Coach Spotlight: Jacqueline Thurlow on Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice
Omada health coach Jacqueline Thurlow is based in Minnesota and holds a degree in Community Health Education. For the past two and a half years, she has been guiding participants on their health journey with Omada, drawing on her personal experiences to help others establish healthy patterns for life.
Why do you focus on prevention?
My interest in disease prevention and health education began at age 14 when I lost my father to a heart attack. It was related to heart disease that was never caught. After my father’s death, my mother snapped into action, taking me and my siblings to a dietician and helping improve our overall health and nutrition. Focusing on preventing heart disease by making healthy lifestyle changes brought peace of mind to my family and inspired me to study community health education in college.
After graduating from college, I facilitated diabetes prevention classes for a clinic in northern Minnesota and worked with schools to teach students about healthy eating and help them get moving. This work ignited a passion for helping others strive for a healthy lifestyle, which is why I came to Omada. My role as a health coach provides the opportunity to do that for people across the country.
What is your approach to sustainable behavior change?
My approach is to make healthy changes fun. If you’re going to truly establish healthy patterns and enact meaningful changes in your life, you need to enjoy what you are doing or else you won’t stick with them.
I won’t tell a participant they have to run a marathon or regularly do Zumba to get exercise, because if they don’t enjoy those things they won’t keep up with them. The same mindset applies to nutrition: if you’re trying to eat kale for every meal and you don’t enjoy it, it’s okay to choose a different healthy food.
When I begin working with a new participant, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge their personality and preferences and to determine what exercise and food choices will help them succeed. With this in mind, I start by assessing the participant’s baseline health knowledge and talk with them about what they view as healthy eating and living. It’s also important to find out their vision for success. From there, we can determine what they are struggling with and create a roadmap to help them achieve their health goals.
How do you encourage a participant to get back on track if they’re experiencing a rough patch?
It’s all about going back to the basics. People often hit a rut after the holidays or a vacation, when it can be difficult to maintain healthy eating patterns and regular exercise. We all have occasional slip-ups – that’s part of being human. During those times, it’s important to remember why you started your health journey, and celebrate the small wins. If you focus on the small changes, you’ll eventually keep moving forward and adding more wins over time.
I remember one participant who showed true perseverance throughout his health journey. This gentleman was working two jobs and struggling to achieve work/life balance. We began by discussing what “healthy” meant for him and focusing on a few healthy habits he could work into his busy lifestyle. We swapped in a few healthy snacks for non-healthy items like chips and found ways to work other nutritional foods into his meals over time.
Eventually, he started making small but impactful healthy changes all by himself. Soon he was spreading the love to his coworkers and family by encouraging them to work on achieving their own health goals. He even started a walking group at work. Now they are all on this journey together! It has been truly rewarding to see such great perseverance and progress.
How can people maintain healthy patterns long-term?
My father had a quote that I often think about: “Think ahead, plan before you move.” What he meant was it’s essential to look at the big picture and develop a plan for achieving your personal vision. Establishing healthy habits is important, but so is recognizing if those habits are sustainable throughout your life. Healthy living shouldn’t be viewed as a short-term fix. Before starting your health journey, think critically about your personal vision for a healthy lifestyle and determine whether you can see yourself maintaining it in the years to come.
That’s why I believe it’s important to make healthy habits fun, and why I encourage my participants to try healthy activities and foods that they truly enjoy. I also urge them to think about whether a particular behavior change will help or hinder their progress in the long run. It’s also important to assess your progress on your health journey over time and make changes or adaptations if necessary.
Personally, I like trying new activities – such as a new workout class or a new recipe – to keep things fresh. You never know if you’ll enjoy something until you try it! It happened to me with a Zumba class – I went to one class and found I really enjoyed it. I went back for more and more classes and, eventually, decided to become a Zumba instructor. It’s important to never stop learning and to never limit yourself on experiences.
What is intuitive eating? How can people adopt it in their own lives?
Intuitive eating is about listening to your body and what feels good and right. Just because someone you know is following a special kind of diet doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. Pay attention to what you are eating and consider what you enjoy or don’t enjoy. Also think about how that food makes you feel. Does it make you more energized? Or less energized?
Rather than subscribing to a particular nutrition plan, it’s essential to take time to get in tune with your own body. Eventually, you will find what works best for you, and you’ll feel better in the long run. It’s what I strive to help people do as a health coach.
How would you sum up your coach philosophy?
Everyone is their own unique person. I strive to help my participants find the healthiest version of themselves with the resources they have available. My ultimate goal is to make the healthy choice become the easy choice!