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Finding a healthy balance: What is wellness coaching?

February 18, 2022 - 14 min read


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What is a wellness coach?

Who should be a wellness coach?

Life versus wellness coach: what's the difference?

How do I know that I need a wellness coach?

Why wellness coaching is important

5 things to look for in a wellness coach

Living a healthy, balanced life is simple — in theory. Eating well, exercising daily, being kind to yourself, and keeping a regular sleep schedule are the basics. 

But life happens. Sometimes, we can't take care of ourselves as we should. Careers, families, emergencies, and illnesses can all get in the way. Plus, if we don't care for ourselves, we can't properly care for others. 

There's no shame in asking for help to handle things better. We all have times when we need help with personal and professional motivation. If the stressors in your life are piling up, you may want to consider wellness coaching.

What is a wellness coach?

A wellness coach is a type of health care professional who aids clients in setting and achieving their health goals, typically around physical and emotional health. These objectives might include losing weight or improving their relationship with their body or food. Another common goal: finding the motivation to make a change and stick to it. 

Wellness coaches focus on their client's physical, emotional, and behavioral health. While the client often has a specific goal, the wellness coach typically addresses their lifestyle more holistically.

Their primary goal is to help others adopt a positive lifestyle and make behavior changes to support their goals. They may double as nutritionists or dietitians, helping people be more mindful of their eating habits

Coaches don't have to work exclusively with clients on a one-on-one basis. They may also work at gyms, food stores, schools, clinics, and hospitals. Coaches empower people and keep them accountable for their actions.

Wellness coaches actively practice a holistic approach to health. They treat the person as a whole rather than treating the symptoms of a disease. This sets wellness coaching apart from other health practitioners. 

At BetterUp, we advocate for a Whole Person approach to human transformation through personal growth, social connection, mental fitness, and career and leadership development.

Our coaching extends beyond wellness, but this is a common area where people first seek support. We won't sugarcoat the journey — change is difficult. But if you're willing to put in the work, we are here to guide you as you navigate life and become the best person you can be. 

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Who should be a wellness coach?

Like any career, you can follow various paths to become a certified wellness coach. Over time, this professional realm has imposed stricter guidelines around qualifications.

The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) was created in 2016 to ensure the gold standard in coaching services. Aspiring coaches must pass a certification exam and participate in fieldwork.

If you're wondering whether you or not would be a good wellness coach, here are some questions to ask yourself first:


Life coach versus wellness coach: what's the difference?

Both life and wellness coaches work with clients to improve their well-being. There are differences between these two types of coaches, including their focus, training, and approach.

What do life coaches do?

A life coach guides individuals toward improving their personal lives, careers, and relationships.

Life coaching primarily focuses on helping people: 

  • Realize a specific aspiration
  • Readjust their life goals
  • Improving their mindset
  • Create a plan and accountability to take steps toward a goal
  • Develop strategies to overcome specific hurdles standing between them and those goals


What do wellness coaches do?

In comparison, a wellness coach focuses on physical and mental health goals. Their primary objective is to help you develop habits that fit and improve your overall lifestyle. You work with a wellness coach to reach certain personal goals, like eating healthier, lowering stress, and smoking cessation.

A wellness coach tries to create a sustainable improvement in your well-being through lifestyle changes. They do that by helping you transition into a routine that prioritizes your health and wellness. 

Sessions can range anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. Your coach will ask you questions to get a sense of you as a person and what you want to achieve, and together you'll outline steps to reach those goals. 

Coaches will provide you with homework to think about your aspirations before your follow-up sessions. Your coach will also make sure you follow through on the plan you devise. Journaling is a great way to record this process and track your progress. 

Your wellness coach guides you toward healthy living, but they can't do everything for you. A wellness coach isn't legally qualified to offer advice on certain things. They aren't nutritionists, dieticians, or certified personal trainers. They can offer guidance but not specific instructions on what exercises or diets will help you the best. 

Your wellness coach can help you develop strategies for stress management, but they can't diagnose the physical impacts your stress is causing you or psychological triggers.

They can't provide therapy for things like childhood trauma or abuse or provide a diagnosis for mental health conditions or physical illnesses. If you struggle or think you struggle with a condition adding to your stress, consider seeing medical or mental health professional

Some people in need of accountability support find text therapy effective. This generally refers to accessing a mental health professional through a mobile app. You won't have to wait for an appointment to speak to someone. Whether it works for you depends on your needs, personal circumstances, and preferences. 


How do I know that I need a wellness coach?

On average, it takes 66 days for a new habit to form. People typically work with a wellness coach for 2-6 months to get the best results. If you're trying to adopt multiple new habits at once, you'll need to work with a coach for longer.

Admitting that you need some help and support is the first step. Anyone can consult a coach. Some common reasons people seek coaching include: 

  1. Learning more effective stress management techniques
  2. Increasing your energy and motivation
  3. Finding a manageable weight loss plan
  4. Prioritizing self-care
  5. Eating healthier
  6. Exercising more or in ways you enjoy more
  7. Mending your relationship with your body
  8. Readjusting after a serious illness, accident, or diagnosis
  9. Creating a work-life balance
  10. Being more positive
  11. Developing a resilient mindset 

Most health and wellness coaches tend to focus on a specific area of health, like diabetes, smoking, or women's health. When looking for a coach, inquire about their passions and areas of expertise. Don't be afraid to ask questions, review their credentials, and take the time to find a coach who's the right fit. 


Why wellness coaching is important

Wellness coaching is important for your mind, body, and soul. It helps you set goals that introduce healthy living habits and routines. 

Wellness coaches work to teach you how valuing your health will benefit you in the future, because your time and effort won’t disappear after you stop seeing your coach. 

One study found that after individuals completed a 12-week wellness coaching program, they continued to higher levels of self-efficacy and better quality of life 24 weeks after the program’s end.

They improved their physical activity levels and developed better insight into how to take care of their wellness through healthy habits. It taught them how to set personal goals and work toward achieving them. The benefits didn't abruptly disappear once their program ended.

And wellness coaching doesn't only benefit individuals. A workplace reaps many benefits when it provides resources and programs for employee wellness.

Johnson & Johnson said they saved about 250 million dollars on health care costs from the past decade because they've created wellness programs for their employees. For every dollar spent on wellness training, their return was $2.71. 

Besides saving money, businesses that support employee wellness see higher productivity among employees with lower burnout rates. These wellness initiatives boost morale and make their work environment a comfortable and welcoming place to be. 

5 things to look for in a wellness coach

When looking for a wellness coach, some things to look for include:

  1. Certification. Anyone can call themselves a coach, but saying it doesn't make it so. A wellness coach training program helps people become certified coaches that understand how to address people's needs professionally. Check that the coach's education and resume include a certification program recognized by the International Coaching Federal (ICF).
  2. Listening skills. A coach should listen more than they talk. Any type of coach should be helping you develop skills to help yourself, not giving answers or a "program."
  3. Options, not "shoulds." A coach is there to give advice and find solutions that best fit your needs and lifestyle, not force you to do this or that. 
  4. The right fit for your needs. It helps to know a coach's areas of expertise to ensure they’re equipped to guide you in the right direction. 
  5. A variety of programs. Many coaches offer different types of programs like one-on-one or group coaching sessions. Thanks to the high degree of connectivity that defines our society, there are endless options out there. As you look into wellness coaching, you should make sure you can work with someone who can help you narrow down the field and find the best match. 

At BetterUp, we’re here to make that choice much simpler: we want what's best for you. Our certified coaches are here to offer personalized support, regardless of your situation and needs. 

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Published February 18, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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