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How Debbie Got Her Groove Back: A Health Coach’s Journey

July 12, 2017

By Deborah Lee, PhD, RN

I thought I was just going to learn coaching skills and process: I found that, and I also found myself.

My Midlife Opportunity

Do you ever ask yourself, “I know what I should be doing, but why can’t I just do it?”  Me too!  Imagine being a nurse for over 30 years, knowing you are physically and mentally depleted, and at the same time, knowing what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, and then, not being able to do it.  This was my life in 2010.  After spending three decades working in health care in a variety of high-stress jobs, I hit the wall, literally felt like I hit the wall – nowhere to go, full stop.  How can you have all the information you need about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and not just do it?  Therein began my journey into what I referred to as, “my midlife opportunity” and the odyssey of changing the wiring of my brain.

Significant Life Change

After the revelation that I needed a midlife opportunity, I decide to embark on a significant life change.  I quit my job and had no idea what I would do next (try telling that to your family); I just knew I couldn’t continue doing what I was doing or it was going to kill me, or at least that’s how it felt at the time.  After leaving my job and six months of not having the energy to do much of anything, I started to slowly make changes to improve my health and well-being.  I went back to Weight Watchers, started to exercise a little at a time, and I worked with a life coach.   As I now say, “it took a village to put me back together again.”

What made the difference besides the “village”?  Being kind, caring and compassionate with myself was key.  I had LOTS of practice losing weight, but not much success keeping it off.  I started to realize I could take what worked well in the past and learn from what didn’t and probably have a different outcome.   As I worked with my life coach, I came to realize what I really loved about my previous career – caring for, supporting and mentoring people to be their best self.  And where did all of this lead me?  To my midlife opportunity!

My Integrative Health Coach Journey

In January 2011, I began my journey as an integrative health coach through the Integrative Health Coach Professional Training (IHCPT) program at Duke Integrative Medicine.  Not only did I have an amazing experience learning the skills, coaching process and partnership to become an integrative health coach, I was transformed.  Through my experience in the program, I came to know myself better, and in that, realized that self-care was the cornerstone of being the person I wanted to be in the world.  I can serve others best when I first care for myself, which is antithetical to how we usually think about caring for our own needs, especially when you come from a helping profession.

What I also learned during this journey, was the neuroscience of change and why, even when we have the information to make lifestyle changes, it doesn’t always translate into changing our behavior.  There’s a reason it’s difficult to make lifestyle changes.  Our brains are wired for habitual, automatic responses and we need to change our thinking, and thereby the wiring of our brain, in order to change our behavior.  As we repeat the behavior, the pathway in the brain becomes more entrenched, and over time, becomes automatic, regardless of whether the behavior serves us well or not.

There are strategies to help us develop new pathways in the brain so we have the opportunity to make a different choice that supports our health, rather than tear it down.  The science and theoretical underpinning of health behavior change informs how, as integrative health coaches, we partner with clients to support long-term, sustainable health behavior change, and it helped me understand how even with health information, we may struggle to make those behavior changes we desire.  Having information, in and of itself, is not always enough.

Where am I now in 2017?

I am the person I could only imagine in 2010 – happy, healthy and thriving – and yes, I am having my “midlife opportunity” that includes a career as an integrative health coach and as an instructor in the IHCPT Foundation and Certification courses.  This journey taught me the power of personal transformation, not only for myself, but for those I have the honor and privilege of coaching.

How can you become an Integrative Health Coach?

Click here to learn more about how you too can become an Integrative Health Coach.

Deborah Lee, PhD, RN

Instructor, Integrative Health Coach Professional Training Program

Deborah is a Duke Certified Integrative Health Coach and President of Better Choices Health Coaching.  She has worked in a variety of health care settings throughout her 30-plus year career.  Her roles have spanned working as a hospital and home care nurse, researcher, university professor, public health professional and health care administrator in the U.S. and Canada.  She has a private health coaching practice, is an instructor in the Foundation and Certification programs of the Integrative Health Coach Professional Training program and this fall with serve as adjunct faculty at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN, where she resides.


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