Every once in a while, I’ll have an overweight client say something to me along the lines of, “you’re not fat, so you don’t know what it’s like to be fat – there’s no way you can help me”. It hurts a bit to hear that. That’s like saying that in order to be truly helpful, a psychiatrist should have experienced the same emotional troubles as his or her patients, or that a caring and understanding doctor can’t help if they haven’t experienced a patient’s illness or pain.
When clients say something like this, I like to put them at ease by reminding them that I see myself as a partner and a “coach” – and I give much of the credit to all my clients for teaching me how to successfully play this part. They’ve opened up and shared their struggles with me, which has given me a good understanding of what they’re going through – which, I believe, puts me in a reasonably good position to help.
I like the term ‘health coach’ – it sounds motivating and positive. And whether someone is helping you to improve your golf swing or make better food choices, coaches share the same goals. They’re there to encourage, motivate and inspire you – and they want you to succeed and perform at your best. They know that the effort is more important than the outcome, and that the desire to do well comes from within. They also know that mastering a skill is a process, and that you’re going to make mistakes along the way – which is not only okay, it’s expected. And, most of all, a coach works with you – as a partner who shares your successes and helps you work through the times when you’re struggling.
There are different kinds of health coaches, too, and they all offer help in different ways. Professional coaches – that would be someone like me – serve to educate their clients, help them find ways to meet their goals, and offer support. Someone like your walking partner would be a “peer coach” – the two of you currently share the same health issues and goals and you offer support to one another to help you meet those goals. Then there are the health “mentors” – they’re ones who have already overcome their particular health issue and are successfully managing it. Someone who has lost weight and kept it off serves as a mentor and role model – and gives hope and inspiration to those who are struggling.
What it comes down to is this – we have health coaches all around us. Your doctor, who explains your particular health concerns to you and offers advice and support. Your dieting buddy, who ‘talks you down’ when you’re about to eat something you know you shouldn’t. Or your formerly fat neighbor, who jogs by your house at the crack of dawn every morning, rain or shine.
Just because someone hasn’t walked in a mile in your shoes, it doesn’t mean they can’t be of help. For all those who have suggested that I couldn’t possibly know what it’s like to be overweight, I’ve probably had an equal number who have said to me, “it’s a good thing you’re not fat. I’d never take advice from a fat dietitian.” But coaches come from all walks of life, and in all shapes and sizes. And a good coach is someone who understands the game – even if they’ve never actually played it.
Written by Susan Bowerman, Susan is a paid consultant to Herbalife.