Coach Spotlight: Emily Rutherford on Mindfulness, Sustainable Exercise and Whole-Food Diets

Based in Oregon, health coach Emily Rutherford has been with Omada for six years. She holds a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) certification and has helped hundreds of Omada participants make meaningful changes in their lives. Emily works with Omada participants to create long term goals that are broken down into smaller, achievable pieces. She’s found that a healthy dose of empathy, flexibility, and trust goes a long way when it comes to supporting participants.

Much of Emily’s desire to help people stems from personal experience. While on her own personal health journey, Emily discovered ways to be more mindful, incorporate sustainable exercise and follow a whole-foods diet in her everyday life. Throughout her time at Omada, Emily has found that when participants have a deep understanding of their goals with someone they trust, they’re more driven to pursue positive change and healthy habits.

What led you to becoming a health coach? 

My family was always active growing up, but as I got older I started to move away from that. I vividly remember the moment I realized I had gained some weight. From that moment on, I started educating myself on health and nutrition. Diabetes also runs on both sides of my family, which is another reason I wanted to get my health in check. Shortly after I made changes to my own life, my father retired and part of that transition involved improving his own health. We were able to share some of our experiences together, and I was happy to help him in his journey. 

Why did you join Omada?

Omada seemed like the perfect fit for me since it’s focused on inspiring and  engaging people in lifelong health. I’ve been at Omada six years now and am happy to have been able to help so many people. I like to think of myself as someone’s biggest cheerleader while making sure they set themselves up for success. If a participant finds they’re stuck with something, I help them take a step back and look at why that might be happening.  Whether a participant broke down and ate a tub of ice cream or if they exceeded their step goal, empathy and support is vital. We’re not here to shame or punish people.

Why is stress management and mindfulness important for at-risk participants? Can you share some exercises to practice mindfulness?

Stress can really override everything else if a person is feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, stress can be reduced with mindfulness, which is the simple act of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment.

I start participants with mindful eating, often with a piece of chocolate. I tell them to notice the full taste and texture. I then encourage them to bring this mindfulness into mealtimes, and ask that they compare that feeling to when they inhaled a meal without thinking about it. More often than not, participants find that they enjoy food much more and don’t eat as much because they are taking their time savoring the meal.

Another way to practice mindfulness is by simply taking a deep breath – the impact of this is often underestimated. Slowing down our breathing alleviates tightness in our chests that we might not even be aware of. Allowing our lungs to breathe deeply sends a mental cue to the rest of your body that it’s okay to slow down.

What is sustainable exercise?

Many people envision exercise as boring or impersonal. But it gets much easier and more enjoyable if you’re doing something you are excited about. I encourage my participants to identify exercises that they genuinely enjoy. Time and time again, I’ve witnessed participants achieve greater chances of success once they embrace exercises that are in alignment with their interests and values. 

If you’re someone who craves a sense of community, I encourage participants to take part in a group exercise class. If you value alone time, consider working out by yourself to music. If you prefer being outside, maybe a walk through the neighborhood with your dog or a hike would make you happier. Or if a busy mom is trying to find time to be active, a 10-minute home workout video with your favorite workout instructor could be the perfect solution.

How do you help your participants follow a whole-foods diet?

A whole-foods diet focuses on eating foods as close to their original state as possible, i.e., without a lot of added ingredients. One tip to finding these foods is sticking to the outer aisles of the grocery store where produce and less packaged foods are typically found.  I often tell my participants to look for packaged foods that have a limited number of ingredients; aim for a maximum of around five to seven. It’s also important to watch sneaky ingredients that might be in our favorite foods. You might think you’re making a simple sandwich, but the bread, deli meat and mustard could have a lot of sodium and added ingredients and preservatives.

You can also make healthier versions of many processed or packaged foods at home. I make my own nut butter instead of buying peanut butter. But if you don’t have the means or patience to do that, look for a product in the store that only has a couple of ingredients.

What would you say to someone who may feel resistant to changing their habits?

Embarking on a healthier lifestyle can be overwhelming for some people. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to start with small steps. You don’t have to make big life changes – such as exercise, stress management, getting more sleep, healthy eating – all at once. It’s best to start with one at a time and gradually build up to conquering all your goals. This isn’t going to happen overnight, so it’s better to move slowly and not overwhelm your mind and body.

It can be difficult to stay motivated if you’re not seeing the results you want right away. Celebrating small changes can keep you moving forward. If it doesn’t seem like you’re losing weight when you step on the scale, maybe the progress is showing up better in the inches around your waist, or how you got up a flight of stairs without feeling winded. Celebrating these little moments will allow you to be more invested in what you are achieving.

Any last words of advice?

Don't be afraid to make yourself and your health a priority! Sometimes people struggle with putting themselves first after having kids or caring for a loved one. When you make your health a priority, those around you benefit as well. You become a better employee because you’re more present, happier and efficient. You become a better parent because you have more energy and are more engaged. Even though it may be hard at first, prioritizing yourself and your health can be really empowering, and I encourage all my participants to move toward that.