Physical Wellness

Terry Lieb Total Wellness 1 Comment

When clients begin their Total Wellness program with me, I always have them choose which area they want to begin with. Of the 10 areas, physical wellness is the hands-down favorite starting place.

They are often surprised by—and ironically resistant to—my explanation that we are probably going to need to significantly adjust and expand their understanding of physical wellness. This new understanding frequently runs counter to all of the messages and marketing bombarding them every day. Sometimes it may even mean being less focused on the physical—or some aspect of it—and bringing a more healthy balance to their life.

A typical client is Gabriella, a middle-aged office worker who called requesting wellness coaching. When I presented her with the 10 areas, she immediately volunteered that she wanted to start with physical wellness to lose 45 pounds.

She got a very confused expression after I explained we would start with these three basic assignments:

  1. Get rid of her scale!
  2. Do a detailed inventory of everything she ate until our next session
  3. Begin reading the ingredients label on every food item she bought

I explained that many past clients had tried two main strategies for hitting their target weights: “quick fix” diets and brand-new exercise programs. These diets were sometimes unhealthy and almost always unsustainable. The majority of folks found that sooner or later they “fell off the wagon” and their gym memberships and equipment were going unused. They gradually put the weight back on and in many cases even more. These repeated failures eroded their self-confidence and made it more challenging to confront their destructive and limiting self-messages.

Ditch your scale!

Gabriella admitted that she had tried several diets, with some success, but she always gave up and put on whatever she had lost—and then some. But what was the alternative?

I explained that one of our major goals would be to move the focus from seeking external “quick fix” solutions to mobilizing her own inner resources, willpower, confidence, and creativity. To begin to understand wellness as a gradual, healthy, and empowering lifelong journey—a true “lifestyle” change!

Gabriella was skeptical, but agreed to give it a try. When she returned the next week, she informed me that she had not only put her scale away, but set it outside as a “giveaway” item. I took that as a clear sign of her commitment!

Next we reviewed her food intake inventory and I asked her to pick out one or two food items which she knew were not healthy and she was willing to eliminate or cut back on. I stressed that this choice was entirely hers to make, especially since it was not for a limited amount of time but rather for the rest of her life journey.

We then discussed the results of her ingredient-reading assignment, and Gabriella told me how shocked she was at the amount of sodium and sugar in some of her regular purchases. She’d already been grocery shopping and found alternatives with far less of both—and still perfectly tasty!

For her next week’s assignment, I asked her to pick out two ingredients she didn’t know anything about (and maybe couldn’t even pronounce!) and research them. Again it is gradual but steady process of taking control of what you put in your body. We also discussed adequate hydration and healthy portion size which is a “huge” issue for us as Americans!

Next we introduced some physical activity to Gabriella’s sedentary life. Some clients cringe at the word “exercise” and “activity” seems to go down better! In general Our goal is to find something “do-able” and even pleasurable (!!) that they can integrate into their life long term.

One of the best and most consistently underestimated activities is walking. The health rewards of this “easy” activity—especially after eating—are truly remarkable! Instead of giving her a rundown of its benefits, I asked her to research them herself and report back.

Gabriella came back impressed with the benefits she had learned about, but after considering how it would fit into her lifestyle, she was not comfortable walking alone after work, particularly when it was dark, so she decided to pick up a used exercise bike instead. She could listen to books on tape or one of her favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, while she pedaled which would not only make the activity more pleasant but simultaneously enhance her mental wellness!

She also joined a weekly yoga class with a friend, knowing that being part of an organized group would significantly increase the chances of sticking with it. And as an added plus, the class would be good for both her relational and spiritual wellness as well.

Gabriella soon felt such an improvement in her overall mood that she realized she had been mildly depressed without even realizing it. So we ticked off yet another improved wellness area: this time emotional wellness! Gabriella ended coaching just a few months later, confident that she could continue making progress on her own.

Get plenty of good sleep
Photo by Cris Saur on

A second, very different client who elected to start with their Total Wellness journey with physical wellness was a recently retired man named Cal who entered coaching based on a Christmas gift from his wife, Flo.

She actually wrote out a check for five sessions and put a picture of her handing me the check in a Christmas card for him. She admitted this was a sneaky strategy on her part because “once Cal pays for something he is going to get his money’s worth! He is dangerous at an ‘all you can eat’ restaurant!”

Cal was in his mid-sixties, significantly overweight, and on several prescription medications. Like many of my older clients, he felt that it was “too late” to make much difference in his condition. “No offense, Terry, but I think that train has left the station!” he told me. However, despite his doubts, he agreed to look at his physical wellness for the sake of his wife and two grandchildren who were worried about his health.

He was quite receptive to the idea that it is the direction we are headed in that matters most rather than our particular position on the journey. Once he embraced that concept, he was able to acknowledge and build upon very small successes. I capitalized on this by asking him to journal about his journey which enabled him to recognize and affirm his efforts. This ended up being a valuable part of his process—and even helped his arthritic fingers!

The very first thing we did was make sure Cal got a thorough physical exam since he hadn’t had a complete annual physical in several years. The examining physician gave him clearance to begin “gradually.” It also turned out that because of one of his diagnoses his insurance would cover him working with a dietitian. This suited Cal—the notorious penny pincher—just fine!

Since the nutritionist was working with his diet, we turned our attention to getting Cal moving. He began with two slow walks around the block. He got Flo to walk with him. Eventually they got up to three miles. I then introduced them to interval walking, and the advantages for seniors especially. They would walk for about an eighth of a mile at a moderate pace and then at a brisk pace for an eighth of a mile and then continue to alternate for the remainder of their three miles.

After a few months Cal began a basic on-line exercise program which included some weight bearing, stretching, and balance exercises. He also signed up for Silver Sneakers at the local YMCA.

Another area that made a big difference for Cal is one that is consistently overlooked: sleep. I recommend all my clients get about eight hours of sleep each night, which often generates significant pushback. “Sounds good but it’s impossible with my overwhelming schedule,” many insist. Some even see “getting by” on less sleep as a point of pride! Once we really try, though, we are almost always able to find ways of improving the length and quality of their sleep.

Cal reported having difficulty sleeping and his wife had complained for years that his loud snoring was constantly interfering with her getting enough rest. This sounded so much like what Rita and I had experienced years earlier that I suggested Cal get tested for sleep apnea. I have been using a CPAP machine since my own diagnosis and it has been a complete game changer for both Rita and myself.

Cal’s physician made a referral to a sleep clinic and the testing indicated he did indeed have moderate-to-severe sleep apnea. He struggled at first with the CPAP until he got a mask that worked for him but within a short time he reported having “more energy than I had in twenty years.”  His wife relayed that it had even improved their relationship, that being well rested made them more patient with each other which had led to a lot less conflict!

It’s never too late: never underestimate the body’s miraculous regenerative potential.

I ran into Cal about a year later. He looked great, full of energy, and significantly slimmer. Even his posture was better than when I had seen him last! He “confessed” that during our sessions he had been a “scale peeper” (a term Flo invented after catching him weighing himself out in the garage even after he agreed not to!). However he’d finally given it up a few months earlier and had noticed how it helped him change his focus from pounds to a healthier lifestyle.

“I see now why you recommend that,” he said. “I’m a reformed scale peeper!” He also reported that he was down to two medications rather than six. And to cap it off, one granddaughter wrote about him for a school assignment on “who are you most proud of”! You can’t get much better than that!

Achieving improved physical wellness is its own reward but it also gives us greater energy, improved mood, and mental clarity to invest in all the other areas of wellness. I can’t promise it will give you greater longevity (nothing that I know of can do that!) but I guarantee that your quality of life and often the world we live in will be enhanced by your journey to evolve into the person intended by our Creator!


  • How would you rate your current physical wellness? What criteria do you base this on? Do you distinguish between looking healthy and being healthy?
  • What areas of physical wellness do you do best and least well? Are there any areas in which you feel you are overfocused? What could you do to achieve a healthier balance?
  • What has been your past experience with making long-term changes to your health routine? What has worked and what hasn’t? Why do you think made the difference?
  • How much physical activity do you have in your life? Do you have enough? If not, how could you incorporate more activity in a form that you could maintain long term?
  • How conscious are you about what “fuel” you put in your body? What primarily determines your choices (i.e. habit, convenience, taste, calories, nutritional value, family preferences, price, etc.)? Are there healthier choices you could commit to?
  • What do you think the benefits of good physical wellness are? Might there be benefits to others besides yourself and if so, what?
  • If you believe our bodies are wonderfully created by God, how do you think the Gift Giver would want us to care for that gift?







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Nancy Robertson
Nancy Robertson
January 18, 2023 8:56 pm

Love your approach and the examples of success! I never believed in “diets” myself, so I was glad for your ideas for building confidence to get healthier by personal decisions based on information that convinces one to take doable small steps toward positive changes.