What is a health coach?

What is a health couch

written by Caitlin Smit — Nutritionsprout


Health coaching is a fairly new vocation in South Africa, however one that has begun to grow internationally and make its mark on health care.


I am often faced with the question ‘ what is a health coach’? Be it from family, friends, or a potential client. It is for this reason that we’ve decided to shed a little more light onto the work of a health coach and how working with one can serve as an important tool in helping an individual and ( in my work  — women ) reach their goals and progress on their wellness journeys. 

It's not unusual that when we see our GP’s they are already running very tight schedules and aren’t always able to be cued in on our lives each step of the way, or spend that extra time getting to know us or our history.  What we have tried, what we haven’t tried as well as following up with us, mainly after we leave their practise. This is where a health coach can be very beneficial, and in fact many medical practitioners abroad are now implementing health coaches as part of their permanent practise and treatment plan for patients. Well known doctors like Dr. Frank Lipman, Dr. Susan Blum and Dr Robin Berzin of Parsley Health are just three examples of doctors using health coaches successfully within their practises.  


So what does a health coach do?

For the vast majority of people that go to see a general practitioner, it is often due to lifestyle related problems as Dr Frank Lipman explains.  "70-80 % of people that come to see a doctor is usually due to a lifestyle-related problem.", and not all doctors are trained in this ‘lifestyle medicine', although this is slowly changing under the growth of functional medicine. This, however is where the true power of health coaching lies.

A health coach is someone that supports you on your wellness journey, they get to know you and help you to make small changes that are sustainable in the context of your life. They are also fantastic in helping you maintain the lifestyle changes suggested by your doctor, giving you practical ways to uphold these changes and hold you accountable. It is often the very practical things that we struggle to maintain on our own after seeing our doctor or even our dietician; more sleep, movement, drinking more water, mindfulness, managing stress, small adjustments to our diet, knowing where to eat or how to not feel overwhelmed when transitioning to a gluten or dairy free diet, for example.

It is this very supportive partnership between coach and client where people begin to see changes in their lives and greater success staying accountable to their goals, coupled with their doctor's recommendations.  I always like to imagine a health coach as someone who helps their clients 'troubleshoot' their lifestyles. From personal experience, I also realised that there is a desperate need for support and people crave to just be heard, particularly when it relates to their health.  

As a qualified IIN health coach, we are taught about the importance of lifestyle, and how it is not only what we put on our plate but also how our relationships, community, job satisfaction, spirituality and financial wellbeing all feed into our health as well.  The profound power of listening, knowing how to ask 'high mileage questions' to get the client to have an active conversation about their life and their health in order to get to the root cause of patterns. It is often these behavioural patterns that keep us locked in our old habits and thoughts which make us unwell or unable to translate our goals. We teach our clients to fully participate in their own health care, to trust their bodies  and to become curious about their road to health.


Going Forward

My hope is that by sharing this today, it may inspire even just one women to feel like they can be supported along their journey, as well as inspire them to share the message of health coaching and that that may go on to reach wider audiences and eventually find it's way into South Africa's medical practises as well. I believe it would be very transformative if practitioners, be it Doctors or Dieticians were able to join hands with health coaches to bring a more innovative model of health care to South Africa and women. 


" There is a place for every physician in having a health coach on their team. The role of a health coach is not just in the office but it's also going out into the community and being able to bridge some of the gaps that exist." —  Dr. Kristi Hughes.


Different health coaches tend to specialise in areas, be it women's health, athletes, children etc.; this is often dependant on their previous experience and passion. There are currently a handful of health coaches that are operating in South Africa.  If you are curious about health coaching or wondering how you can learn more please feel free to get in touch. I personally offer private coaching programs for young women, focussed on sustainable lifestyle changes that can better support their health and hormones as women. My work has been inspired deeply by my very personal healing journey with PCOS, adrenal fatigue and hormonal acne. 


Be Well. 



Caitlin is a qualified INHC health coach with the New York school of Integrative Nutrition and co-founder of Glow alongside Marize Albertyn. Her passion lies in women's wellness and helping women make positive and sustainable changes to their lives in order to 'come home to themselves and their cycle'. 
Social Media  — @nutritionsprout

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