Coach Spotlight: Alicia Dickens on Making Small yet Meaningful Health Changes
In an era of increased isolation brought on by social distancing, Omada's health coaches continue to put human connection front and center. COVID-19 has required the very populations that we serve—patients at risk for, or with, heart disease and diabetes—to stay home without ready access to care for their chronic conditions. Needless to say, our health coaches are more engaged with patients in their homes than ever before.
Certified Health Coach Alicia Dickens has been with Omada since December 2018. A registered dietician, Alicia often works with participants at risk for diabetes and obesity-related conditions. We caught up with Alicia to get a behind-the-scenes look into her role as a health coach, and got a few tips on how to stay motivated during these unprecedented times.
Can you tell us about your background in nutrition?
I’ve always had an interest in food and nutrition. I received a B.S. in Dietetics from the University of Georgia and an M.S. in Human Nutrition from Louisiana State University. After graduating, I did a dietetic internship with Sarasota schools in Florida and worked in school food service for several years.
I joined Omada in 2018 as it offered the opportunity to use my education and experience to touch so many peoples’ lives in a positive way. I became a Certified Health Coach and now use my background in nutrition and as a registered dietician to help people lead happier, healthier lives. I was impressed with Omada’s commitment to helping people improve their health from the very beginning.
What is your work like as a health coach?
There is never a dull moment! I work with participants from all over the U.S. and it’s so interesting to hear how different everyone’s lives are. Whether it be geographical, environmental, or cultural cultural differences, every participant is so unique.
I focus on at-risk patients, which means people who may be struggling with being overweight or obese. They could also be insulin-resistant but not identified as diabetic. We focus on interventions and ways to decrease their risk factors for obesity or diabetes, through healthier eating, exercise or both.
As a coach, my role is to be their voice of guidance and support. Some of the participants I coach are battling tragic life-changing events, like losing a loved one, that drastically affected their health. Others are athletes working to improve their performance. Sometimes people share very personal details with me about their reasons for wanting to improve their health, while other times they’d rather keep those reasons private. No matter what a participant’s motivation may be, I always aim to be patient and give gentle guidance and encouragement.
If I’m working with new participants, we first focus on creating an action plan. The participant is really the guiding force and lets me know which direction they want to take.
I may notice their meal plan isn’t healthy, but the participant may just want to focus on exercise to start – and that’s okay. We work on developing a plan that keeps them engaged and working towards small goals each day. Because health can be overwhelming, you often cannot start by tackling multiple goals all at once. Working on small improvements to your health that you can do consistently over time builds healthy patterns that, ultimately, can make a big difference in creating positive change in a person’s daily life.
What have you learned personally about coaching at Omada Health?
In this age of digital health, people are looking for instantaneous answers. If you have a question about anything health-related, Google will provide answers in seconds, but you can’t be sure it’s supported by science. At Omada, we provide answers to all your health questions with information that is accurate, factual, based in science, and backed up by data. The information we provide is also deeply personalized. Being attuned to our participants' health circumstances and goals, we’re able to provide them with the most valuable information that best aligns with their unique needs.
Do you have any tips to help people beat the social-isolation blues and stay motivated to eat healthy and work out?
During this time, it’s important to continue to stay active and motivated however you can. One way Omada helps people stay motivated is by providing educational videos with workouts and ideas for staying active. These videos can be viewed on a cell phone, making it easy to watch no matter where you are.
I also think it’s very beneficial to add joyful movement throughout the day. The news can oftentimes feel overwhelming, so creating happiness is key to keeping a positive outlook. This could be as easy as turning on some music and dancing a little while you’re cleaning the house.
And if you can get outside, go ahead and do it. Depending on where you live, you could take a walk around the block or go for a hike. Getting out and exercising instead of staying cooped up inside can lead to healthier habits and help minimize those social-isolation blues.
What is the most important part of being a health coach?
It’s extremely important to always be encouraging. Sometimes our participants will get frustrated or demotivated and it’s up to us to help them get back on track.
I had one participant who had a lot of pain in her foot when she walked. It was hard for her to exercise so she was sedentary most of the time, which contributed to her obesity. To combat this, I suggested she get some new shoes, which she did. The shoes made it comfortable for her to start walking. Before I knew it, she was walking regularly and then entering 5Ks!
At the same time, she started making improvements in her diet and cooking healthier meals for herself and her family. Fitness and healthy eating soon became part of her daily routine. A few months later, she needed minor surgery and – knowing she would be recuperating for a few days afterward – prepped all of her meals ahead of time so she could continue to eat healthy throughout her recovery. In the end, she was able to maintain her weight and still be successful, even if she couldn’t work out the way she wanted to.
This has shown me that people often just need encouragement to stay on track. This participant was afraid to work out because of pain but, by encouraging her to make small but impactful changes, she eventually was able to live the life she wanted.
Do you have any final tips for people working on improving their health?
Finding ways to bring joy to your life makes you more likely to stick with a program. That could mean entering 5Ks because you love that feeling of crossing the finish line or simply going for walks in the morning with your favorite neighbor. Whatever your interest, go for it!