Nutritional inertia must be broken somewhere—change requires intervention. But a haphazard redirect isn’t productive, and may cause more harm than good. We’ve covered nutritional basics and implementing habits, unless someone is training to be an aesthetic competitor, these are enough to make lasting progress. The key, however, is to implement them productively—to know how big or how small to start.
Start With Questions
Ask yourself the first question:
What do I know about this person?
We can learn a ton about personality, needs, wants and past shortcomings by having a relaxed conversation. It’s a great place to start. Then we gather information.
Start With Why
Dan John calls it finding someone’s pain and using that at as motivation. Similarly, we say find someone’s why. Find their deep seeded purpose, and you can help them commit to whatever changes they need to make. Find out why they are sitting in front of you. There’s a reason that drives them to want to lose ten pounds. Get to that story.
The Food Log
Start nutritional info gathering with a food log…three days of writing down everything that a lady or gent fires down their gullet. Make sure you ask for detailed information: times, how they felt before, how they felt after, why they ate what they ate. It’s best to set up log forms with slots designated for this info—the simpler, the more likely someone is to comply.
The food log provides us a snapshot into current behaviors and thought processes. It also shows us deficits. Once we see deficits on paper we can ask deeper questions—especially as we notice trends.
(Before we move on to ask questions, let’s tap the breaks and touch on a universal coaching point. As you scan the food log, find the bright spots. This is arguably the most important step in the whole process. Find what they’re doing well and celebrate it—even if there’s only one thing and it’s minuscule. Let them know about it and congratulate them.
Finding the bright spots first, and starting with positive statements, keeps people from clamming up and opens them to the coaching your about to give. It’s simple psychology—people are much more apt to listen if you make them feel good about themselves first by letting them know they’ve done something right. Start with a negative comment, or immediately jump into corrections and they are more apt to close up and not accept your coaching. Besides, it’s rare that a client does everything completely wrong.)
Now—on to the questions!
Questions about trends—why they consistently make a meal decision.
Questions about their current kitchen situation—what’s it stocked with? What kind of equipment do they have at home? (It’s helpful to gather this info with documents you hand out with the food log. But questions during a meeting work well, too.)
Then comes the big question:
What have they tried in the past?
Pray for all things holy in this world that they are one of Dan John’s “untrained” clients. Pray that you are ground zero for nutritional intervention. It’s likely, however, that you aren’t.
If they’ve tried a million and a half things, find the bright spots about things they liked and things they’ve perceived to work. Find out why they stopped. What killed their consistency? It’s often that results didn’t come fast enough. This is a great time to use a metaphor for consistency. Remember the small investment metaphor? Use that shit, son (or daughter). It’s a great way to shrink the change and make the process less daunting.
It’s likely that they tried to make a handful of wholesale life changes at once. That dog won’t hunt—we know that. We’ll deal with that in uno momento.
As you gather all this information you can categorize clients. We’ve developed our categorization system based on Precision Nutrition’s client categorization.
Level 1 Client: Food log is a mess, they stock their house with shitty food, they don’t have the necessary cooking equipment, their choice thought process is poor.
Level 2 Client: Food log is ok, they have some good food and some shitty food, they have some necessary cooking items, they demonstrate some good choice thought process.
Level 3 Client: Food log is good, they stock their house with good food, they have everything they need in the kitchen
Most clients will be Level 1 or Level 2. Most will also think that they are Level 3 clients. Their perception of their efforts is often grandiose. They often comment that they “eat pretty well.” We know they don’t, but we have to frame it positively so that they can make changes. This is where we return to finding the bright spots and then note deficits. But as you find deficits you must be clear that you’ll help the person find solutions for them. Cynicism is destructive—you’ll lose their mindset right away.
Where to begin?
The categorization system helps us determine our starting point—as does the subjective personality traits you’ve been paying attention to.
Levels 1 and 2
This is going to sound crazy—but sometimes the best nutrition intervention has nothing to do with diet or food. It’s about creating a positive mindset.
The key is to have them own something before moving on or adding. If the person is a brand new client, have them own training with you—making sure they hit all of their scheduled sessions for two weeks—before you implement any other kind of intervention. And make sure to celebrate the hell out of it.
It’s easier for folks to make changes when they are in a positive mindset, when they feel good about where they are and the path they’re on.
Before any further nutrition work, start them with a gratitude journal—three things that they’re grateful for and the two-minute drill of recounting a positive experience from the past twenty-four hours. Give them the notebook, have them own this habit for a week. If there’s push-back, remind them that it’s part of the nutrition program—this graduates them to the next step. Remind them of their why. It’s about forming positive habits.
Good nutrition is nothing more than a series of habits and choices. Positive habits incite positive habits—it’s not about food, it’s about psychology.
If you think it’s advisable, pair this with a small nutrition habit to be owned during the same period. Base this on their biggest deficit from their food log. If you think preparation is the biggest deficit, start by having them prepare one meal for the week. If it’s simply protein intake, make sure they’re hitting protein portions for one of they day’s meals. If they just need to eat breakfast, start there.
It’s paying attention, comparing subjective info with objective info, and making one change at a time.
These people likely don’t need you unless they have something very specific to prepare for—competition, etc. In that case—are you the best person to help them?
If you are it’s more about nailing down portion size—and potentially working to macro splits. If you feel prepared to handle this, knock it out of the park. But this situation likely requires a nutritionist.
Magnitude of Change
We’re only changing one thing at a time and owning it. That being said, some changes are bigger than others. This is where we separate Level 1 clients from Level 2 clients.
Level 1 clients make smaller changes. These folks are the ones that focus on drinking two glasses of water per day. Then they work on making sure they have one solid portion of one solid macronutrient at one meal per day. Then they graduate to the next meal or macronutrient. The changes are small and based on the deficits that you denote from your assessment.
Level 2 clients handle bigger changes. These folks have a better perception of their behaviors and can handle more—we’re not saying give them more than one change at a time, just make the change bigger. Maybe they focus on meal prep. Maybe they work on a macronutrient for an entire day of eating, rather than at just one meal. Rather than baby steps, they get to take child steps. But they’re still only taking one at a time.
It’s important to offer choice to both of these groups. Offer them options and have them choose which behaviors they’ll work on one at a time. Remember—our self-determination theory coaching philosophy bids people to take ownership over their transformation process. They’ll be more compliant because their intrinsic motivation is cultivated.
Gather info. Categorize. Make one change at a time. Make that change of the right magnitude.