More Updates on the Journey

I am now a Certified Level 1 Precision Nutrition Coach. Finished it on Thanksgiving. While the scale hasn’t budged much and I’m still not 100% where I want to be, I’m happy to say that I feel better about my relationship with food.

Precision Nutrition has a saying something like “food is not a moral issue.” For many of us, we grew up hearing quite the opposite. Don’t eat that, you’ll get fat. Fat is bad. You should eat this and not that (I went to college with that guy). Work off your sins.

All of this is fusion – well-meaning, but fusion nonetheless.

I also love the fact that Precision Nutrition focuses on crowding out less healthy foods with more healthy ones. Have the cheesecake, but also eat your vegetables. When we eat higher quality food, all of a sudden that stuff we used to call junk is less reinforcing.

I have to say I did the opposite game with eating to help with this. As I ate the cheesecake, I said, “I can’t eat this cheesecake.” As strange as it sounds, it really does help. (I looked for a link and can’t find one). Also giving those rules a persona – oh, Grizelda! – helped me realize there is no good or bad, just a continuum of better.

I’ve also added fish to my diet after being a lacto-ovo vegetarian for over 20 years. This journey helped me realize that some of those rules were fusion, too. I don’t know if I’ll go back to meat entirely, but I’m not ruling it out.

Fusion and how it gets in the way of our goals – or, how to live with our worries without them getting in the way

Last time we were here, I promised to get into fusion and why it is such an issue.

First, let’s define fusion. Fusion is that pesky little voice telling you those not-so-nice things. They are also faulty rules that we follow, even though they don’t help us. Some examples of fusion are:

  • I’m never going to be able to stick to this eating plan.
  • I’m too fat to go to the gym.
  • People with my issues shouldn’t work out.
  • I blew it today, so game over. Bring on the ice cream!

Fusion keeps us from living the life we want to live – especially if we believe our thoughts. You see, thoughts are just behaviors that have been learned over time. And the logical ways we deal with them are often ineffective. Don’t believe me? Here is a little exercise:

Try not to think of donuts as you read this passage. Do NOT think of any donuts. Not Boston Creme, not Jelly, not plain. You may not think of donuts. Now take 30 seconds and try to do the same.

Sorry that you are now craving donuts. I know I am.

The more we try to avoid or push down these thoughts, the faster they pop up – like a ping pong ball in water. Then we try to squash them – maybe by avoiding the gym. Maybe by binge eating. Maybe by using alcohol or drugs. Maybe by withdrawing from life. The list goes on. The point is that fusion leads to experiential avoidance.

Before you beat yourself up for these thoughts, understand they are perfectly normal. They might have even served a purpose at some point. But now they are outdated and really are just getting in the way.

There are many ways to defuse from those thoughts and feelings that are holding you back. Defusion is a key process in psychological flexibility – the ability to feel the feelings and do the committed action anyway. There are a number of great defusion exercises at My personal favorite is Give your Mind a Name.

My mind’s name is Grizelda. Yes, I named her after the Monkees song. I also think the song explains fusion quite well. Let me know what you think:

Grizelda is a cross between Kristen Chenowith and Stevie Knicks. She loves lattes and manicures, and is always up on the latest gossip. She won’t hesitate to tell you what she thinks. And she shows up unannounced and uninvited.

So what do I do with Grizelda? I don’t argue with her. I just thank her for her opinion and move forward. If I have to, I slip her a $20 and tell her to go get her nails done.

What is your fusion? Let me know how it goes if you try any of these ideas. May you defuse effectively!

Updates on the Journey and Exciting News

It has been a while since I first told you all about my journey into Pn1. I’m still working on that certification. And while I haven’t yet lost any weight, there are good things that are happening on the journey.

I’m getting my chronic binge eating disorder under control. It’s been almost two weeks since my last hardcore binge on anything. I’ve also changed some medication which may be an establishing operation, but I think studying Precision Nutrition had made a huge impact.

What do I think made things different this time? Well, first of all, my approach has changed. As a behavior analyst, we often say that behavior flows where the contingencies go. Small changes add up to big effects. Well, in my case, I did not follow my own advice. It was all or nothing. As soon as all was off the table, the nothing kicked in. I didn’t allow myself to have the psychological flexibility to do what I know to be the right things.

The turning point was really getting that the most important thing with nutrition, exercise, and general life is balance. Too much of anything and you get sick. Too little and you deteriorate slowly. There was a statement in the Pn manual that really stood out for me: Food is not a moral issue. There are no sins in eating. If I have a peanut butter cookie (or 30), I haven’t been “bad.” That’s just fusion, or a faulty rule. As we know, fusion doesn’t just disappear – this is something I’ll be working on for the rest of my life. But now that I’ve identified the real issue isn’t my committed action as much as my fusion, I have a way to proceed. More on that in later blogs.

This blog is a nice summary of why there are no good or bad foods. There is an advertisement for Pn products, but I do not profit off of them and should not be considered an endorsement of any one plan.

Getting a coach myself has also been helpful. I do need external accountability and having a coach who helps me clarify my goals is really huge. She also keeps me from trying to do too much too fast. Right now, we’re working on me getting enough protein during the day and strength training twice a week. This is another example of “I know what to do, but I just don’t do it.” My schedule is jam-packed with work, clients and such. I love my job. I love being a part of peoples’ transformations. However, I still need to work on filling my cup. I often put myself and my needs last, and am working on balancing the two. Trying to do all that things I supposedly should be doing is getting me nowhere.

I’ve also found that task analyzing each of the things I need to do and putting due dates on them really helps me see where I’ve been over-extending. Rather than putting something like “review article” in my list, I actually put the component steps in there.

  1. Print article.
  2. Read article 1x
  3. Re-read and take notes
  4. Review notes
  5. Write review
  6. Proof review
  7. Submit in editorial manager

See how this presents itself as more than a 5-minute task? You also have the plus of checking lots of fun things off the to-do list. I like that my task manager allows for several levels of sub-tasks, which makes things much more easy to plan. Again, more on that in later blogs.

So basically, while I’m still a little overwhelmed and overweight, I’m making small steps in the right direction to center myself.

And now for the exciting news.

I am honored to be working with some fantastic people at TeamABA. They provide a number of health, wellness, and sports performance services, all from a behavior analytic lens. We are introducing Precision Acceptance and Commitment Training, or PACT, an approach to health and performance using ACT as well as other behavior analytic techniques. The idea is to identify those rules and pesky thoughts that keep us from performing at our best. Much of what I have talked about in these blogs is addressed through PACT. Please feel free to contact me via this blog or email for more information.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Oh, Hey. Nice to See You Again.

Hey there, it’s nice to see some old friends again. I can’t believe how long it’s been since we last caught up. I’ll make sure to not be as much of a stranger in the future.

How was your summer? Mine was some up, some down. Let’s see, I:

  • Taught 3 summer courses and re-designed two of them. One of those is still in process.
  • Did a bunch of trainings for agencies in and around NOVA.
  • Hung out with friends in an appropriately socially distant manner.
  • Got my Spin Instructor Certificate from the Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)
  • Got a weight management specialty certificate from the American Council on Exercise
  • Began a contract as a Program Manager for Team ABA, who integrate ABA into health and wellness

Oh, and I got a puppy. Her name is Benigna von Zinzendorf, Beni for short. She is a Cardigan Welsh Corgi and is testing every one of our behavior analytic nerves. But she is also a snuggle bunny and extremely adorable!

Aren’t I cute? I’m twice as big now!

One thing that has been bugging me is that I have not been “in size.” What do I mean by that? I feel like my body is not the right size for me right now. I think we all have an appropriate size. Some are more fluffy, some are more lean. I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all, ideal body. However, sometimes we end up being either too big or too small than what we should be. It’s kind of like clothing that doesn’t fit. I’m feeling like my body doesn’t fit me right now.

Given that I had a smattering of the 60s, 70s, and 80s ideals of what a person should look like, with a side portion of unhealthy habits, I’ve needed to work through this ideal thing. This is when I stumbled upon Precision Nutrition. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems to be an individualized, evidence-based program that really promotes health and wellness over some sort of ideal. Of course, there are the measurements and the weighing and so on. But what I find different about this program is that it has solid behavior analytic roots. Set small, achievable goals. Doing a little each day is better than trying to go full out and falling off the wagon. Consistency beats perfection each time. They are also big on staying within your scope of practice, which I appreciate greatly. (Note: This is not an advertisement or an official endorsement, and I get no monetary gain for my statements. Unless you sign up for coaching from me. The program is not a substitute for consultation with your physician, Registered Dietician, or any other healthcare providers.) I must also note that I am currently pursuing coach certification.

So, here is my idea. I will document each week how things are going in my quest to get healthy. Not just weight loss, but feeling better. Given that I’m on a medication that is notorious for weight gain, this might be an uphill battle. But I’m switching off of that medication so maybe that will help me be a little better.

The way I’m going to go about it, though, will be different. Going with my philosophy that there is “health at every size,” I’m not going to post my weight or measurements. Rather, I will graph the changes in my stats (that is, I’ll graph I lost 2lbs or .5% bodyfat). I’ll also be tracking other indices of wellness – some ACT measures, resting heart rate, stress measurements from Garmin, etc… That way, I’m practicing what I preach.

Hopefully, this way of doing things will work for me, and maybe it will help you, too. More about my goals for this week and next in a later blog!

Organizing and Cleaning my Brain

I did something for my mental health today. I made plans.

Not the kind of “Zoom on Tuesday” plans, but real, tangible plans for the future.

Now, it took me a major screw-up at work to come to this realization. I had been doing things with no real trajectory or outcome set. In other words, I wasn’t living my life as a values-driven person making goal-oriented committed action. In other other words, I was floating around aimlessly and calling it work.

No wonder I didn’t feel so good.

As many know, I have been studying Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT – all one word, not an acronym, please) for a long time. That said, I still like to attend trainings with a beginner attitude. They never disappoint. Right now, I’m attending the ACT Immersion Intensive led by Dr. Steve Hayes himself. And his messages are coming along at just the right time. I could go on about how he put science in perspective for me, and how I didn’t know that he, too, got sick on one of his first interviews as an academic, but I’d digress. What I really want to talk about is values, defusion, and committed action. The cool thing is that you can tie all this back to and with behavior analysis.

Let’s talk values first. Values are what matters. Those things that in the long run are the ones that will make you most proud and content. What you want to be and be remembered for. I realized my biggest value is service – making people’s lives better with my research, writing, and clinical work. To teach others about behavior analysis. You can break down values even more finely, but that is the big one for me. Without people, I’m just a little lost. If you click on the link above, you’ll find some exercises to determine what your values are.

So, how can I make those into concrete behaviors/goals? Well, what does someone who serves others DO? Well, they do scholarship of consequence. Stuff that has impact on people’s lives, not just academics for the sake of academics. When I present or teach, am I using the best methods to disseminate the best evidence out there? Or am I recycling the same old thing year after year? When I work with clients, am I focused on the client right now, not the bills I have to pay or whatever comes after my session? Am I using the best evidence-based practices I can with this person? Am I assessing them within their context? I now have a ton of things I can work with, right?

I’m also not able to be of services when I’m sick. If I’m not at my best health, mentally or physically, I can’t do any of the above things well. Kind of well, maybe. Maybe one or two of those things. But I’ll crash and burn if I don’t care for the old engine in me. So it’s important I keep a good diet, exercise the recommended 150 minutes a week or more, and engage in regular leisure (I can never spell that word on the first try) and stress reduction activities. See this extra interesting article on long hours and your health. It is clear I need to leave the basement once in a while.

The next part is committed action. This is where it is easy to fall down on the job. Committed action means that you do those things you said you’d do, which in turn allows you to live your life with integrity. What gets in the way? Well, our mind tells us lies. Lies like “I’m not smart enough to publish this article.” Or “I can never lose the weight, so why even try?” Or, “do you understand that everyone thinks you suck?” Those lies are really powerful, and they are called fusion. They lead to us staying away from taking the big leap, also called experiential avoidance. The difficult thing is that those lies never really go away. You can’t unlearn them, you can’t thought stop them. So you have to learn to turn down the volume. The process of turning these thoughts down is defusion. I like to think of defusion like when I turn down the radio to see better when I’m looking for an address.

From there, I have to break down my goal behaviors into little chunks and take a small bite each day. The fusion is there in the form of self-doubt, but I will take steps not to let that stop me. I personally find the planners from Productive Flourishing pick up where the ACT processes leave off. So now, I have a clearer idea of where I need to go and how I need to behave to live my truth.

If you like audio exercises, try these. As always, I’m sharing my ideas, not endorsing anyone or providing clinical advice.

The cool thing is, all this taken together can really help you see clearly and make decisions about your life. It’s been shown in all kinds of studies and with all kinds of people (learn more at the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science website). If you’re struggling with some big avoidance problems or the kind of fusion that comes from heavy trauma or mental illness, you are best served going through these processes with a trained therapist. However, if you are just trying to get your ACT together – see that pun? funny, right? – you can do much of this work on your own. A classic self-guided book is Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life.

Which is what I am about to do.

What is science? And who owns it?

Be prepared. This might be a little bit of a rant.

Last night, an old colleague (and dare I say, mentor) of mine went on a long series of posts on my Facebook page. What started as a mild criticism of a turn of phrase turned into an all out war against me, a few authors, and some others. One of my favorite parts of the (well, conversation isn’t the right word) was when he said, “(name redacted) doesn’t know his ass from and acorn.” That’s a difficult discrimination issue, indeed.

But what got me was his assertion that Special Educators, with a tacit assumption of clinicians in general, are not scientists. According to him, scientists make discoveries, using the scientific method, that are disseminated in peer reviewed journals. Good scientists don’t waste their time writing books because the academy sneers at them.

Sir, I think Gallileo and DaVinci would disagree with you on many of these points. And so do I.

Let’s begin by defining science, shall we?

According to, science is:

  • a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws:the mathematical sciences.
  • systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.any of the branches of natural or physical science.
  • systematized knowledge in general.knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.a particular branch of knowledge.

Let’s take a definition from behavior analysis for balance. I happen to have the third edition of Strategies and Tactics of Behavioral Research by Johnston and Pennypacker on my Kindle. I probably shouldn’t say that too loudly – do they allow people like me to read it? The link is to the fourth edition.

They define science in several chapters, and I’ll try to sum it up as best I can.

  • Science can be defined as what scientists do, which is also part of the natural environment. As such, the scientist’s behaviors are controlled by the stimuli within it. You can never not be part of the experiment. The methods and subject matter is all a matter of contingencies.
  • The scientific method is used to gain more insight into the subject matter. There are some specific conventions that have been shown over the years to be effective, but anyone in education can attest that they have been a matter of debate themselves. Can you run stats on a single subject design?
  • Data, natural patterns and generalizations are generated from both the behavior of scientists and the methods they choose.

In fact, Johnston and Pennypacker are very clear that science is not limited to research, peer reviewed journal articles, and academic accolades. They do concede, however, that the practitioner is limited in their generalization of findings for a number of reasons. These include limitations in the selection of questions and the degree that they can control their environment for extraneous variables.

In the end, though, behavioral science comes down to this fundamental question: what are the contingencies that control behavior?

So, basically, if I’m collecting data, trying to control for extraneous variables, using the scientific method to the level the environment allows, and making decisions based upon those data about the contingencies that control behavior – I’m a scientist. A scientist-practitioner, but a scientist nonetheless.

Oh, here’s a gem: “The key to understanding how science works lies in acknowledging that scientists are behaving organisms. As such, there is no evidence that scientists are generally different from other people. In other words, they are not any smarter or more logical than others who earn advanced degrees (Mahoney, 1976, as cited in Johnston and Pennypacker, 2010. Regrettably, I don’t have the page number since I’m working from a Kindle).” So it might be in your best interest to, I dunno, take it down a few pegs.

Also, I’m having trouble understanding how a person who hasn’t interacted with the people he’s attacking in the flesh for many years can make judgements about our behavior, if the scientist is data- and observation-focused.

As another friend said, painting all practitioners in a corner as the same flies in the face of a functional approach to human behavior. As behavior analysts, what a behavior looks like is secondary to how it operates on the environment. So, do all clinicians practice in the same manner using the same methods? Seems implausible to me. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we call it, as long as we do it?

Also, attacking people for their successes and insulting them are logical fallacies. Using this post by the UNC Writing Center, oh, there were so many problems with what was said last night:

  • Hasty Generalization – “Special Educators are not scientists.” This seems more like a stereotype than a statement of fact. Where are the data to support that? Granted, Burns and Ysseldyke (2008) reported that professionals supporting students with disabilities often chose interventions with little to no evidence. However, nowhere in the article does it state that there were NO evidence based practices used. And, does a sample from a survey reliably measure practice?
  • Ad hominem and to quoque – in other words, when you don’t have anything else to say, attack the person. Their yacht. Or their ability to discriminate their ass from an acorn.
  • Red Herring – the acorn guy’s stuff was actually tangential to the original argument. Therefore, what he can discriminate, and what he can’t, doesn’t really belong in the conversation.
  • False Dichotomy – being a scientist isn’t necessarily and either/or distinction. One can be a scientist, a consumer of science, or both. To say otherwise is just elitist.

So, Dear Doctor, I shall continue to call myself a scientist. Because of, and in spite of, what you say.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Home, sweet home

Hi. Remember me? It’s been a while.

I was all hyped up to do my weekly coaching spiel – then COVID-19 became a household word. Suddenly, no one knew if it was safe to work out at the gym. Was produce safe to eat? Ok, now the gym is closed.

Whoa, now the University is closed. Well, not really, we just can’t get to our offices. Through the miracle of Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other conferencing software, we can get everything done from the comfort of our own couch.

Wait a minute. I worked mostly from home anyway. This shouldn’t be a shift, right?

It was more of a shift than I thought. I don’t have kids, but Spousal Unit is home most of the day. He’s been great, honestly, and understands my hectic/not hectic work life. I’ve moved from the couch in the living room to the couch in the basement. I’m doing way more webinars than I ever thought possible, and I put three additional mini-certificates under my belt (Weight Management, Complex PTSD, and Telehealth). However, life has changed. I think when I had my first panic attack, ever, during a routine call is when I realized maybe things aren’t the normal work-from-home, and maybe I wasn’t 100% ok.

I’m putting on some poundage, and my central fat is growing. That’s the dangerous fat around your midsection that is sometimes called “stress fat.” At my last specialist appointments, it was pointed out that I am overweight and deconditioned. In other words, this COVID-19 has made me stressed, fat, and out of shape.

Let’s face it, if you like the gym, you probably picked it at least in part for social reinforcement. Yeah, there’s Zoom, but that’s different, right? Like we are in an episode of the Brady Bunch. I don’t know of any peer reviewed articles on Zoom Fatigue, but there does seem to be some anecdotal evidence supporting all this screen time being less than good for us.

I also know some of my colleagues are dealing with much bigger stressors than my whining about ANOTHER meeting about meetings where we plan future Zoom meetings.

And let’s not forget the number of our friends and family dealing with COVID-19. I can say as of this writing, I’ve known a few people who may have had it, but I have not lost any friends, family, coworkers, or students. I’m lucky – not everyone is.

I feel as if I should work hard right now, not because of them, not to get ahead, but FOR them. So they can tend to their needs with a little less stress. I’m fortunate to be healthy right now as well as open to do work – SO I SHOULD DO IT. As such, my basement has become where I spend the majority of my time.

But overworking isn’t the answer, either. So, I’m going to put on my compassion fatigue hat and consider some better ways to do things.

  • I’ve been telling parents in the telehealth seminars, “you’re doing great, your good enough is good enough.” (Yes, spellcheck, that is grammatically correct. Now put your red dots away.) And I believe that with all my heart. But sometimes, well, most of the time, self-compassion is tough. I like Kristin Neff’s definition: “treating ourselves as we would a good friend.” Would you tell your best friend not to take a break? That they’re not trying hard enough to get their kids to sit through e-learning? So why is it so easy to tell ourselves, “I’m not working hard enough, I should be more, I should be self-actualized when this is over?” Sorry for my cuss, but bullshit. I, and most likely you, need to be more gentle with ourselves.
  • Set some boundaries around work life, so that there is time for socialization. Work from 9-5, or 10-6, or 11-7, or something like that. Setting boundaries around my work and stopping when the workday ends is better than trying to hit some sort of arbitrary metric.
  • Take one day “off” a week – this is something I’m trying to do, but am not as successful. I always want to answer that one email that will take 5 minutes, right? Then all of a sudden you’ve worked on 5 different projects? I took one day, so far, to do nothing. I need to schedule those types of days more often. Maybe not do nothing, but no work.
  • Remember my hobbies and interests. Tang Soo Do still exists. My guitar is right next to me. My piano is upstairs. I’m not a sewer, but I spent an entire day setting up my sewing machine and making masks. Mom would have been proud. But then I looked at my to-do list and admonished myself for wasting the day. Nope, not going to beat myself up for doing things that bring me fun and enjoyment.
  • Taking regular breaks to eat, exercise, and relax – instead of trying to eat at my makeshift desk, skip the workout for something “more important,” and have the ding of my email remind me there is a message there. Which, once stimulus control is established, must be answered RIGHT NOW.

For all of you who are healthy, please take care of yourselves and stay that way. For those of you who are not, or are caring for someone who is not, take the time to get well. School, scholarship, and service will wait patiently for you, and those of us who can are ready and willing to help. And please remember that your good enough is, indeed, good enough right now.

So, how did Week 1 Go?

Well, not so good, and not so bad. Which is good, too, because I can talk about the bad and the good.

There were some goals I met, some that I downright didn’t, and others that need a little tweaking. So let’s look at what my goals were:

  • Write in my journal for at least 15 minutes for 5 days this week at the beginning of the day
  • Meditate for at least 15 minutes each day
  • Attend the gym at least 5 days this week for 30 minutes (150 minutes of moderate activity)
  • Use my click counter to count positive things each day
  • Eat at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit for 6 days this week

Write in my journal for at least 15 minutes for 5 days this week at the beginning of the day/Meditate for 15 minutes each day

I kind of made that goal, but my writing is getting shorter. I did miss Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On all those days, I had to be places at times when no one should have to be places. Getting up on time and wearing pants took priority. I do need to find a way to make sure that if I can’t journal first thing, that I do so some time during the day. It does help to keep me from going off the rails a little.

Attend the gym for at least 5 days this week for 30 minutes

This one was totally meh. I found myself “rescheduling” gym time because of grading and other things. This tells me that I’m seeing the gym as less of a priority than grading, reading, and even journaling and sleeping. My health issues made weight training and some of the circuit training a challenge. Having to admit being a beginner again was also not fun. This is something I need to explore – how can I make physical activity as important as the other areas of my life? It may also be that I set too ambitious of a goal to begin with. Since I am coming back, perhaps it would have been more realistic to say that I would do three gym sessions with at least one strength training session. This is my goal for this week.

Use my click counter to record positive things this week.

So I found a really cool and very nerdy app to graph my clicks called AimStar Lite. If you are not familiar with Celeration Charting, it is a standardized, semi-logarithmic chart used to track progress over time and make predictions about data. Because it is standardized, you can compare all kinds of data and be sure your interpretation of trends is valid. My chart had a little bit of “bounce,” or variability. There is a way that you can calculate it specifically, but I have been using visual analysis only. I dipped during the week, but hopefully will see an upward trend this week.

Eat at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit for 6 days this week

I think I was pretty good at this – I’m now subscribing to a dinner delivery service that increases my intake. But I was not very good at recording what I ate. The only exception were the three days I had to record my intake during my nutrition class. We did an in-depth analysis of our diet. I’m deficient in a few minerals that can explain why I have been so sluggish during the week and not eager to go to the gym. I’m doing OK on my macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs) but could consider decreasing my sugar and saturated fat intake.

So for this week, I am adjusting my expectations a bit. I have decided that recording my food intake is a little much right now, as I am trying to finish out a course. Meditation and journaling are my best friends, so those I’ll keep, as well as counting good things. I’ll lower my goal of attending the gym to 3 days/week for at least 30 minutes per session. It’s amazing what data will do for your life!

A voyage into the coaching experience

Physician, heal thyself. Or coach, be a Coachy McCoacherson.

Rather than tell you what the coaching experience is like, I’m going to semi-have you experience it from my vantage point. You see, I could use a little self-coaching right now.

Here’s the backstory – around Thanksgiving, I caught a cold. That cold turned into a cough. That cough lingered, and I found myself short of breath (see, even the medical people could call me SOB now). Given that both my parents died of things related to lungs and breathing, I was a little more than terrified. It turns out that not getting enough oxygen to the brain mimics panic and anxiety symptoms, so I had that going for me as well. Two chest x-rays, an inhaler, many medications, and a nebulizer later, and we still had no answers. Nothing seemed to make things better, and asthma wasn’t the right diagnosis.

We are ending February now, and still looking for answers, but getting closer. Looks like the bronchitis exacerbated my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. My lungs are stretched out and are functioning at about 65% of what they should. So far, every test is coming back in the clear. More tests at the end of this week will tell me if I, who hasn’t smoked in 20 years, have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD.

My doctor did not put any restrictions on my activities, but I did do a fair amount of feeling sorry for myself. Eating my feelings. When you aren’t breathing well, it’s hard to get the motivation to exercise. Then I got the mother of all head colds, and that was enough to just send me over the edge. My two go-to health tools, exercise and breath work, were pretty much a wash.

Luckily, I have a good support system who talked me back from the brink. I am recovering from the head cold and it’s time to get back into life. I’ve taken some time to review my personal values and maybe if I make the effort to get up, someone else will, too. Maybe that person getting up will inspire another person to get up, and so on.

If I were actually coaching someone, and this were the first meeting, I would be taking some time to go over my coaching agreement, fee schedule, and getting some information about where the individual is now with regard to their health and fitness. We would also talk about values and where the person wants to go. While I talk to myself a lot, I don’t typically enter into business agreements with myself. I’ve also already done a lot of values clarification, so I’m good to go there. So, we’ll skip that part.

As we have talked about before, there are considered to be 7 dimensions of personal wellness. At this point, the main focus is working on my stress levels, exercise, and diet to improve my physical health. I could use a tuneup in all 7, but that would be a lot to take on all at once. One thing I have a bad habit of doing with myself is deciding I’m going to do a complete life overhaul. That’s too much, as any behavior change person will tell you. Small changes make a bigger impact.

I’m deconditioned, so any exercise is really at the beginner level. Just getting to the gym and doing some varied activity is a win at this point. I’m stressed out from all the tests, among other things, and that is taking a toll on my physical health. Any type of activities that can reduce the impact of stress on my body are wins. I’m not eating well, and that is also not helping me. A few veggies and a fruit here or there would be better than I’m doing right now.

What are my SMART goals for this week?

  • Write in my journal for at least 15 minutes for 5 days this week at the beginning of the day
  • Meditate for at least 15 minutes each day
  • Attend the gym at least 5 days this week for 30 minutes (150 minutes of moderate activity)
  • Use my click counter to count positive things each day
  • Eat at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit for 6 days this week

I also plan on looking at ways I can make my work more efficient and pleasant and spend some time decluttering my environment, but that is a bonus.

It’ll also be important to take some baseline measures in areas of movement, fitness, and wellness. We lose our conditioning pretty quickly, especially when we get older. It’s awfully humbling to be a beginner again in this regard, but I need to accept that fact. Gotta start somewhere, right?

Next week, I’ll give you some progress reports of Week 1. Wish me luck.

What is a Health Coach, anyway?

So, I realized I told you that I was available for coaching, but really didn’t tell you what a coach does. Important information, poor delivery on my part.

The truth is that there is no one, standard definition of a coach. Anyone can really hang a shingle and call themselves a Coach. Just like behavior analysis was 20 years ago, there isn’t any uniform certification or licensure.

So, as they say, buyer beware.

I’ll start with the scope of practice of a Health Coach. I’m certified with the American Council on Exercise (ACE), who sets forth this specific set of guidelines. Basically, a coach is a person who guides an individual to a set of self-identified health and fitness goals. They are there to provide structure and encouragement, much like an athletic coach would do.

It’s also important to state what is outside of the scope of practice of a Health Coach. They are not a replacement for a trainer, physical therapist, doctor, nutritionist, or most importantly, a licensed mental health professional. Some of the practices we use might overlap – for example, looking at the USDA Choose My Plate recommendations for healthy eating to evaluate whether someone’s choice of diet plan is a good idea. However, if you’re asking for a meal plan, that is outside of the scope of practice. I might use values-based interviewing to determine your priorities and goals, but I’m not qualified to counsel you should you disclose depression or anxiety. Ideally, I’m part of a bigger team who helps you be your best self.

As we’ve talked about before, there is a lot of snake oil out there, and Health Coaching is no exception. A good Health Coach stays on top of the peer-reviewed literature and makes sure their approaches and suggestions are all based upon the latest evidence. Be wary of someone who says, “I’m just a coach who has no time for all that research stuff.” I personally like the red flags from Seek Safely to evaluate any events or programs you might be considering.

What about credentials? A good coach has some sort of training and certification. Here, too, you have to be careful about what type. Anyone can go to a two-day workshop and say they are certified to be a coach. There are, however, some standards to look for that can increase your confidence in a coach.

  • They hold a license or some sort of certification in behavior change (e.g., licensed psychologist or social worker, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, etc…). This is good, but not necessary.
  • They hold a license or some sort of certification in health and wellness (e.g., Personal Trainer, Registered Nutritionist/Dietician, M.D., R.N., etc….). Again good, but not necessary. In some cases, such as in trainer and nutritionist, you might want to dig further into those credentials to make sure they are also legit.
  • Their certification is from a reputable source. OK, how do I know that? Here are some things to look for: 1) The organization is established and recognized in the field of health and wellness. Some examples include, but aren’t limited to, the American Council on Exercise, Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. 2) The certification is itself credentialed. There are two approvals to look for: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) approval, or accreditation from the International Coach Federation (ICF). Coaches can also be credentialed directly through ICF, which is considered a high honor.

There is also always just general fit with your goals and values. Each coach has a way of interacting with their clients based upon their values and personality. Just because you don’t “click” with one coach doesn’t mean that another won’t be the perfect fit. As with any big life decision, do your homework, and pick the coach that is best for you. In my next post, I’ll talk a bit about what to expect from a coaching experience.