Introducing Health Coaching at RIFM

Dr. Aaron Hartman

January 17, 2022

woman holding shoulder of another person

    In working with patients over the last 20 years, I’ve realized that one of the biggest impediments to people maximizing their health and wellness is the implementation of identified changes.  One of the crucial elements to overcoming these roadblocks is having a coach or guide help walk through the mission-critical elements of diet, lifestyle, stress reduction, sleep, movement/exercise, and relationships, which are all encompassed in lifestyle medicine.

    With this in mind, this year we have incorporated health coaching in our in-person membership and offer group coaching to our online community as well.  This will meet people right where they are, to make their own individualized health programs, and to achieve lifestyle balance and healthy resilience.

    Since health coaching is fairly new to most of my patients, you may wonder how you could benefit from coaching, how the process works, and what to expect in a health coaching session.

    Health Coaching Benefits

    The goal of health coaching at RIFM is to provide personalized help in walking through your physician’s lifestyle change recommendations for the best possible health outcome.  Your coaching sessions are opportunities for you to bring the recommendations you’re ready to put into practice and work out a plan that will fit into your lifestyle.

    Your health coaching sessions are also a great place to get answers to your questions between doctor visits.  Your coach can answer questions around lifestyle and the implementation of your doctor’s recommendations.

    Healing takes time and functional medicine takes patience as you work with your doctor to remove the triggers that create dysfunction and the mediators that prevent healing.  Having a coach to walk alongside you on your path forward increases the likelihood you can persevere through the hard work and achieve the best possible outcome.  For more information on the effectiveness of health coaching, check out this article from Harvard Health. (See Link)


    Patients receive an email when it’s time to schedule their health coaching sessions.  Links are provided for scheduling your sessions at a time that is convenient for you.  Once the session is scheduled, you will receive a confirmation with a Zoom link that you can use to begin your session at the scheduled time.  While there is a recommended schedule for sessions, your coach will work with you to schedule your sessions when they are most beneficial for you.

    What Should I Expect During a Coaching Session?

    While your doctor’s visit likely ended with a discussion of WHAT changes he’d like you to implement, your coaching session will focus on HOW you can accomplish those changes.  For example, you might discuss how to remove gluten from your diet, how to eat real food within the context of your busy schedule, how to remember to take your supplements, how to improve your sleep, or how to fit more movement into your day.  You might even choose to spend an entire session making a meal plan.

    While you work with your physician to determine what changes to make, you will work with your coach to answer the question, “How do I do this?”

    How should you prepare for your coaching session?

    • Come with your wins!  Your coach will want to hear what’s been going WELL as you’ve started to implement your physician’s recommendations.
    • Come with your questions!  If your coach doesn’t know the answer, they can often touch base with the physician to find out.
    • Come with your dreams of health.  Why is now the right time for you to work on your health?  What do you hope to do in life that will make all of this effort worthwhile?  Do you want to walk your daughter down the aisle?  Play on the floor with your grandkids?  Hike the Appalachian Trail?  What purpose or calling do you have in life?

    You might decide to brainstorm on possible ways to fit more movement into your day, make a meal plan for the week, or walk through your current night-time routine to work on improving your sleep.  While your coach will have topics to discuss and lots of questions to ask, these all take a lower priority to the topics you bring to your session.

    Know that during most coaching sessions, you’ll do most of the talking!  A good coach asks A LOT of questions.  Your session is YOUR time to discuss whatever might be most helpful in making the changes you discussed from your doctor.

    A Coaching Story

    As an example, let’s take an RIFM patient, we’ll call her Kimberly.  Kimberly had multiple food sensitivities, chronic inflammation, pain, and fatigue.  She has been working with her doctor to identify and remove the triggers and mediators that have prevented her body from healing.  While she had made great progress in healing prior to coaching, she was working on several aspects of her lifestyle and wanted help prioritizing and systematically moving through them.

    Working with her coach, Kimberly had the time and space to talk and think through her goals, then break them down into weekly steps.  She first chose to focus on getting the most reactive foods out of her diet, then she added in more nutritious/therapeutic foods, increased her movement, and finally worked on improving the quality of her sleep.  She used her coach as an accountability partner to help focus on her action steps each week.  They spent her sessions brainstorming ideas on how to fit her doctor’s recommendations into her everyday life and selecting small goals to work on between sessions.

    Together, they worked toward progress, not perfection.  In each session, Kimberly gained more confidence that she could make these changes part of her lifestyle and was empowered to choose further goals that stretched her.  Kimberly is still working toward her vision of health and making progress.  With her doctor’s guidance and her determination to support her body in healing, her trajectory is tracking solidly toward her vision.


    We at RIFM are committed to helping each patient achieve their best health possible.  Health coaching is just one resource that we are adding to improve our patient outcomes.  Have a question about coaching?  Email us at

    Keep an eye out for more information on coaching along with tips from our coaches in our  “Coach’s Corner” posts!  Next month, our Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach, Jeni O’Neill, will discuss what to look for in a good coach and how we selected our coaches for RIFM.

    Further Reading

    We’ve Updated Our Popular Food Sourcing Guide

    • Food Sourcing Principles
    • Local Sourcing Options for Central VA
    • Non-Local Sourcing Solutions & Principles

    And we’ve added it to our FREE micro course “Real Food Diaries.” Register for the free course to access the updated guide.