UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Put me in, (wellness) Coach

I’m ready to change my ways, says UND Today writer who volunteers as practice client

michon kysilka
Licensed Dietitian and UND student Health & Wellness Coach Michon Kysilka visits with UND Today writer Janelle Vonasek in a Zoom call. Vonasek agreed to volunteer as a practice client for Kysilka, who was fine-tuning her coaching skills in preparation to become a national board-certified health and wellness coach after taking UND’s one-year online Health & Wellness Coach Certification program. Screenshot of Michon Kysilka.

Editor’s note: On its website, the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching says it has collaborated with the National Board of Medical Examiners since 2016 to provide a robust examination that has led to more than 10,000 board-certified health and wellness coaches.

The esteemed credentials represent training, education and assessment standards that have let the profession advance in all aspects of health care and wellness. UND Today Special Projects Editor Janelle Vonasek recently volunteered to be a small part of that training. She shares her experience in the story below.

* * *

It was strange enough to give me pause: A mysterious manila envelope had been scooted under the locked door of my shared office space — and it had MY name written on it.

Was it a stack of secret photos intended to blackmail me? Hmm, doubtful. My life is much too tame for that. This had to be something more interesting.

And it was.

It was a letter from Anne Bodensteiner, clinical associate professor and graduate program director with UND’s Nutrition & Dietetics. She was seeking volunteers to be practice clients for students preparing to be national board-certified Health & Wellness Coaches.

Volunteers were promised at least three free one-on-one health coaching sessions between February and May with an attentive, nonjudgmental support person trained to guide them on their wellness journey.

Well, sign me up. It was a new year, and just about time for the old me to get the new me started.

I gave Bodensteiner a call, and I soon was meeting Michon Kysilka over Zoom. The student health and wellness coach had earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Nutrition & Dietetics at UND and now was in the middle of packing up her home in Oregon for a move to Helena, Mont.

Anne Bodensteiner
Anne Bodensteiner.

That’s where she would be the new weight management dietitian at the Fort Harrison Veterans Administration Medical Center. She also shared that she already had more than 10 years as a registered dietitian under her belt, so I felt I was in pretty good hands.

“I provide medical nutrition therapy, nutrition education and nutrition counseling, but my biggest passion in the field probably is in the area of weight management,” Kysilka said. “And what I’ve found when working with patients with that goal is that there is a lot of coaching that goes with it. A lot of times, my clients already know what a healthy food choice is. They know that physical activity is important, too.

“But how do I apply the science and what I know to help them put everything into action? That’s where I found having some additional experience in coaching skills is probably going to support my clients better.”

And that’s what led Kysilka to pursue UND’s one-year online Health & Wellness Coach Certification program.

Bodensteiner added that just about anyone engaged in a people-focused career can benefit from the program.

“I use my coaching every day as a faculty member when I meet with students,” Bodensteiner said. “Coaching can bring a sense of ease and peace to patient or client interactions. These skills are universal to any relationship, including personal ones.”

The specialized strategies are incredibly helpful, she said, not only for health educators, dietitians and nutritionists but also for psychologists, counselors, personal trainers, nurses, doctors, physician assistants and social workers.

So, let the coaching begin

Now, I was going to be a tough nut to crack. With a mostly sedentary and deadline-based career, I’ve struggled with stress and weight most of my life. What could Coach Kysilka do for me?

As many tough things, the process would begin with some homework. In fact, before we even had our first official Zoom session, Kysilka asked me to fill out a wellness questionnaire and a few other surveys. The assignment would provide her with a ballpark assessment of what I viewed as my main health and wellness concerns.

Of course, for me, the challenges that rose to the top — work/life balance, stress/emotional health and nutrition/weight — revealed no big surprises, but that wasn’t the point. This exercise was meant to give Kysilka a head start in packing her toolbox for our first session. And no doubt, it would help her anticipate the possible forks in the road (and in the cake) I might take along the way.

“I think one of the most important things I learned is that a health and wellness coach should never go into a session with an agenda,” Kysilka said. “My focus is to understand what’s important to my client. Why it’s important to them and then what do they want to do or feel like they need to do to reach that goal.

“I always like to think of it like this: ‘If you could imagine yourself at your highest peak of health and wellness, what would that look like?’ I’m here to partner with you — to understand where you’re at, where you want to be and walk that journey with you.”

It’s a patient-first approach, she explained, and it allows the client a lot of autonomy.

“As a coach, I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to help support you in uncovering what you want to do and what you think you need to do to make that happen.”

“The research speaks for itself,” she said. “When somebody knows (a life change) is in their hands and they have control of it, they’re going to be more successful. We’re here on the sidelines to encourage and help motivate you. We’re giving you tools and strategies to stay successful, but it’s really you, the client, who’s doing all the hard work.”

Building a wellness vision

The autonomy was evident from the very start of our conversations. Kysilka asked a lot of questions, and it was clear she was listening to me. She wanted to get to the heart of what I believed would be my peak vision of health and wellness. Then, I would come up with a short description of my personal “wellness vision” — followed by three-month goals and some mini action steps to help me reach them.

So far, so good. But wait … what exactly is a wellness vision?

Already one step ahead, Kysilka explained that a wellness vision is a short personal statement that sets the stage for what a client or patient wants to commit to for their desired well-being.

“It’s the main platform of why we’re here and where you want to see that change,” she said. “Everything else kind of trickles under that wellness vision.”

She offered a few definitions to help it sink in: “A wellness vision is a compelling statement of who you are and what healthy behaviors you want to be doing consistently … wellness is a presence of well-being and the accumulation of health and life habits … wellness is a condition of good physical and mental health, specifically when maintained by proper diet, exercise and life habits.”

OK, I got it. After much discussion and a little more inner contemplation, my wellness vision turned into this:

In support of healthy work/life balance, I will strive to fit more “me” time into every day. I will nourish my body so I can be more efficient at work and have more time to enjoy the things that matter most to me.

That might sound kind of pie-in-the-sky, but it really begins to make sense once you build in your three-month goals and the action plans to achieve them. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but my SMART goals — smart because they are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-based — involved plans for daily water intake, meal prepping and physical activity.

Later, we added the bonus goal for meditation. (And that’s become one of my favorites. Before I met Coach Kysilka, I never knew there were so many free apps out there to help people calm the brain. You even can set a daily relax reminder on your phone. Ahhh, namaste.)

As we met at fairly regular intervals, Kysilka continued to encourage me to celebrate my victories — even the little ones — because it’s important to feel all the “wins” along the way.

“It’s not about the quick fix,” she said. “What’s key is breaking down those goals — sometimes into baby steps — to help the client find their motivation and build their confidence so over time they can reach a desired wellness outcome that’s also sustainable.”

Though my experience working with a health and wellness coach involved fewer sessions over a shorter amount of time than ordinarily would happen in practice, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I learned a lot about myself, and I’m definitely motivated.

Give me a few months and maybe it will be time for me to send Kysilka my own manila envelope — this time, one that really does include photographs of me, but of the before-and-after-healthier-me variety.

Prepped food
Photo by Janelle Vonasek/UND Today.

>> SEVEN TIPS FOR MEAL PREP: It really can be easy-peasy, and Kysilka says it’s OK to save a night for eating out. Read the tips.

>> TO LEARN MORE about UND’s online Health & Wellness Coach Certification program, go to the UND Program Finder or contact Graduate Program Director Anne Bodensteiner at 701.777.3752 or anne.bodensteiner@UND.edu. Bodensteiner says she’ll be looking for more volunteers in the future.