Mind & Body

Want to lose weight? Get a peer coach

 | November 17, 2010

“This will be the year I’m going to lose those 10 extra pounds. I promise to quit smoking. I’ll exercise more. I’ll wean myself from pota­­­to chips.” How many times have you heard yourself utter these words?

With a new peer coaching program from Patient Voices Network, anyone who’d like to make that leap to a healthier lifestyle can get assistance to reach the goal.

Patient Voices Network is a not-for-profit organization that allows individuals to participate in improving primary healthcare services in B.C. One of the organization’s initiatives is a peer coaching program that assists individuals to achieve their goals in four key areas: increasing physical activities, healthy eating, managing weight and quitting smoking. Anxiety and depression, substance use or employment and career coaching are excluded.

“The peer coaches are there to support and help motivate participants who’d like to make a healthy change so they can reach their goal,” explained Abigail Cameron, Patient Voices Network’s patient liaison. “We use goal setting principles in order for them to reach their goal, making sure their goals are specific and achievable.”

Each participant is partnered with a trained peer coach volunteer who’ll motivate and keep the participant on the right track by phoning them regularly and checking on his or her progress. Each participant is allotted six phone sessions with a peer coach that must be completed within three months. The service is free and all sessions are done over the phone.

Rachel Nixon, a Vancouverite peer coach, said she liked that the program gave her a chance to be positively involved.
“I thought it was the most hands-on, most interesting aspect of the Patient Voices Network,” she said. Nixon said having somebody to hold you accountable towards your goal is crucial to achieving it.

The participant Nixon worked with wanted to increase her physical activity but because of the participant’s restrictions, it was a bit of a challenge. Nixon has a degree in kinesiology which she drew upon to provide assistance to the person she was coaching.

“I mainly got the ideas out of her. She just needed somebody there to motivate her. And to get her thinking ‘Oh, I guess I could do that.’ or ‘Oh, I never even thought about that,’” said Nixon.

Being a peer coach is like having “a long distance friend” said Deb Lougheed, a peer coach volunteer from Penticton.

“You’re there as a guide or a long distance friend, if you will, to help them get on a better track than they might be on right now as far as healthy lifestyle choices. You’re there not to direct them, but to guide them.”

Lougheed works as an activities director at an assisted living home and is glad to be part of a person’s self-improvement journey. She finished her peer coach training in May and was recently paired with a participant.

“To me it makes more sense to be proactive than reactive,” she explained. “If you can help one person to go in that direction then it’s successful for sure.”

“It’s fun to see somebody achieve their goals.”

If you’d like to sign up as a peer coach volunteer or as a participant, call 1-888-742-1772, or visit www.patientvoices.ca.