When it comes to optimizing our health, more information isn’t always helpful—it’s often just more confusing. While one compelling Netflix documentary warns you about the negative health effects of eating animal protein, another podcast celebrates the miraculous story of someone that’s seen major improvements in their physical ailments when sticking to an all-meat diet. The result? You’re left thinking, ‘what the heck should I be eating?’ The truth is, you probably don’t need more information; you need help in creating an action plan that is personalized to you and someone to hold you accountable to it. Cue: a health coach.
What is a health coach?
Simply put, health coaches support patients in creating specific action steps in four main domains: nutrition, stress reduction, sleep optimization, and physical activity. They’re an essential member of your medical team that you’ve been missing. At Parsley Health, a health coach works in tandem with your doctor. They guide you in prioritizing the diet and lifestyle factors that will have the largest impact on your health—and they do it in a way that’s personalized and compassionate.
The health coaches at Parsley Health hold respected credentials varying from Registered Dietitians, Master’s degrees in nutrition, or certifications in health coaching from accredited institutes and universities. They are all trained not only in nutrition but in the science of behavior change and motivational interviewing. In other words, our health coaches are experts in motivating patients to make meaningful changes.
Does health coaching really work?
Health coaches aren’t just a nice perk that comes with your Parsley Health membership—research has proven the value of having a coach as a game changer for those with chronic illnesses. The reality is that 60 percent of adult Americans have at least one chronic disease, the majority of which are lifestyle-driven, preventable, and reversible. So it’s no surprise that having a designated partner to help you make necessary changes to your lifestyle can be key to your success.
In a 2018 systematic literature review of 11 controlled trials investigating the effectiveness of health and wellness coaching, 82 percent of trials found that those who utilized a coach found improvement in nutrition biomarkers and eating behaviors. The most common improvements were seen in weight, blood pressure, and quality of dietary intake.
Aside from nutritional improvements, health coaching has proven to support significant changes in physical activity as well. While physical inactivity can be common in older age, studies show that when people over 60 work with a health coach they are more likely to regularly engage in physical activity and also report secondary improvements in mobility, quality of life, and mood.
For specific health conditions, health coaching has shown to be effective in improving outcomes for patients with diabetes, obesity, chronic pain, high cholesterol, and hypertension. Patients working with health coaches are more likely to comply with taking recommended medications, have reduced rates of hospital admissions, and report feeling more empowered in making changes to their health to improve their quality of life.
How health coaching fits into your Parsley Health membership
Over the course of the first year of your Parsley Health membership, you’ll meet with your doctor five times and your health coach five times. This sequence is intentional to allow you to follow up with your health coach after each encounter with your physician. With your doctor, you’ll focus on the why behind your recommended diet, supplements, medications, stress management, and movement recommendations and meet with your coach to discuss the how behind successfully implementing those recommendations into your individual lifestyle.
What does a health coach do?
Your health coach can help you with everything from navigating a tricky restaurant menu, initiating a self-care routine into a busy morning schedule, or providing you specific resources for recipes, workouts, or meditation programs. Having trouble figuring out which foods are exacerbating your SIBO symptoms or making you feel bloated and constipated? Your health coach can run through your daily dietary intake or review a 3-day food journal to help pinpoint triggers for your symptoms.
Beyond the creation of tailored goals and the arsenal of personalized resources, you can message your health coach 365 days of the year with any questions, concerns, or updates that may come up. This ensures that you receive the support and accountability needed to maintain inspiration and commitment to the lifestyle changes you’re making.
To personalize your care further, your Parsley Health coach breaks through the noise of all the different recommendations you read about on a daily basis to help you prioritize the changes that will actually yield the most positive results. For example, your health coach can talk you through current wellness trends you may have questions about such as intermittent fasting, ketogenic, paleo, or 100% plant-based diets. Together, you and your health coach can contextualize these practices to your health goals to assess what’s ideal for your particular body and routine. Ultimately, the goal is to empower our members with the knowledge they need for long-term, sustainable wellness—something that we know can look uniquely different for each and every person.
What’s it like to work with a health coach?
OK, so this all sounds great, but how does it actually work? Here are just a few ways I’ve worked with members in my role as a health coach at Parsley.
When I first started working with Jane, she came in with a strong nutritional background and advanced medical understanding of her recently diagnosed condition, polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS. I didn’t need to start from scratch teaching her about the condition’s impact on blood sugar and insulin resistance, but she really needed a source of accountability to make sure she was applying all of her knowledge effectively.
For Jane, this looked like keeping a daily food journal that tracked her food intake and corresponding macronutrients and was shared with me on a weekly basis for review. I helped her refine the last 5-10 percent of her diet that needed a bit more optimizing. Beyond diet, I gave Jane guidance on her physical activity and hours of sleep, helping her connect the dots on how they were impacting her blood sugar levels.
After a few months of daily tracking and weekly check-ins, Jane’s blood sugar and insulin-related lab values improved to a normal level. She eventually stopped tracking as the diet became more intuitive to follow and her sleep and physical activity became cemented in her routine.
Dan was having a hard time when we first met. His doctor had just diagnosed him with psoriatic arthritis and he needed to learn how to manage his condition, specifically how to implement the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet into his life to help with his increased inflammation and elevated autoimmune markers. Besides cutting back on sweets, Dan had never significantly adjusted his diet before and being told to implement such a restrictive protocol completely overwhelmed him.
I helped Dan by slowly ramping his diet up to meet the criteria for AIP and provided him with AIP-specific cookbooks, blogs, recipes, Instagram handles to follow for inspiration and even a podcast for those with autoimmune conditions incorporating an AIP protocol. Tailoring this process to Dan’s life in a way that felt more realistic for him was the key to his success. Beyond my support, he reported that access to resources from others with autoimmune conditions helped to keep him motivated throughout the elimination diet.
Megan had just had her first baby and felt like all hope was lost in feeling like herself again. She no longer had time for boutique fitness classes five days a week, was struggling to find time to cook the way she used to, and felt guilty about making time for self-care. She was committed to getting her health back on track, but she didn’t know where to start.
With Megan, our first session focused on building up the tools in her self-care toolbox so she could rely on them anytime she was feeling overwhelmed with motherhood. Megan wanted to start meditating, painting, walking outside, and journaling. Instead of encouraging Megan to start everything at once, we instead focused on using at least one self-care tool each day to start. She made time when she could—meditating while breastfeeding, painting while her daughter napped, and taking much needed walks outside when her partner could take over at home.
By more regularly using her self-care tools and creating intentionality behind doing something for herself each day, Megan regained the motivation to cook and exercise in the way she used to love.
The truth is there is no right or wrong way to work with a health coach. Instead, this relationship is your opportunity to work with someone who has the knowledge to support you and the ability to inspire and motivate you—in whatever way is most needed at that particular time. After all, you don’t get bonus points for doing it alone.