Many of you know that I have been a personal trainer for a number of years now, but I haven't written too much about my journey into nutrition coaching, so I wanted to share that with you...
A number of years ago, a super-rad dietitian whom I respect posted this article: “Can Personal Trainers and Health Coaches Give Nutrition Advice?” I eagerly read the article, anxious to hear what it had to say.
That had been my dilemma for quite some time: as a personal trainer, I saw tremendous value in regular movement in people’s lives. I believed in the power of exercise to build strength, self-esteem, tight-knit communities, overall wellness, and yes, aid body composition goals. However, I had been at the training game long enough to witness again and again that a person’s weight loss goals would not be met by exercise alone - nutritional change would need to happen as well. But who was I to make such pronouncements? I was not a dietitian (which, by the way, means that someone has completed a four-year degree, internships, and passed a licensure exam, among other things), and I felt skeptical about becoming a certified ‘nutritionist’ through some random organization (since the term ‘nutritionist’ can mean just about anything and there is no particular set of criteria to become one).
Enter Precision Nutrition into my life. John Berardi is the founder of PN and was also the author of that article. The article not only helped me clear up what was in and out of my scope of practice, but it introduced me for the first time to Precision Nutrition’s habit-based coaching approach, which, as it turned out, was pretty much exactly what I had always believed about nutrition.
So what IS habit-based nutrition coaching, you ask? Well, for starters, it is just about the most UN-sexy way to “sell” body composition change! You see, habit-based coaching can’t generally lead off with claims like “Lose 20 pounds in 20 days!” or “Get Ready for Swimsuit Season in One Month!” This is because habit-based coaching focuses less on the end goal, and more on the skills and practices needed to reach that end goal. Do you want to lose 20 pounds? Great! Let’s talk about the behaviors needed to reach that goal, then let’s work on implementing them, slowly and steadily, into your lifestyle in a way you can learn to manage and maintain! Habit-based coaching works on the belief that learning to think like a fit person and make choices like a fit person will eventually lead to you become a fit person...that our long-term habits must change for that change to last, and habits ‘stick’ best when changed one by one.
So I began a really awesome journey with Precision Nutrition, first becoming certified through their Level 1 program, then beginning to offer in-person and online coaching to clients, and I am now part of their yearlong Level 2 program. Over the time I’ve spent offering nutrition coaching, here are things I have observed:
For most people, “good” nutrition is not a knowledge problem as much as it is an implementation problem. Sure, nutrition can be confusing to navigate, particularly with the information overload that is out there today. But for most of us, there are many things we know we can do to positively affect our diet: eat more veggies and less sugar, for instance. Focus on whole, minimally-processed foods. These gems of knowledge are not highly sought-out secrets; the breakdown comes when actually making those changes consistently in our everyday lives.
Much of the time, making better nutritional choices goes hand-in-hand with working on stress management, self-compassion, new time management strategies, and other things that are not expressly under the heading of ‘nutrition’. When we set out to ‘eat better,’ we don’t often think about how our bedtime affects those choices. Or our support system of friends, families, and co-workers. Or the routines we have put in place. But these are the things that often end up making or breaking the goals we have set for ourselves.
More often than not, clients can make amazing changes with just a little bit of guidance and a lot of support and accountability. When I look over a food journal with a client, it is usually pretty easy for them to see the changes they could make. The magic happens in talking things out, coming up with a strategy for tackling it together, and me checking in with them to see how things are going.
So if you have been on a cycle of jumping from one diet to another and thinking that you just need to find the 'right' one (something I will talk about in an upcoming blog post!), take a minute to step back and check in with some of the habits that are in place in your life. Ask yourself some things like:
What time do you generally go to bed, and how much sleep do you get (seven hours should be the minimum for anyone and often more is better)?
How much stress do you carry in your life, and what sort of coping mechanisms do you use to alleviate that stress? Do you feel you are able to cope with stress in healthy ways?
How do you talk to yourself? Are you your own worst critic, shaming every ‘wrong’ choice you make, getting down on yourself for your failures? How much compassion do you offer yourself?
When it comes to eating, do you do ‘diets’ with an all-or-nothing approach, making rigid, perfect choices for a short amount of time and then ‘falling off the wagon’ and binging for a while before the cycle starts again?.....or do you take a more measured approach, trying to make small improvements everyday?
Do you have a system for meal planning and prepping that is working for you? Do you feel confident with your kitchen skills to plan and make at least a few basic meals at home that include lean protein, veggies, slow-digesting carbs, and healthy fats? How confident do you feel in knowing which foods are parts of those categories without simply following a prescribed meal plan?
Where do you eat? How fast do you eat? Are you always doing other things while eating (like working on a computer, driving, or watching TV)? How mindful are you about the experience of your mealtimes?
These are just a few areas to stay checked in about throughout your day. Try it today, and see what you might discover! And if any of the above feels like you might want some help in bringing awareness to and implementing these habits, that’s what I’m here for - let’s talk!