What is up, ? Hope your day is kick ass so far!
When we were in New York for Mark Fisher Fitness’ Motivate and Move Summit, we got asked the question, “How do we rectify doing nutrition programming without being registered dietitians?” It was a broad question, sweeping of all fitness professionals, not a cornering of the Strength Faction coaches. It was, however, a fair question. How can we coach nutrition without being registered dietitians, or at the very least, a weekend certified nutritionist.
The answer is simple: because we give advice, we do not prescribe. By essentially working as consultants, we offer information and solutions. We don’t tell anyone that they have to do anything and we don’t claim that we can treat disease.
It’s an interesting dynamic. In reality, people rarely want to be prescribed anything. They want to be autonomous and direct their own path. So while we may not be able to prescribe anything, we have the potential to be more impactful than those that offer stringent guidelines. The power is in the process.
Client Directed Coaching
We have information that we know can help our clients. That doesn’t mean that we should vomit it on them without their consent. How many coach to client conversations have started, “Well, here’s what you should do…” Too fucking many—that’s how many.
People need to feel autonomous—it varies in levels between people and contexts, but everyone wants the perception that they’re in the driver seat of the party wagon that carries their life. So rather than writing strict plans and coughing out a lot of ‘here’s what you need to dos’, we ask questions, we listen, we affirm and we ask permission to give advice. This is a client directed process and it helps foster client intrinsic motivation.
Our job is to create the environment, and to offer the tools, for a client to change their own lives—if they want to.
It starts with open-ended questions.
Two Ears, One Mouth
Wise old folks often mutter that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. It’s good to listen to wise old folks.
Asking open-ended questions cuts down on the amount of time we spew info and increases the time that the client is able to talk themselves into their own solutions. This is the ultimate goal. To be the sounding board that gives the client the tools to solve their own problem.
We start with the simplest of open-ended questions:
In regards to your nutrition, what do you think you’re doing well right now?
Starting with a positive, open-ended question allows them to search for their perceived nutritional bright spots. Is there perception always reality? No. But it’s a great way for them to express what they feel like they have a handle on and it creates context for a conversation.
Let’s bring back our dear friend Pop Tart Sally (PTS) for an example. Here’s how this initial convo might go:
Coach: In regards to your nutrition, what do you think you’re doing well right now?
PTS: Well, I’ve been eating a pop tart every morning for breakfast and I’m pretty stoked about that. I want like three years without even looking at food in the morning. But now I crack open a box of those smores bitches every morning and scarf one down. I feel good that I’m getting food in at breakfast.
Coach: So you’ve been eating a pop tart every morning and you’re pumped about it. I think it’s great that you’ve started incorporating breakfast into your routine. Is there anything else you think you’re doing well nutritionally?
PTS: I mean, I’ve been eating breakfast, lunch and dinner…making sure that I get three meals in. So that’s going well.
Coach: So you’ve been doing well getting three meals in.
PTS: Yeah, before I’d skip breakfast, maybe eat lunch and then just house a bunch of shit all afternoon and evening. I’m actually making time for each meal now.
Coach: You’ve made a conscious effort to eat three meals a day and feel like you’re making progress. That’s awesome, celebrate it!
PTS: You bet your sweet ass I will!
Now that we’ve asked PTS two positive open-ended questions, let her talk and built some context, let’s jump in with an open-ended improvement question.
Coach: So we have a handle on what you’re doing well—eating breakfast and making sure you’re getting three meals in per day. Let’s move on to another question. In regards to your nutrition, what do you think you could improve right now?
PTS: Wow, that’s a good question. I guess a lot of times I eat, and I know it’s good that I’m eating, but I don’t know what I should be eating and when? You know? Like should I be eating more protein or more vegetables? When should I be eating each?
Coach: So you’re not sure what to eat and how much of each type of food you should be eating.
PTS: Right, I think I need to know more about that.
Coach: You’re interested in learning more about what types of food to eat and in what proportions. Would you like to spend some time talking about different foods and how much of each to eat?
PTS: Yes, that would be awesome.
We started the conversation by framing with open-ended, positive questions and that gave us the context to ask about what PTS thinks she could improve. This kept the tone of the conversation positive, even when we were looking for the not-so-bright spots, and kept her talking. It got her to the point in which she decided she needed more information on something.
Note the coach’s process. She reflected everything back that PTS was saying so that PTS could hear her own thoughts and process them. She affirmed PTS’ positive actions. And, here’s a big one, she asked permission before informing or giving advice. This simple step is one that too many and coaches and trainers gloss over because they think they know better. Well, poppycock!
Asking for permission before giving advice or educating keeps the client in the driver’s seat and maintains their autonomy over the process. They’ve decided that they’d like to hear what you have to say, rather than you vomiting info all over their cortex. Asking permission diminishes client resistance and keeps them from building resentment toward you and the process. We have a window to educate, now we can offer information that client is receptive to.
This was, of course, a hypothetical and super easy consultation interview. They’re not all going to be this easy—in fact most of them won’t. We’ve done this for example’s sake.
It’s also good to note that the interviewing process that we exemplified above is heavily influenced by a book called Motivational Interviewing in Fitness and Nutrition. It’s worth the twenty-five bucks.
Now that we’ve established bright spots, got PTS talking and offered some education, it’s time to help her direct her actions. We’ll do that with a technique called Five, Three, First.
This technique, which we learned from coach Steve-O from Habitry, is a simple process of asking open-ended questions and letting the client find their own answers. It’s a theme, right? Sound like we’re beating a dead horse yet? Well, we don’t care. Sometimes dead horses need beating.
The process is simple. So simple it’s almost too good to be true. It goes like this.
Ask the client what they believe are the five most impactful things they could do to improve their nutrition right now. They’ll state those things. Then ask them to narrow that list to three. Then, from those three, they’ll select what they believe is the single most impactful action they can take to improve their nutrition right now. That’s where they start.
Here’s what a conversation could look like:
Coach: So, PTS, knowing what you know now about your nutrition, what do you think are the five most impactful things that you could do to improve your nutrition right now?
PTS: Awesome. Well…I think I need to eat more protein, I need to eat more vegetables, even though I’m eating breakfast I could eat a better one, I could drink more water and less soda, and I could stop eating chips in the afternoon.
Coach: Great. That’s a great list. Of those five, which three do you think would help you most right now?
PTS: Three, right. Uh…well, eating a better breakfast, drinking more water and less soda and cutting out the chips in the afternoon.
Coach: Awesome. Nice work. Ok, of those three, which one do you want to start with?
PTS: Well, since I’m doing so well with breakfast maybe I could work on improving that.
Coach: That sounds like a great idea. I like how you found the bright spot and decided to build on it. How do you think you could make breakfast better right now?
PTS: I know I need more protein, so maybe I could add a hardboiled egg in with my pop tart. It’d be easy. I could boil a bunch of eggs at once and have them for the week.
Coach: Perfect. I love how you thought of making it easy on yourself so that you’ll have better follow through. Great strategy. Would you like to write a habit statement to commit to this strategy?
PTS: Sure. Let’s do that shit, homes.
Coach: Awesome, so let’s say write, “I’m 90-100% confident that for the next seven days I’ll eat a hard boiled egg every time I eat breakfast.”
Coach: Super. Is there anything else that you think you need from me to help you get this done?
PTS: Nope, hombre. I’m going to kick this habit square in the dick.
Coach: You sure are! And remember, we’re going to get to all of the stuff you listed, we’re just starting with this habit. You’ll conquer them all!
PTS: Fuck yeah I will!
The conversation ends with an explosive fist bump.
Pretty simple, right? We’ve been using this technique with our clients ever since we’ve learned it and it’s been kicking so much ass. It’s important to note that the coach mentioned that PTS will work on all the things she listed, that the first habit is just a starting point. We don’t ever want the client to feel like they’ve lost an opportunity. Keep that shit in mind.
Client Direct, Bright Spot, Open-Ended, Five-Three-First
Give the client the means to find their own bright spots by asking open-ended questions. Give them the means to find their own solutions by offering education after they’ve given you permission and helping them pave their own road with the five-three-first technique. This shit works.