beate gradually began introducing different mindful practices and exercises to her children as a way of validating their feelings, and working through emotions they couldn’t otherwise communicate. It wasn’t until she started learning about mindfulness that she realized it was absent from her work in psychology, and was a missing component in a therapy setting. Upon hearing about health coaching, it seemed as though her educational background and personal interests had been neatly and conveniently packaged into the role of Health Coach. 

What attracted Beate most to Health Coaching was the consideration coaches have for the person as a whole, rather than just focusing their attention on a singular topic. As many coaches know, coaching clients often come to their first session expecting to tackle one health concern, ranging from healthy eating, to mental health, and even time management. However, a coach’s ability to listen and reflect, while placing the client in the driver’s seat, allows the client to explore how different aspects of their life intersect and connect to their overall wellbeing. These “ah-ha” moments often result in a significant shift in the client’s goals by the conclusion of the coaching relationship. In consideration of and respect for this process, Beate finds that using the Wellness Wheel, discussed during the UNCG training, is one of the most effective methods of teasing out where the client might want to focus their sessions. Not only does the Wellness Wheel help the coach better understand their clients’ needs, a visual representation of different components of life may provide the client with a new sense of clarity.

When working with clients, Beate has found that the most useful tool available to a health coach is maintaining an authentic presence within the coaching sessions. She credits both the Health Coaching training and the mindfulness courses and training she has completed with her ability to successfully sustain authenticity with her clients. Beate has recognized that health coaching and mindfulness have a natural connection that can be used to help her clients work through their emotions, and recognize that their feelings are valid, by using reflections and open ended questions in combination with mindful breathing exercises. Throughout the coaching relationship, it is crucial to remember that clients should lead the conversation, and decide which topics they would like to address. Above all, Beate recognizes that her role as a health coach is to be an accountability partner for her clients, and if they aren’t ready to tackle a topic during a session, it is important that she is skilled in shifting her attention to focus on what the client needs in that moment.

When it comes to taking on new clients, Beate is open to having a diverse client population, with a variety of backgrounds, sexual orientations, racial and ethnic identities, gender identities, and age groups. She recognizes that all people are deserving of someone who genuinely listens to them, and supports them in reaching their goals. The clients she has taken on arrive at their sessions curious and motivated with a vision for their best life, and it is her job as a Health Coach to create a space where the client is able to explore that vision, and empower them to use the skills and knowledge they already have to achieve their goals. As a Certified Health Coach, Beate believes that: 

“Health coaching is a framework for clients to self-discover their vision and values, in order to set goals that are in-line with the latter, and move towards greater wellbeing. It is a journey to discover the knowledge, skills, resources, and support a client already has available in their lives, and apply each of those aspects to help them make personalized, sustainable life changes.”

Beate finds that the most rewarding aspect of her work as a health coach is seeing the beautiful transformations that can take place over the course of just a few sessions with a client.

Mindfulness has played a part in helping Beate understand her role as a Health Coach, particularly as the standards for the field continue to develop. At times, it can be exciting to be a part of a new and upcoming profession, but Beate has realized that a lack of structure can become a challenge when navigating employment and coaching relationships with clients. Beate has found success in taking on private clients, but attests that it has proven challenging to find Health Coach positions available within larger, established organizations. Her background in mindfulness provides a unique twist to the typical health coaching session, and she hopes that she is able to incorporate more of this skill set into her practice moving forward. Beate is hopeful that as the profession becomes more standardized, she will have a better idea of how she can best serve the clients she has, and potentially find more health coaching opportunities with a broader range of clients.

Beate is the perfect example of how every Health Coach brings a unique perspective and a range of skills to their client population. Successful Health Coaches come from all walks of life, with a shared goal of wanting to help people feel empowered, and create sustainable life change. Now, if you take a deep breath in, and clear your mind, can you see yourself as a health and wellness coach?

Written by Alyssa Crawford

Outside of a busy schedule, Tracie enjoys quilting and cycling in her free time. On her long commute to and from work, she likes to listen to Audible books about nutrition, as it has proven to be one of her many passions. After having lived in 15 different cities across the United States, her time in North Carolina has brought about a change of pace that allows her to focus on and enjoy activities in the moment.

Written by Alyssa Crawford

To have the opportunity to talk to Tracie Heavner is to understand what it looks like to integrate the skills and the spirit of health coaching into all aspects of life. Tracie, who is the current Director of the Diabetes Prevention Program for the YMCA’s of Greensboro, participated in UNCG’s Health Coach Training in February of 2018, and was nationally certified within one year of completing our training. Her original desire to become a Certified Health Coach was borne out of her frustration with hearing clients explain to her what they believed their limitations were. She had heard the word “can’t” one too many times, and knew that she needed to gain the necessary skills to help her clients overcome their obstacles. Tracie recognized the importance of listening to the individuals she worked with, giving them an opportunity to talk about their experiences and truly be heard. With her previous background in public health, and specifically chronic disease prevention, behavior modification, and childhood obesity, Tracie was eager to see how health coaching could improve health outcomes for the people she worked with.

Since receiving her certification through UNCG, Tracie has been using her health coaching skills in all areas of her professional life, from working with individuals with diabetes, to leading the cancer survivor’s program LIVESTRONG, and even implementing a tai chi-based fall prevention program. Tracie believes in using health coaching to help the people she works with bring about lifestyle changes that ultimately make them feel better by focusing on their “why”. Why does someone want to lose weight? Why do they want to make a change in their lives? Why do they want to improve their health? Tracie’s goal in finding the why, or the intention, in someone’s life is to understand their motivation, and help them harness that momentum to make long-term change. Her experience over this past year has led to the construction of her own definition of a health coach: A health coach is a skilled partner who works alongside a client to achieve lifestyle and behavioral changes by drawing attention to and helping a client prioritize the “what” and “why” of sustainable and lasting progress.

In reflecting on her impactful year as a health coach, Tracie discussed some of the challenges of health coaching, as well as the skills she finds to be critical when working with clients. As many health coaches may relate to, concluding her time with a client after the allotted number of sessions can pose an immense challenge. Tracie notes that it is important for a health coach to empower their clients to tackle obstacles on their own, ensuring that when the client-coach relationship comes to an end, the client is able to hold themselves accountable for reaching their goals. Another challenge health coaches may face is maintaining positivity when it comes to smaller successes achieved by a client. Lasting change is not accomplished overnight, and Tracie has learned to recognize that even little successes are a big deal. Some of the skills Tracie has found most useful in her role as a health coach are the use of open ended questions, the ability to reflect client statements back to the client, using summative language to check in with her clients, active and reflective listening, and the ability to be comfortable sitting in silence. Each of these skills allows the client to feel in control of their process.

Some of the drawbacks Tracie sees in the field of health coaching is the lack of uniformity in the industry. Especially with the rise of social media, people are labeling themselves as health coaches, life coaches, wellness coaches, and lifestyle coaches, but have no certification to support the information they share through their platforms. In order to uplift the Health Coach credential and the work of health coaches, the credentialing process and the title itself need to be standardized. The goal in doing so is the continued ability of health coaches to help clients identify their goals, and bear witness to their life-changing successes. 

When asked about her clients, Tracie admitted that many of them don’t know what health coaching is when they meet with her for their first session. Many are referred to her for different reasons, sometimes as part of a larger program. Despite this, each of them knows that they want to make a change in their lives, and they want to partner with someone who will help them achieve their goals. Some of the most common issues her clients are looking to work on are weight loss, time management, and stress management, although goals vary from person to person. In describing her clients, Tracie characterized them as highly motivated, eager to change, and always willing to try something new. 

In terms of the skills she has gained from her health coaching experience, the most significant take-away for Tracie has been the applicability of the coaching spirit to every area and every relationship in her life. As the field of health coaching expands, it is imperative that health coaches maintain the central essence of health coaching by prioritizing active listening and creating space for open and explorative conversation.

In May 2018, I graduated with my master’s in public health from UNC Greensboro. This time in my life was exciting, but also horribly stressful. Finding a job was a daunting task. I applied to several positions, went on numerous interviews, and even took a job with a temp agency for a while. I was working outside of my field of study, and although I was happy to have a job, I was certainly not happy with how things were going. Luckily, throughout my time as an MPH student, I had built a personal relationship with UNCG Health Coaching. As a graduate assistant with HealthyUNCG, we had worked closely with the health coaching program and their co-directors, Regina and Dan.

I reached out to Regina who gave me a couple of amazing opportunities. Because I was certified through UNCG Health Coaching, she took a chance on me and gave me a part-time position as their program manager. She also introduced me to the Office of Wellbeing at Wake Forest University where I was hired as a part-time health coach. Within a matter of weeks, I went from a desk job at a temp agency to taking on over 20 health coaching clients and creating a new health coaching services program for UNCG employees. I was suddenly overwhelmingly thankful for those three long days of training back in December of 2016.

Over this past year, I have gained valuable experience managing graduate assistants and volunteer coaches as well as being given the opportunity to practice and fine tune my skills as a health coach. I have now worked with over thirty clients, and I think my biggest takeaway is that there will always be areas of improvement. I still have to check my “righting reflex,” and sometimes I find it difficult to step back and allow the client to be the expert on themselves. I have also found that every client is extremely different and sometimes you have to adjust your coaching style accordingly. I have also had to learn that not all of my clients will walk away from coaching feeling like their lives have changed forever. Additionally, when a client does experience great success and they attribute it to me, I have to step back and help them recognize that their success was not my doing.

This past year has taught me a lot about myself. I’ve developed a coaching style and management style. I’ve realized that I am more capable than I ever thought I could be. I have very much enjoyed my time here with UNCG Health Coaching. However, it is time for new adventures! Back in February of 2019, I was offered a position with Oklahoma State University to be their employee wellness coordinator. I attribute much of this new opportunity to the experience I gained through my graduate assistantship with HealthyUNCG. However, I believe my health coaching certification and the experience I was given in starting a health coaching services program at UNCG, put me over the edge. Soon after I accepted the position, they told me that they wanted to start a health coaching program at OSU and they hoped I would bring it to their campus. Who knew that the three-day health coaching training I took in December of 2016 would lead to my first full-time position in employee wellness?  I know I certainly didn’t. If this experience has taught me anything, it would be that I should never pass up on an opportunity. Who knows where it could lead?

Nicole Puccinelli-Ortega currently works as a Qualitative Research Associate at Wake Forest Baptist Health. After attending our June 2018 training, she now incorporates health coaching into her role as an interventionist on a study with individuals who have survived cancer. She uses motivational interviewing techniques to support them in making healthy choices while also promoting dynamic thinking.

Nicole saw health coaching as a way to enhance her existing skill set. More specifically, she is most excited for the opportunity to further develop her skills in reflective listening. She says that as much as she would like to make suggestions to her clients, they always seem to find their own way, which makes the whole experience worthwhile. Nicole knows that allowing the client to lead is important and that professionals in all areas of the healthcare field could benefit from the principles of the mindset shift. She also recognizes that all industries would benefit from this skillset.

When asked to give advice to any future coaches, Nicole states that you should trust what you learned during training. To remember that the ultimate goals are made for your client, not the coach. And to put the client in the driver’s seat and let them lead. When Nicole isn’t working, she loves traveling and meeting people from all over the world, taking care of her horse, Tucker, and donkey, Molly, and spending time with her husband and two boys.  

Jenita Lyons – “When you consider all of those barriers, health coaching sounds great but it’s not at the top of their list.”

From her experience previously working as a full-time health coach, Jenita knew that adding health coaching to the menu of services offered by Norton Children’s Hospital could be beneficial for their patient population. As the Health and Wellness Manager, Jenita conducts consultations with providers at several pediatric offices to provide patient services that address topics like injury prevention, health education, and nutrition. In her position, Jenita saw the possibilities health coaching could provide to supplement observed needs. Although she is still fine-tuning health coaching into Norton Children’s services, Jenita has already noticed how difficult it can be to reach the families who could benefit the most from coaching. Jenita recognizes and appreciates the advantages of health coaching. She has even integrated her skills as a coach into her parenting style, allowing her young children to problem solve and devise solutions on their own. However, in the case of her patient population, families are often facing barriers that overshadow the possibility of coaching.

Many of Norton Children’s clinics are strategically placed in high need areas so that they are more accessible to their patients. They’ve even expanded their hours to be more accommodating to patients who may not be able to schedule appointments during normal business hours. Despite these efforts, the patients Jenita wants to connect with the most are facing barriers that are prevalent throughout many healthcare systems. Lack of transportation, limited time due to working multiple jobs, balancing school-work schedules, food insecurity, and high poverty rates are major barriers to care. Jenita notes: “ When you consider all of those barriers, health coaching sounds great but it’s not at the top of their list.” Despite the challenges of integrating coaching into Norton Children’s Health and Wellness services, Jenita is devising innovative ways to incentivize parents to engage their children in coaching sessions. On the radar for next year are you-tube videos of cooking classes integrating many health coaching strategies like meeting families where they are, using affirmations, reflections, setting SMART goals, etc.

People who meet Brett Bowers and hear him speak about his work as a health coach often respond with furrowed brows and tilted heads. The confusion that surfaces when many people hear the term “health coach” is all too common. Many are unsure about why he chooses to identify himself as a coach when he is licensed as a Professional Counselor Supervisor and Clinical Addictions Specialist. The uncertainty of the legitimacy of Health Coaching as a field is not an uncommon notion. However, Brett uses these moments as opportunities for teaching and education. Becoming a Certified Health Coach has assisted Brett in the counseling services he provides to the students at NC Central University’s School of Law. Utilizing the skills and strategies he gained through the certification process has allowed Brett to better navigate his role as a counselor, especially when his clients want to work on issues that are technically out of his wheelhouse. When a student comes in and wants to address topics like physical activity or nutrition, Brett is able to coach his clients through these topics without overstepping the boundaries of his professional expertise.

For Brett, Health Coaching pairs well with his theoretical stance and orientation on therapy. Operating from a more humanistic standpoint, Brett finds comfort in the opportunity health coaching presents to take a step back from his role as the expert and intentionally focus on staying curious, accessing content, reflecting, and listening at a deep level. Brett has found flexibility and creativity in what is often conventionally perceived to be a rigid therapeutic framework.

As a strong proponent of the state of North Carolina’s university systems, Brett is proud to have found the opportunity to apply his passions in a setting that he loves. Born and raised in the Triad, Brett is proud a proud North Carolinian. He has been affiliated with 6 different universities and lived in 8 different towns. He is experienced in 5 National Parks and several different river basins. Brett loves North Carolina, so much so that he says he’d “probably turn into a pumpkin” if he crossed state lines.

This is the second part of a two post series by one of our certified health coaches, Emily Burrows. Please look at the first part here: What if Weight Loss Doesn’t Make our Clients Healthier? UNCG Health Coaching recognizes that there are a diversity of opinions about this issue, and encourages thoughtful discussion that helps us learn to be better coaches. 

Coaching Beyond the Scale

So, you’ve come to the conclusion that intentional weight loss isn’t an effective or sustainable path to health. What now? How do you start to incorporate your new knowledge and interest in weight-neutral health promotion into your coaching work?

Here are some next steps to help you challenge your own weight bias and support your clients (and maybe yourself, too) in finding more peace with their bodies.

Question your language.

Words matter, and many commonly accepted body descriptors cause real harm. Terms like “overweight,” “obese,” “morbidly obese,” and even “normal weight” medically classify and pathologize body size based on BMI. Not only is BMI a terrible indicator of health, those words can unintentionally communicate to our clients that we believe their weight is abnormal and unhealthy, instead of affirming that bodies naturally come in diverse sizes and shapes.

Keep in mind that different individuals prefer different terms to describe their bodies, and while some words, fat, for example, may feel derogatory to some, others have embraced it or feel neutral about it. Respectfully follow your client’s lead, with the knowledge that you probably don’t need to use any descriptors for their body.

Explore what your clients are really saying when they use wellness words.

It helps to use the same language as our clients, or at least understand each other. That’s hard when health-related words can have multiple meanings and many of them are sub/consciously weight-centered. Explore these words with your clients and on your own, too. What do they (and you) mean when they say:

  • Health: When you think of “health,” does your mind subconsciously translate the word to “weight?”
  • Fitness: Do “fitness,” “exercise,” and many aspects of movement, from strength to cardiovascular endurance, mean burning calories or changing your pants size? Is “fit” used as a synonym for “thin?”
  • Nutrition: Do “nutritious” and even “nourishing” primarily describe low calorie/keto/high protein/low sugar/”clean”/Whole 30/fill-in-the-blank-as-long-as-it-might-make-you-skinny food?
  • Lifestyle change: When you hear “lifestyle change,” do you really hear “diet?”
  • Self care: Do most “self care” behaviors point toward controlling your weight?

Broaden your referral community.

Restrictive and obsessive behaviors that would be diagnosed as an eating disorder in a thin person are often considered healthy and virtuous in someone in a larger body. Familiarize yourself with symptoms of eating disorders and get to know local fat-friendly therapists, doctors, and nutritionists so that you can refer your client toward deeper support if they need it.

Strategize about changing our culture’s fatphobia, not your client’s weight.

The benefits to being thin are very real. When you’re thin, attractive and affordable clothing in your size is consistently available. You’re less likely to be bullied or threatened on the street, online, or on a plane, because of your size. If you’re thin, you’re less likely to experience discrimination in the workplace for your appearance or be turned down for a job compared to people in larger bodies. When you go to the doctor, you are more likely to leave with a diagnosis and treatment rather than the overarching prescription to not come back until you lose weight.

For those who experience many of these challenges based on their race, religion, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation, fatphobia can lead to additional daily stress, discrimination, and threat to their health. (Remember that oppression and other social determinants have a bigger impact on health than our individual behaviors.)

Our clients are being harmed by our culture and then blamed for being mistreated and disrespected. If we want to help our clients, we need to also take action against their oppression. If you’re in a thin body, Melissa Fabello and Melissa Toler have great advice on how to use thin privilege to fight weight discrimination and become a better ally.

As fat activist and author Virgie Tovar puts it, “Fatphobia is a form of bigotry and cultural abuse. Fatphobia is never a fat person’s fault. Fatphobia is always the abuser’s fault.”

Explore the research and ethics of dieting, fat stigma, and weight bias, and critically evaluate your role.

Even with our best intentions, the vast majority of us in the health field have participated in perpetuating diet culture. As you continue to educate yourself and hold yourself accountable, resist getting stuck in a shame spiral or getting defensive about your mistakes. You’ve been harmed by fatphobia, too. When you know better you can do better.

Support your clients in setting weight-neutral goals.

If a prospective client isn’t interested in weight-neutral goals and helping them lose weight feels unethical to you, give them space to find a different health coach (before money changes hands). Wanting to change your body is a rational response to irrational cultural expectations and it’s important to respect everyone’s body autonomy.

If, however, they are open to deeper exploration, it’s possible to validate your clients’ frustration with the present and their hopes for the future without reinforcing their desire for weight loss. Help them assess their readiness for weight-neutral, shame-free goals that get them closer to the healthier, happier future they’re envisioning for themselves.   

Finally, change can be challenging. If you’ve been coaching under a weight loss paradigm for years, you might make some mistakes. That’s ok. Lean into the body acceptance world with an open heart and open mind, and keep learning.

If you’d like to continue exploring weight-inclusivity, Health at Every Size, and body acceptance, here are some leaders to follow:

Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor
Food Psych podcast with Christy Harrison
Ragen Chastain
Ijeoma Olua
Lindy West
Hilary Kinavey and Dana Sturtevant
Ilya Parker
Your Fat Friend
Sonya Renee Taylor
Virgie Tovar
Association for Size Diversity and Health
Fattitude   

Bio

Emily Burrows is a self-care coach and yoga teacher in Chapel Hill. She has her MPH from UNC-Chapel Hill but stays forever loyal to UNCG, where she completed her health coaching certificate and bachelor’s degree.

www.emilyburrows.com

Facebook

This is a guest post by one of our certified health coaches, Emily Burrows. UNCG Health Coaching recognizes that there are a diversity of opinions about this issue, and encourages thoughtful discussion that helps us learn to be better coaches.  The second part in this two-part series is now online: Coaching Beyond the Scale.

What if Weight Loss Doesn’t Make our Clients Healthier?

“I know if I just lose weight, everything will be better. My energy, blood pressure, fitness, confidence, relationships, family life, all of it. Every time I’ve lost weight I’ve felt better. I’m just too lazy to keep it off!”

Have you heard some version of this from a coaching client, friend, or even said it yourself? A lot of Americans, including our clients, see their weight as a major roadblock to health and wellbeing.

By the time they come to us, many of our clients are pretty experienced at losing weight. Many of them have been dieting on and off for years, decades, or even as far back as adolescence.

Yet, despite best intentions and a lot of hard work, they may have lost the same 10 pounds over and over again, sometimes regaining more weight than they lost on their diet.

Often, on the other side of each “weight loss journey” and weight regain are feelings of failure and shame. They’ve sunk time and effort and money into meal planning, carb counting, food diaries, gym memberships, weight loss programs, trainers, nutritionists, and lifestyle overhauls, and feel there’s very little to show for it.

Even though this cycle of weight loss, weight gain, and shame happens to the majority of folks who intentionally lose weight, instead of blaming the diet, they blame themselves.

Naturally it feels like helping our coaching clients get better at losing weight would be a good thing. After all, with weight loss we anticipate more respect, safety, economic security, social capital, and ultimately, health.

The medical and public health community, the $66+ billion weight loss industry, the media, and nearly every other corner of our culture have promised that sustaining intentional weight loss is doable and leads to improved health. However, what if these promises aren’t backed by research?

It’s possible that you’re saying to yourself, “That might be true, but my client still needs to lose weight for their health. I know I can help them!”

Before you jump into helping your client craft another weight loss goal, take a moment to consider the following:

Out of all people who intentionally lose weight, 95-98% regain it within 5 years.

The probability of sustained weight loss doesn’t increase based on their reason for dieting, even if the reason is a health problem. Yikes. Plus, up to 2/3 of those who regain the weight, gain more than they lost. Which is no wonder when you consider that body shame, a typical part of the dieting cycle, can cause weight gain (and worse health)!

It might still be tempting to try to be one of the rare 2-5% who keep the weight off long-term, except that:

Intentional weight loss doesn’t necessarily lead to better health.

It’s no secret that dieting can be a drag. To add insult to injury, weight loss doesn’t necessarily make you healthier. When people in larger bodies lose weight, they don’t acquire the same health outcomes of folks who were thin to begin with. Weight cycling, which is common among folks who diet, is closely linked to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and more. Worse, studies show that when folks in bigger bodies lose more than 5% body weight, they’re at an increased risk of early death, even if the weight loss was intentional.

People in larger bodies who intentionally lose weight can have worse health outcomes than those who change their behavior without losing weight.

Dieting takes a toll on mental, social, and emotional health.

It’s hard to feel carefree when you’re hungry! Although we’re promised better quality of life, happiness, and confidence with weight loss, intentional weight loss efforts are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Many of the rare people who maintain significant weight loss beyond 5 years show symptoms of disordered eating, exercise obsession, body preoccupation, and/or atypical anorexia.

As wellness coaches, our priority is helping clients improve their health and overall wellbeing. Intentional weight loss not only doesn’t improve health, it can cause harm.

Want an alternative to dieting? The health benefits we usually associate with weight loss can be achieved by behavior change (in the absence of weight loss), with less risk to our clients.

The Health at Every Size movement rejects weight-centered health promotion and instead emphasizes size diversity, embracing all facets of your wellbeing (not just physical health), eating based on internal cues, and enjoyable physical movement.

People who practice Health at Every Size accept and feel better about their bodies. They enjoy many of the health improvements we anticipate with weight loss, like lower blood pressure and increased insulin sensitivity. They’re also more likely than dieters to take better care of themselves and their bodies long-term.

Rejecting weight as the barometer for health goes against the status quo! Fortunately, there’s a growing community of coaches, doctors, therapists, nutritionists, and other healthcare providers who are committed to weight-neutral health promotion.

Look for part 2 for tips you can use in your coaching practice to help your clients (and maybe even yourself) prioritize wellbeing without the scale.

Emily Burrows is a self-care coach and yoga teacher in Chapel Hill. She has her MPH from UNC-Chapel Hill but stays forever loyal to UNCG, where she completed her health coaching certificate and bachelor’s degree.

www.emilyburrows.com

Facebook