Do you need a health coach?
Many of us think nothing about hiring a personal trainer to help us reach our fitness goals. So why not do the same with your health?
Health coaching is a relatively new concept in Australia. In fact, when Marla Bozic graduated from Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in 2009, she was the first and only health coach in Australia. Since then, she says, the industry has really taken off.
“It’s very reflective of the Australian society, so many people were waiting for that and they’ve embraced it,” she says. “Right now we’ve got hundreds if not thousands of health coaches in Australia. Everyone’s doing it in a different way, some are coaching one on one, some are doing workshops, some are doing corporate. I hope for the day when everyone has a health coach, because I think everyone can benefit from a health coach.”
Health coaches are different from nutritionists who usually look at a person’s diet. A health coach goes beyond just explaining what you should be eating and the technical aspects of why, and they’re more about practical ways that you can make changes to your diet in the real world. They’re a support, kind of like a nutritional cheerleader, in the same way that a personal trainer is giving you that encouragement and motivation to achieve your fitness goals. And they look at all aspects of your life – what’s happening in your life, your career, your relationship etc and how that can impact. Kind of like a life coach for health.
As the first person to complete the New York based IIN’s online course in Australia, Marla says she was drawn to an approach to health that looked at all aspects of a person’s life.
“They were offering a very modern approach to nutrition, something that was wholistic, evidence-based and tailored to the individual,’ says Marla, who now offers health coaching through her company Vitamin L Health Coaching. “It was more an approach of, let’s try to figure out your body and your individuality and come up with a plan which is about what you eat and your exercise, but also looking at things like mood and what’s going on with your career and your relationship, your hormones, because all of that is going to impact.’
Admitting she didn’t know how Australians would take to the concept of paying someone to help them with their health and wellness, Marla took to the community and found they were very receptive to what she could offer. And what that is, she explains, is a combination of education, support and inspiration.
“It’s about really practical support – like, okay I want to have a healthy lunch, so how can I make that happen?” she says. “It’s getting that planning element into it and having someone to bounce those ideas off of, someone who really cares and is excited that you’ve just made that zucchini pasta!” she laughs.
From an education perspective, Marla says a lot of it is getting people to unlearn everything they’ve been taught in the past. “A lot of people are on that mentality that they’re not supposed to eat fat so they overindulge on the sugar,” she says, “they think it’s about willpower but it’s not.”
Marla sees her clients fortnightly and usually continues to see them for anywhere between 3-6 months. “We might do anything from looking at different recipes to try, I might cook with them, or we’ll do a pantry makeover,” says Marla, who doesn’t do one-off appraisals because she explains that it’s important to develop a relationship.
“It’s about ongoing education and support, maybe passing on a good recipe book, or a nutritional book from an expert, it’s very interactive. Each time I see them I give them a new product to try, so I might give them a bouquet of kale, so they can go home and make a kale juice or some kale chips.”
A good relationship is also essential in establishing a tailored plan for every individual.
“What works for you, might not work for your kids or your husband,” explains Marla, adding that even within the individual, there are diverse needs.
“Your diet in winter should be different to your diet in summer. Your diet when you’re 20 should be different to your diet when you’re 40. You might be fine with gluten when you’re 20 and you might get to 40 and feel bloated and tired all the time and you’re like, ‘hey, what’s going on?’ It’s about paying attention, using what I call your nutrition intuition. You’ve got to get attuned to your body. How do you feel after eating a bowl of pasta? Do you want to take a nap? Then that’s probably not a good sign. So you might try to eat a bit less gluten and see how you feel.”
Quick to explain that she doesn’t follow any specific diet plan – “I don’t do detoxes, I’m not paleo, I’m not non-sugar, unless that really speaks to you”, Marla says she aims for a more gentle approach.
“It’s tweaking what people are currently doing and giving options, for example, what’s an option for your family dinner instead of having pasta every night? What are some better pasta options? If you’re having regular pasta, maybe it’s about trying a fresh pasta, or a buckwheat pasta, or maybe we can add lots of lots of veggies, so you’re eating more veggies and less pasta.”
Marla adds that while many of her clients come to her with the aim of weight loss, it soon becomes a secondary issue.
“We start talking about weight, but then it becomes more about how they feel. They keep doing it because they feel so good but the result is that they also lose weight.”
Admitting she’s not above eating chips, “just not all day and not every day”, Marla says she’s proof of how even the healthiest person can benefit from a health coach.
“I thought I was healthy, but [since becoming a health coach] I’ve realised there’s always something you can do to be that little bit healthier, it’s an everchanging continuum.”
And one she says it’s well worth getting on top of.
“Once you start eating better, you start feeling better and you have that positivity about you. Your mind opens up and you become more creative and start doing new things and you have this glow about you.”
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