The Dogsled Analogy – Part 1

This morning I was working with a nutrition client who has been working really hard to lose weight, improve her eating habits, and has done well over the past few months, but has hit a slight plateau (which is normal), and wasn’t sure what to do next.

She was hyper focused on the scale and what this apparent “slowing down of progress” meant, so I changed tactics and decided to pull up an analogy to mentally help her break free from the scale.

Side note: If you know anything about the way we coach our nutrition clients, it’s important to us to actually set up a framework where we are anti-bodyweight and anti-diet focused, and instead, want to help our clients build LASTING healthy habits that improve their overall health and creates a happy, healthy, and positive relationship with food.

Ok, back to the mental analogy to help a client break free from obsessing over the scale and the loss of motivation when they hit a plateau.

DOG SLEDDING

Nutrition Coach: “Let’s talk about dog sledding for a moment” I said, changing the topic slightly.

Nutrition Coach: “Imagine you want to get to your destination (your goal), and you’re being pulled along by a pack of sled dogs. They like to work together as a team. The more dogs you can attach to your lead, the faster your sled will go, and the less that any one dog has to work individually to help pull you along. I have some ideas of other things that might help in this situation, but let’s brainstorm together some metaphorical “sled dogs” that are helping to share the workload of supporting your goal of weight loss and eating better, and we’ll see what we come up with.”

Client: “Well, there’s healthy eating, and I guess you could count my exercise as another sled dog that’s helping me be successful right now.”

Nutrition Coach: “GREAT! What else?” I said excitedly.

Client: “Ummmm, I don’t know.”

She was stumped, and could only come up with healthy eating and exercise.

Nutrition Coach: “Would you mind if I gave you some other ideas, drawing from the success I’ve seen in other clients in this same situation?”
(asking for permission first is always something I try to do when helping a client work on lasting behaviour change by building up a toolbox of healthy habits, instead of just TELLING a client what they HAVE to do)

Client: “Sure.”

Nutrition Coach: “Well, when I picture this sled being pulled along by a pack of dogs working together, here is what I see in people who get to their goal successfully. I generally see:

  • Nutrition: Excellent nutrition and healthy eating habits as the pack leader, running out in front. This dog is all about eating high quality foods, in the right quantity (not too much, but not starving itself either), and is really focused on CONSISTENCY over perfection.
  • Exercise: I also see consistent exercise, right there behind the lead nutrition dog, helping its partner out.
  • Sleep: I see positive sleep habits, where people are making 7-9 hours of sleep per night an important priority in their evening wind-down routines.
  • Stress Management: Another important sled dog is having healthy ways to cope with stress, without turning to food or alcohol for self-soothing and comfort. Things like going for walks outside, hiking in the woods, taking deep breaths throughout the day, meditating, talking with a mental health counsellor when needed, having close friendships to share your joys and troubles with others, stuff like that.
  • Resilient Mindset: Mindset is also HUGE when it comes to success, and I picture a big muscly dog right in the middle of the pack, helping to pull the sled along. It always believes in the team, and this particular sled dog is always confident that it will get to your goal no matter what life throws at you. It’s positive, kind, encouraging, and always cheering on the other dogs to keep pulling, even when they’re tired or when the final destination still feels really far away. This dog is super important for the group’s overall morale and keeping spirits high, especially when times get tough.
  • Social Support: I also see attached to this sled, a dog labelled “Social Support”, where the people in your life support, encourage, and HELP you move closer to your goals, and don’t pull you back or do unhelpful things that can hinder success.
  • Environmental Support: I also see a supportive environment being another major factor helping to pull people along in the direction of their goals. Things like vegetables being cut up and ready to go in the fridge, keeping healthy snacks on hand, having frozen homemade healthy meals in the freezer for a quick lunch on days you’re running low on groceries, fitness equipment that’s easy to access to fit in a short workout, and so on.
  • Patient, Hard Working, Curious, Consistent, Committed, Kind: Kind of like Santa’s reindeers Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, etc., I also see a few dogs attached to the lead, that just have powerful words attached to them. These are some of my favourites (patient, hard-working, curious, consistent, committed, kind), but you can add or subtract to this list to best suit you.
  • Other Dogs: There might be other sled dogs that are really important to your own success – can you think of any?

Nutrition Coach: “Now here’s the thing, the dogs have to pull TOGETHER to get to one ultimate destination. And more dogs attached to the rope makes the sled lighter and easier to pull as a team. This part is really important, but let’s revisit your WHY. Why did you seek out nutrition counselling with me to help you reach your goals? What do you ultimately want to achieve?”

Client: “To be healthy. And to be happy. I want to take good care of myself to improve my overall health and not end up with diabetes like my mom, and I want to have a better relationship with food.”


Read part 2 here, where we show you how to put all this together in a way that empowers the client to continue making progress towards her goal of being healthy and happy with a better relationship with food.


Interested in improving your nutrition coaching skills, so you can feel more comfortable and confident teaching nutrition to your own clients? Learn more about our motivational interviewing and habits-based Nutrition Coaching Course for nutrition coaches here:

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