Sysy Morales, who blogs at The Girl’s Guide to Diabetes and is living with type 1 diabetes, has always been passionate about helping people discover their path to health and happiness. She has helped friends and family, including a sister who also has type 1, find focus and balance in their lives. And, earlier this year, Sysy completed formal training to turn her passion to help into her profession. She became a life coach.
In addition to the more traditional diabetes care team members, life coaches are emerging as another resource people with diabetes may access to help them identify and reach their goals, both within living with diabetes and beyond. Life coaching, a growing field, may be a natural career fit for people who want to help others learn to manage their diabetes, but not necessarily in the role of a certified diabetes educator (CDE). In fact, the field is attracting many people who, like Sysy, live with diabetes themselves. Who knows better than a person living with diabetes, for example, the frustration of having a goal like maintaining blood sugar levels within range, and not being able to achieve it? Or what about the feeling that even though you’re trying hard, your management just may not be working? Many people with diabetes may struggle with similar scenarios, and a coach – especially one who understands what you’re going through – can be a wonderful tool to get you on the path to better diabetes management.
Like Sysy, wellness and life coach Ginger Vieira, who blogs at living-in-progress.com has a passion for helping people achieve their goals. Ginger has been living with type 1 diabetes for fourteen years and in that time has become certified as a personal trainer and a yoga instructor. After doing that for four years, Ginger realized that, while she loved motivating and teaching people in health, a certain part of her brain wanted and could do more than just address people’s physical needs. As a result, she enrolled in a cognitive coaching program that taught her how to communicate and guide a person through a goal.
“I can’t replace a CDE,” Ginger says. “I do teach my clients how different types of exercise may impact their blood sugar, so they can adjust how they prepare for specific activities.” Ginger also strives to understand the lifestyle of those who come to her, so she can help them fit healthful eating into their lives. Sysy talks about nutrition to her clients, too, and spends time evaluating how a person may feel about him- or herself. “My experience is that people who love themselves make very different choices than those who are struggling to feel positive,” she says, “and so I do give this area some well-deserved attention.”
While about ninety percent of Ginger’s clients have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, she does not give them medical advice. “All of my clients have a focus on learning how to eat a balanced diet. Most of my clients are also looking for guidance and education in exercising while also paying attention to blood sugar. I also do a lot of coaching with clients who might feel overwhelmed and burnt out by diabetes management.” Ginger, like other diabetes life coaches, always recommends talking with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Sometimes, her clients need help with topics that go beyond the physical. “If you need to sort through your past or face a deep psychological issue, then I will refer you to a psychologist or therapist,” she says. “If you want to work with me, it’s because you want to change the way you think about and manage your health around living with diabetes, nutrition, and exercise.”
According to Sysy, a coach listens, asks questions, makes observations, and offers support. He or she helps a client prioritize and then make the journey to become the best version of him- or herself. “People don’t often get time to talk to someone who is actively listening and not just telling them what to do,” Sysy says. “I’ve been amazed when clients say ‘Thank you, this was so helpful!’ and I don’t feel I’ve done much.”
What to look for in a life coach
Certifications are important, and it’s also important that your coach isn’t giving the same advice to every client. “What works for me in my life with diabetes isn’t necessarily going to work for you,” Ginger says. “A good coach knows how to take their training and adapt the lessons to you and your life.” Finding a coach with a special skill set is important, too. Sysy says that many of those she helps are people with diabetes who turn to her because they don’t need to explain themselves. “I’ve gone from obese to a healthier weight, not taking care of myself properly to more managed diabetes, and totally changed my life around for the better,” Sysy says. “Some people tell me they want to do what I did, and I understand the emotions and struggle that’s involved.”
A diabetes coach doesn’t need to live near you. Ginger and Sysy have both had great successes with long-distance clients. The key is to find someone you connect with, someone who inspires you, and someone who helps you incorporate diabetes into your life so that it is simply that: part of your life, and perhaps less of a struggle.
Jessica Apple is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online diabetes lifestyle magazine A Sweet Life. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including The Sunday New York Times Magazine, The Financial Times Magazine, The Southern Review, The Bellevue Literary Review, and Tablet Magazine. Apple is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience