As the cost of healthcare skyrockets and baby boomers come into retirement, making strides to prevent illness (and avoid paying out of pocket for it later) has never been more important. The prescription seems simple enough—healthy diet and exercise—but if you've fallen off the wagon so many times you feel like you're always walking beside it, a lifestyle or wellness coach could provide the support you need. These professionals are trained to help you stay the course on your health journey despite your stress, busy schedule, lack of motivation, or other emotional roadblocks you face. If you're unsure what it is that's truly keeping you from your goals, a lifestyle coach is equipped to dig in and find the answer. (Search: Tips for attainable goals)
Wellness coaching was recently identified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a top health and fitness trend for 2012, as the prevalence and interest in holistic health and fitness programs peaked in the past few years. "I didn't know I was looking for a wellness coach but I knew I was looking for something more than the training I was participating in," says Kelley Ahuja, 41, a human resources professional in Chicago. After two children and two unplanned C-sections, Ahuja wanted to reclaim her flat tummy, regain her sense of peace and balance, and boost her sapped energy. Hoping an exercise regimen was the cure, she endured 18 months of rigorous boot camp and personal training sessions, but the busy mom wasn't feeling enthusiastic or particularly inspired by her journey. "I wasn't extremely happy with what I was doing but I thought it was my only option," she says. "But then I met Stephanie."
Enter Stephanie Mansour, a certified lifestyle coach who specializes in body image and confidence coaching in addition to holding credentials in personal training, yoga, and Pilates. "As Stephanie was busting my chops making me work hard physically, she was also talking to me and challenging me to look at myself in new and different ways," says Ahuja, who met with Mansour two or three times a week in addition to a weekly phone consultation. "I would talk about my ab muscles being dead and she would tell me that they were just sleeping, and that it was time to wake them back up. She completely changed my mental outlook. The effects of the C-sections weren't something I consciously dwelled on, but it was clear I was carrying a lot of emotional baggage from them."
A lifestyle or wellness coach's function is as varied as clients' needs: Some coaches deal in body image issues, others in compulsive eating behaviors, and many aren't sure of the barriers to wellness their clients face until they're a few meetings in. "The role of the first couple of sessions is to stand back and reflect on the state of things as they stand," says Margaret Moore, CEO of Wellcoaches, which, in partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine, launched the first coach training school for health professionals in 2002. "It's kind of like a tour around the major domains of your life—discovering what's working well for you that you can build on, and determining where you want to start. The goal is to find the string that will unravel the whole ball."