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Wellness Coaching: The Latest Trend in Fitness

Experts share tips about choosing a fitness professional who can put you on the road to better health.

Doctors' Views on Wellness Coaching continued...

"I'm a family physician and I always tell my patients that it's my job to help them live a long, healthy life," he says. "But 98% is their part, and that's what the life coach helps with -- everything from diet and exercise to emotional well-being. It's the same thing that we [doctors] deal with, but she deals with it from a lifestyle perspective."

Lano says he sees significant improvements in patients who work with Bork. Most begin exercising and eating better. Many make other important changes as well, which tend to have a boomerang effect on their overall outlook and lifestyle, as they did with Heit.

Ideal Candidates for Wellness Coaching

However, not everyone is a good candidate for wellness coaching, says Lano. Some may be too old or sick to change. Others may simply be unmotivated. The ideal patient is someone who may not be doing anything bad, but they're not doing the good things, either, he says. "They're not eating well. They're not exercising. They're stressed. They're stuck. They're not making progress."

Jim Harburger found himself in that situation. The 66-year-old clinical psychiatrist began to gain weight 32 years ago when he abandoned his heavy smoking habit. Gradually, his weight began to creep from 165 pounds to 220 pounds.

Much of the problem, Harburger says, was stress from his high pressure job as the director of a large behavioral health organization. But the trigger was the daily gift of sweets offered by his secretaries, which Harburger found irresistible.

"The metaphor was that I was being eaten alive by my job, but I was actually eating to handle the anxieties from my work," he says.

Harburger joined a gym. But like so many others, he found it hard to get there and went only sporadically. Desperate, he finally decided to hire a personal trainer. The gym recommended Ellen Albertson, a staff member who was a registered dietitian, a licensed nutritionist, a certified personal trainer, and a licensed corporate wellness coach.

Albertson began each session with 20 minutes of walking, during which time she and Harburger would talk.

"One might think I could walk on my own, but what she was doing was listening to me about my life, learning about how I managed eating, the stressors in my life, and my relationship to my body," he explains. "She became familiar, almost like a good therapist, with all aspects of my life. And slowly, she built a relationship that I started to value."

Albertson also helped Harburger manage his cravings. A self-confessed sugar addict, he likened it to withdrawal from cocaine. "I felt my body shaking, I couldn't think, and I was in total transition for almost a week," he says. "Now I know that if I have a cookie, I need to separate myself from what I am eating or I will just keep eating."

The result? Harburger, who visits the gym almost every day now, dropped 40 pounds over a three-year period.

Albertson says she sees it all the time. People come in expecting to be told what to do, but what actually works best for them is to slow down, think about their goals, and then determine the path themselves.

"People are out of touch with their bodies. When you listen to your body, you eat when you're hungry, you stop when you're full, and you enjoy food for its rightful place in your life," she says.

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