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Make 2018 NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS with ME, Your Board Certified Health Coach!

Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? How did it turn out? If you’re like most people, you didn’t get very far. In fact, a commonly cited statistic suggests that only 8% of people keep their resolutions. There are many reasons for this, but they can be summed up this way: changing our behavior is hard, and most people don’t know how to do it successfully. This is a huge problem, and I see it every day in my practice.  It is now clear that that the number one cause of the chronic disease epidemic is not genetic, but behavioral – people making the wrong choices about diet, physical activity, sleep and other lifestyle factors. That is why I am saying, make your New Year Resolutions with me this year!

In fact, a recent study found that 85% of the risk of chronic disease is due to these environmental factors. Another study found that fewer than 5% of adults engage in the top health behaviors, and only 20% of adults are thriving.

The consequences are severe:

Given these statistics, it should be clear that changing our behavior is the most important step we can take to prevent and reverse chronic disease.

WE DON’T NEED MORE INFORMATION – OR MORE DOCTORS – TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM.  It’s tempting to think that we can solve this problem simply by better educating people about the changes they need to make. I do that with my classes, but classes are not enough.  It is now well-established that knowledge is not enough to support lasting behavior change. Most people know that eating poorly, not exercising, not getting enough sleep and engaging in other unhealthy lifestyle habits is not good for them. Yet they continue these behaviors anyway, or they chase quick fixes that don’t last for more than a few weeks.

Doctors aren’t the answer. The most recent statistics suggest that we’ll have a shortage of 52,000 primary care physicians by the year 2025. But even if we didn’t have a shortage of doctors, most of them have neither the training nor the time necessary to support people in making lasting behavioral changes. Our “sickcare” system is not set up to deliver this type of care. The average visit with a primary care provider in the Unites States is ten to twelve minutes, with newer doctors spending as little as eight minutes per visit with patients. That’s barely enough time to say hello, review the patient’s current medications, and possibly prescribe a new one. It’s not even remotely enough time to assess what behavior and lifestyle changes would be most effective for the patient and provide the support necessary for sustaining them for a lifetime.

Health Coaches are the answer.  People want to feel good, avoid chronic disease and live a long life. They want to see their children and grandchildren grow up and have the energy to play with them. They want to perform better at work, enjoy their relationships, and be well enough to get the most out of life. But there’s a big difference between wanting the benefits of being healthy and consistently engaging in the behaviors that lead to health. That’s where health coaches come in. Coaches are trained in a number of disciplines that support people in making lasting change. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Positive psychology, which leverages people’s strengths (rather than focusing on their weaknesses) to make changes
  • Motivational interviewing, which helps people to link behavior changes to their deepest needs and goals (e.g., “I will change my diet because I want to live to see my grandchildren graduate from college.”)
  • Habit formation and reversal, which supports patients in making positive habits, or breaking negative ones

Coaches are also trained to work with patients in a more collaborative way. In the collaborative approach, the coach acts as a partner or ally, encourages clients to discover their own solutions and become their own advocate and supports them in developing the skills they need to embrace new behaviors.

Not surprisingly, studies have consistently shown that coaching interventions improve health outcomes for several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. This is not a small effect. In fact, some research has shown that applying evidence-based principles of behavior change can increase the chances of success by over 1,000%!

A visit with a health coach is often more affordable than a visit with a doctor. This is critical, because more frequent visits are required to support effective behavioral change. With the statistics like these we’ll need at least ten times the number of health coaches than doctors in order to make a significant dent in preventing and reversing chronic disease.

I’m certainly not arguing that health coaches will replace doctors. Doctors and other licensed clinicians will always be required to order lab tests, analyze those results, diagnose disease, prescribe treatment and coordinate care. Health coaches aren’t trained to do those things, just as doctors aren’t trained to support behavior change. I’m advocating for an approach that utilizes the professional that is best trained and suited for each particular need: health coaches to support diet, lifestyle, and behavior change, and doctors to practice medicine.

Our goals should be:

The 5% those experiencing acute or emergency problems that require intensive care, often in a hospital or specialized setting – are best served by conventional medical intervention.

The 25% of patients are those dealing with fairly significant chronic health challenges – will likely require the ongoing support of a licensed clinician (ideally practicing Functional Medicine) but would also benefit from working with a health coach to implement the recommendations of the licensed provider.

The 70% of patients are those with less severe chronic health problems, or those who are generally healthy – might be best served by working primarily with a health coach, with occasional visits with a doctor for labs, check-ups, etc.

This approach would not only be more effective for preventing and reversing chronic disease, but it would also save us an enormous amount of money. Given that we spend nearly $4 trillion on healthcare each year, if utilizing health coaches could reduce that by even 25% (which is entirely reasonable) that would save us a trillion dollars a year. That’s no small thing, since some estimates suggest that the United States will be bankrupt by the year 2035 if healthcare spending continues to increase at its current pace. And since medical expenses are the number one cause of individual bankruptcy, using health coaches in this way could have a significant impact on each American’s pocketbook as well.

In short, Chronic disease is destroying our quality of life, shortening our lifespan, bankrupting our country and threatening the health of future generations. It’s clearer than ever that our “disease management” system, which was designed to address medical emergencies and other acute conditions, is not prepared for the challenge of chronic disease. We desperately need a new solution – one that is affordable, timely and suitable for the task at hand. I am here to help you. I am a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach.