Why More Willpower is but the Tip of the Iceberg for Nutritional Change

Imagine for a minute someone hid your toothbrush from you each night, and you had to search for it before you could brush your teeth and go to bed.

Tired after a long day, how long do you think you’d search before you abandoned the challenge and just went to sleep unbrushed?

A weird thought, for sure, but the point is that it feels pretty effortless to brush your teeth before bed because your bathroom is set up with your toothbrush, toothpaste, and a sink to make the task incredibly CONVENIENT. Nobody hides your toothbrush from you. It’s right there by your bathroom sink waiting for you each night and each morning.

In other words, your environment easily supports daily tooth brushing, making brushing your teeth quick and easy without too much effort on your part—aka it’s a habit. You don’t have to think about it, nor do you have to muster willpower to make it happen. 

Imagine healthy eating was just like this! An easy habit you didn’t have to think about.

Here’s the good news: It can be. If you reverse engineer the script you have been following, that is.

We’re talking about the willpower script. You know the one: If only I had more willpower, I wouldn’t stop at McDonald’s on the way home from work. I wouldn’t come home famished and reach for the chips.

Introducing the Iceberg of Success

Oftentimes, people looking to make nutrition and lifestyle changes, as well as nutrition coaches, start at the top of the iceberg with willpower and knowledge.

  • Coaches verbal diarrhea to their clients all the information they know about healthy eating and then demand these people employ willpower to make all these sweeping lifestyle changes.

More often than not, people might have success in the short-term, but they soon fall off the wagon and they feel like they have failed. In reality, it’s the coach who has failed them by starting at the wrong end of the iceberg.

The path to long-term success begins at the bottom of the iceberg, by creating healthy mindsets and environments, in order to build new habits that become as easy as putting on your seatbelt or brushing your teeth. 

Easier said than done, so here are some practical ways to help your clients with their mindset and environment from Registered Dietitian Jennifer Broxterman, the owner of NutritionRx and creator of the Two-Brain Nutrition Coaching Course


Some common mindsets people have around food include:

I’m too broken, too fat, have done too much damage to even try.

  • To this client, ask them to imagine what would happen if they got into a car accident and ended up with internal injuries and broken bones. Would they just give up on themselves, or would they get the right treatment to heal their injuries?

I’m too busy to eat well. So busy.

  • Well if you’re too busy, do you have the budget to make choices to save you time, like buying pre-cut vegetables, ready-made salads or healthy pre-made meals (there are so many healthy meal services out there these days) to work around your time constraint? The idea here is to find solutions to work around the objections.

I deserve pizza (or wine, or chips or chocolate covered almonds) because I worked so hard this week and have been stressed out.

  • But don’t you also deserve to have excellent health and energy? Don’t you deserve great results because you have been working so hard?

Note: The intention of working on mindset isn’t to try to be perfect nutritionally all the time. The intention is simply to sweep some of the cobwebs out of our brains that hold us or our clients back and create negative patterns in our lives. 

  • And working to remove these negative mindset tendencies and replace and reprogram them with a curious, compassionate and kind, but still honest, mindset can go a long way in creating a mindset more conducive to success. 

Ask yourself: How can I look at this being non-judgmental of myself, but re-examine what happened and learn from it.


Going back to the toothbrush analogy, part of the reason brushing your teeth is easy is because your environment supports it: It’s right there staring you in the face making it an easier task than if you had to head out to the drug store to buy a new toothbrush each day.

The same is true of nutrition: Maybe you stop at McDonald’s every morning because you drive right by. If you had to drive 30 miles out of the way to find a McDonald’s, would you make the effort?

Similarly, if you opened your fridge and saw fresh chopped vegetables and hummus in front of you, would you be more likely to eat them than if they were hidden in your crisper (aka the drawer of death) unwashed and unchopped?

The point is your environment matters. Human beings are creatures of convenience, so setting our environments up for success is one of the biggest keys in fostering new healthy habits.

That being said, it’s not just about your physical environment. Environment is actually threefold: physical, social and online, and it’s important to assess each aspect of your environment in terms of how supportive or unsupportive they are for you.

Physical: Is the healthy choice the most convenient choice? Or is it easier to reach for a cookie? Sometimes it’s as simple as chopping vegetables every Sunday to have on hand for the week, and then keep it front and center in your fridge so you see it when you get home from work and are famished.

Social: Are the people in your life supportive of you wanting to make lifestyle changes, or are they asking you to go for drinks and appies every weekend?

Online: Does your social media feed make you feel inadequate? What kinds of articles are you reading online? Are you going down the diet culture rabbit hole? What you’re looking at online can go a long way in discouraging or inspiring you, so it’s important to take a look at how your online escapades are supporting or harming your progress. 

The ultimate goal is, of course, to constantly be creating a supportive environment—physically, socially and through your online pursuits—that will make making the healthy choice the easiest one most of the time, which will ultimately help set you up to create healthier habits. 


This brings us to habit creation.

Now that you (or your clients) have re-worked, and are continuing to re-work your mindset and environment to support success, the foundation has been laid to start building healthy habits, one step at a time. 

This isn’t going to be an overnight overhaul of your life. It’s going to be about starting where you’re at and building slowly from there, one small habit at a time. Read more about this here: “Meet Your Clients Where They’re at:” What this Means for the Nutrition Coach in Practice. Over time, these habits start adding up and compounding, much like a retirement savings account you put money into each month. 

And the more your account grows, or in this case the better nutrition you have consistently, the more you can start to implement the top two areas of the iceberg: higher level education and knowledge, and from time to time, a sprinkling of the tip of the iceberg—willpower. 


Have you been approaching nutrition, either as a coach, or for yourself personally, from: 

  • the TOP DOWN (relying on willpower → constantly searching for more knowledge and information online → trying to build better habits → environment →  mindset)
  • or the BOTTOM UP (mindset → environment → habits → knowledge → willpower)

As we like to ask our own nutrition clients: How well is that working for you?

If you’d like to learn more about how to coach the Iceberg of Success with your own clients, we do a deep-dive in our Two-Brain Coaching Nutrition Coaching Course. Feel free to connect with our Registered Dietitian course creator Jennifer Broxterman if you have any questions, or sign-up online if you’re ready to expand and evolve your nutrition coaching skills using a motivational interviewing approach.

Jennifer Broxterman, MSc, RD

Registered Dietitian & Sports Nutritionist

Two-Brain Coaching, Nutrition Coaching Course Creator


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