Like many of us, Cynthia Delaney, a system administrator at Boston Scientific in Marlborough, Massachusetts, wanted to drop a few pounds.
But she didn’t download an app or buy a Fitbit. Instead, looking for help, she turned to her insurance company, taking advantage of her company’s wellness coaching program offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
The personal, one-to-one coaching is a simple approach that stands out among a range of high-tech wellness options also offered by the insurer. People like Delaney don’t need any special gadgets or apps to participate; all they need is a phone, 30 minutes each week and a desire to make a change.
Working with Blue Cross wellness coach Jaime Drunsic, Delaney created her wellness vision and “stepping stone” goals, such as trying a new form of exercise each week. She took classes in Zumba and yoga, rode her bike and swapped a bag of chips or chewy candy for a handful of nuts or carrots as her evening snack.
“Jaime challenged me to go outside my box,” said Delaney, who eventually figured out that yoga wasn’t for her and switched to riding a stationary bike in Boston Scientific’s on-site gym.
“I lost 20 pounds in three months,” she said, “and I wasn’t starving myself. I was shocked at the results. My clothes fit better, and I was surprised at how good I felt.”
Each person who signs up for the program is paired with a nurse and certified wellness coach like Drunsic for a two- to three-month engagement. They talk by phone every week or so for a half hour to identify a wellness vision, set small goals and check in on progress.
The approach is effective, clinicians say, because many participants feel there is less judgment and more anonymity over the phone.
“People tend to open up more on the phone and talk about things they’re hesitant to talk about in person,” said wellness coach Trish McCarthy.
Most people who join the program want to make changes in the areas of diet, exercise, stress, sleep or smoking – issues that plague many Americans. Lifestyle changes can be difficult to sustain, and coaches are a steady resource for encouragement and advice.
The coaching also can go a long way toward decreasing participants’ risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, clinicians say.
“By educating people about the benefits of being healthy, we’re also helping them delay the onset of a chronic condition—that’s really what we’re all about,” program manager Allison Lemanski said. “The crux of the program is setting small, achievable goals that over time turn into larger lifestyle changes.”
The wellness coaching program is available to about 300,000 people whose employers have purchased the service as part of their BCBSMA insurance plan. About 3,000 of those have participated in the program in the past four years, and the numbers are on the rise.
Like many coaching participants, Delaney initially signed up for the program because of a $150 gift card incentive from Boston Scientific, but she said she got much more out of the program than extra cash.
Having her own coach kept her accountable without adding stress, she said.
“Jaime challenged me, and she also had a calming effect on me. It was nice to share my success with her,” she said.
“People start out being accountable to me and then over time they become accountable to themselves—it’s exciting to see that switch happen,” Drunsic, her wellness coach, said.
Kristin Hendrickson, a Boston Scientific employee in Maple Grove, Minnesota, signed up for wellness coaching because she wanted to eat healthier. “There’s so much conflicting information about nutrition out there—I wasn’t sure what I should be eating,” she said.
She considered Weight Watchers but switched gears when she realized she had a free resource at work. After a few months in the program, she has learned to make better food choices and eat a well-rounded diet.
“I feel more satisfied after meals, and I have more energy and just feel better,” she said.
Hendrickson’s small changes have made a positive impact on her family, too. During coaching, she tried a new recipe for tacos with ground turkey, taco seasoning, peppers and onions that she thought her family would never go for. Surprisingly, they liked it—so much so that on a recent vacation to Ely, Minnesota, they swapped out one of their usual dinners of grilled brats and beef burgers for turkey tacos instead.
“When people commit to their vision, it makes them feel more confident about reaching their goals,” said Stephanie Eleyi, Hendrickson’s wellness coach. “I’ve made an impact on someone’s life for the better, and that’s one of my favorite things about my job.”
Tips from our wellness coaches on making healthy changes:
- Create a long-term wellness vision: Consider how your life would look if you were at your ideal level of wellness. What 3-5 behaviors would you display?
- Brainstorm small SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals: What 2-3 small things can you do each week to help you get one step closer to your vision? Are these realistic? Unrealistic goals can leave you feeling frustrated.
- Reflect and affirm: What positive things happened this week that I can celebrate and build on? What things weren’t as positive and how can I change them to make them work for me?
- Buddy up: Consider partnering with someone to hold each other accountable.
Want to get healthier? Our wellness coaches recommend small ways to start:
- Replace sugary or salty snacks with nuts, fruits or veggies.
- Try one new form of exercise each week, such as a new fitness class or riding a bike outside. Pack your workout bag the night before or lay out your workout clothes in the morning.
- Take 10 minutes three times a week to meditate, read or sit and sip your coffee, tea, or water in peace, with no distractions.
- When traveling for business, stay active: climb the stairs or do sit-ups or exercises with a resistance band in your hotel room. Or find time to walk around town to take in the sights.
- Before eating out, look at the menu in advance to pick something healthy and stick to it. Substitute carb-heavy sides with a side of vegetables.
- If you like to cook, buy a healthy cookbook and try one new recipe each week.