Health Shaming: A Trend that Looks Good on Nobody

At a first meeting with a new health coaching client, I see a list in front of her. A long list. I couldn’t read it but I had a feeling. I began by asking her the question I ask every new client: “What are you feeling good about with your health right now?”

She physically responded by sitting back, head tilted and eyes widened: “That is the not the question I expected,” she said.” “You see, I have here a list, a list of my problems. All the things I am not doing. ”I continued: “Let’s start by talking about what you’re feeling good about.” With some probing, she was able to come up with several. This led to an illuminating conversation about her values and her motivators. By the end of our time together, we had connected and had begun to explore her readiness to change some health habits and gauged her confidence in doing so. She remarked she felt listened to and in control. She was open to new possibilities and in charge of the first step in her journey toward better health: I literally felt it in her hug and saw it in her gait as she moved down the block.

Imagine a different scenario: one where she was one-upped, interrogated or guilt tripped? And then being told she must change: health shamed. Shaming is an odd, disturbing trend right now…by one definition: ‘to be negatively evaluated by others or one’s self.’  Who thinks that would work? Where would my client’s confidence to achieve be and where would she develop the tools needed to sustain long-lasting change on her own? Had I ‘health shamed’ her, I am certain I would not have her as a client, and more importantly, she would not be on the road to better health. Understanding, kindness, honesty and belief in someone…well, that looks good on everybody.

So let’s honor ourselves this New Year. There are lots of other things to fight fire with fire. The road to long-lasting health deserves positive partnership and diligent effort, building confidence and self efficacy with every step and in every bite. It’s a brand new way of looking at yourself and your abilities.

Susan Kolon is a healthcare communications consultant and wellness coach. Used with client’s permission.