Today we’re going to wrap up our series on ‘How to Coach Nutrition Better’ by breaking down how you’d make decisions for the design of your client’s program. Before we dive into the details, it’s important that you’ve read the prior posts as they provide the necessary foundation for our recommendations that follow. Find those previous posts here:
If this is the first time you’ve really formalized any process to coach nutrition, your best bet is to start having conversations with friends and family around the benefits of improving this pillar. This is a great audience to begin with because they will likely give you unfiltered feedback on why they can’t or won’t eat better. It’s this feedback that will have you better prepared when you start coaching clients.
Moving on to clients, let’s assume that you’re beyond simply saying “You need to eat better” and you’ve gone through the assessment with a new client. Here’s what to do next:
The process of digestion actually begins before food enters the mouth. The smells and anticipatory emotions all trigger a cascade of physiological mechanisms to prepare the body for food consumption. In order to ensure optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients, it’s important to put the body into a parasympathetic state, also known as ‘rest and digest.’ In today’s world, this is also a difficult ask of folks, as we’re more hurried and distracted than ever. To give them an easy win, we need to prescribe things that don’t ask for a large disruption to their current routine. Why? First, if the change is just too large and insurmountable, the client won’t carry it out. But more importantly, we want small easy wins because success breeds motivation. Not the other way around. Here are a few examples to explore:
- Chew each bite of food 20-30 times – this typically slows meal time down and allows for the salivary process to do it’s job. A slower meal time also allows for proper hormonal activity of “I’m full” to take place and hit the brain.
- Remove any electronic devices during meal time – this sets up a more relaxed environment, facilitating the state of ‘rest snd digest’ that we’re looking for.
- Eat protein and veggies first – since protein is satiating long-term, it’s beneficial to put it first in the meal versus something that causes a spike (and likely increased craving for more) in blood sugar. As discussed in previous posts, this blood sugar roller coaster is something to be avoided.
We provided several examples of coaching prescriptions in the previous section, but it’s important that you choose the best option based on what you know about your client. Also, resist the urge to be overly enthusiastic by giving three, four, or more of those directives. Start with one, allow a period of time for measurement and mastery before adding the next one.
When it comes to personalizing your prescriptions, it’s important to remember that each pillar should inform and influence the others. For instance:
- You should aim to decrease the intensity and complexity of workouts if nutrition is not improving. (Remember: nutrition should play a large role in determining the type and magnitude of physical activity that someone is participating in.)
- If a client has a big work deadline approaching, the ‘Manage’ pillar would take on a more prominent role. To facilitate a more cognitively demanding time, you might advise the client to take in a bit more water and adjust foods that improve their mental acuity.
Nutrition is a leading metric, which means that it leads to improvements not immediately realized. (To help understand this more clearly, think about it this way: you can’t expect one great meal to deliver the 20lb weight loss a client is after). You will work with your clients to quantify the result the are striving for. For instance, maybe they are looking to have more energy in the afternoon:
- You work on blood sugar management by having a balanced plate of food consisting of protein, veggies, and healthy fats.
- Automate a text message to them at 2pm each day asking for their energy level on a scale of 1-10, 10 being best possible. Chart this progress in their file.
- At the 30/60/90 day marks, you look back and evaluate: “Does my client have better energy levels at 2pm today vs 30/60/90 days ago?” Share with the client.
Refine and Repeat:
Not everything you have your client do will work. If you disagree and feel that all your prescriptions work every time, you just haven’t coached long enough! This is why it’s so important to measure what you are doing. In the previous example, let’s consider two possible scenarios:
- Client’s energy didn’t improve, or got worse, in the first 30 days
- Client’s energy improved steadily through day 47 but then leveled off after that at a score of 7.5/10.
(Regardless of whether the client adhered to the plan you came up with or not, the reality is that your job is to refine things over time.)
In scenario one, you would hear the client out and acknowledge the need for a new prescription, identify possible outcomes, and set new expectations. It’s important that you are honest from Day 1 and let them know you are not prescribing quick fixes, but rather long-term sustainable change. This first scenario also highlights an important reality -> if you are waiting more than 30 days to sit down 1:1 with all of your clients (especially new ones), you are no doubt missing massive opportunities to refine their plan and keep them moving in a positive direction.
In scenario two, we are at the point where something that was leading to improvement simply isn’t any longer. This is ok! Provided your conversation with your client didn’t uncover any reason for you to suspect your prescription should have kept working, it’s time to layer on a new habit. So perhaps in addition to using the plate method of eating, you call for a glass of water to be added upon wakeup and 60-minutes before bedtime. This does not mean they stop doing the first thing. You should also make sure to warn your client that they may experience a bit of a backslide on their energy reporting. This is completely normal and simply due to a “new” stressor being put onto the body, but once the adaptation process occurs, the expectation is that they will move past their previous best.
So what should the nutrition program look like for your client? As with so many things, it depends. YOU are the coach. But I can tell you this, the right program:
- Starts with an assessment
- Includes a healthy dose (see what I did there?) of education from coach to client
- Is personalized
- Is measured against the result(s) the client cares about
- Is refined over time
Coach this pillar well and not only will your clients get better results, but your value as a coach will go up!