Coached off the couch

Health coaches treat chronic illness through lifestyle change



Doctors tend to be problem solvers. They pin broken bones back together, prescribe drugs that can kill infections, and cut hearts open to clear cholesterol blockages. The modern health-care industry was built on administering these kinds of highly effective scientific breakthroughs, with their immediate, measurable impacts on illnesses and injuries. Frankly, it’s amazing what doctors can fix—but that focus sometimes draws attention away from problems that could have been prevented. Sure, they’ll tell patients to eat better and exercise more, but with waiting rooms full of suffering sick people, doctors just don’t have time to monitor everyone’s eating habits. That’s not their job. Their job is to treat the many ailments that inevitably result from a culture in which most people sit at desks all day and have easy access to sugar-filled treats and deliciously greasy burgers.

PUT ME IN, COACH! :  John and Jayme Brunson own and operate Well Bodies, a health coaching service that encourages clients to focus on overall health, not just weight loss or muscle mass. Call 242-6602 for more information. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN BRUNSON
  • PUT ME IN, COACH! : John and Jayme Brunson own and operate Well Bodies, a health coaching service that encourages clients to focus on overall health, not just weight loss or muscle mass. Call 242-6602 for more information.

John and Jayme Brunson want to help address that treatment gap. They aren’t doctors. They’re health coaches, a role that’s part nutritionist, part therapist, part physical trainer. They opened their San Luis Obispo business, Well Bodies, last year, and believe that health coaches will become increasingly popular as clients see the results and insurance companies recognize their value, John said during a phone interview.

“In a society that wants the immediate fix, we see a lot of people that tried that but admit it didn’t work,” he said. “Usually by the time someone comes to us, they’re pretty frustrated with taking pills and trying the diet of the month.”

The Brunsons received their certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is based in New York but offers an extensive online program, John said. According to the institute’s website, the year-long curriculum covers more than 100 dietary theories and includes classes and resources for launching a new business. The program is recognized by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and includes ongoing training after graduation. Thus, anyone can become a health coach. Before earning his certification, John was a business manager with a background in restaurants.

As health coaches, his wife and he offer several tiers of services with options for a one-month intensive program, or longer-term programs that last three or six months. In every case, the client would meet regularly with a health coach for an hour-long discussion to go over eating habits, lifestyles, stress factors, and health concerns. The coaches would then create a tailored set of dietary and exercise goals the client could reasonably accomplish, taking the client’s emotional history and habits into consideration. The following week, progress would be tracked, and more goals would be added or adjusted. The purpose, John said, is to start small and create permanent, healthy habits.

“We’re looking for long-term solutions,” John said. “After a month with us, you should have a road map for where you’re going to go, and you should be seeing some improvement.”

     John said he’s yet to have a client use his services for just a month. They’ve all added more time, he said, despite the price tag. A month of services costs $300; three months costs $750; and six months costs $1,200. He said that checking in regularly with coaches helps people make the most of their efforts.

     “The value and success of the program all comes down to support and encouragement,” he said. “It’s got to work for you, or you’re going to stop doing it.”

Overweight people don’t need to start running several miles a day. In fact, many of the Brunsons’ recommendations are simple:

Pretty much everyone needs to eat more leafy vegetables. Office workers should take regular walking breaks. Busy people should take a day to prepare a week’s worth of re-heatable, healthy meals, and no one should eat fast food. Those are easy-enough goals that can add up to big benefits, and regular check-ins with the coach help ensure that clients stay on track.

And staying healthy is more important than simply looking pretty. In February, Well Bodies is launching Diabetes Free SLO, a nationally certified curriculum that includes education on reducing sugar consumption and taking steps to reverse progress of the disease, which can cause heart, vision, and kidney problems. A 2009 Diabetes in California report showed that 4.7 percent of SLO County adults have diabetes, a total of 9,736 people. Brunson believes many more are at risk.

But even athletic, seemingly healthy people can benefit from a health coach. Kevin Main, a local jewelry store owner and ultra distance cyclist, started meeting with the Brunsons in November. He said John has helped him reduce his coffee consumption and find proteins that will specifically strengthen his ankle, which was injured years ago.

“It’s a whole package that he’s working on to let me take it to the next level, whatever that level may be,” Main said.

Currently, most health coaching services aren’t covered by health insurance providers, but John and Main expect that to change in the future, when insurance providers realize how much money they could save covering a population with better overall health.

“This is a completely different mindset,” Main said. “Right now, doctors make their money when you’re sick. They should be paid to keep you healthy.”

Staff Writer Nick Powell can be reached at


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