How to Coach Nutrition with Confidence |

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One of the best ways to coach nutrition is to teach people how to listen to their bodies. This is the first step to making sure they are getting the right amount of calories, vitamins, and nutrients. But how do you know what’s right for a client? How do you know what is the best way to encourage them to eat? How do you decide if they are eating enough? It is tough to know if a diet is good because often you are basing it on what you have heard from other people, or what you have read in a book.

The nutrition field is growing, and with it the importance of understanding how to effectively communicate the science of nutrition to a non-expert audience. Growing interest in the topic of nutrition means that many people want to learn about it and try to get involved. However, a large chunk of people do not know where to start. To help, TrainingPeaks has created a  Nutrition Coaching Master Class  for trainers and coaches with an interest in nutrition coaching.

As a nutrition coach, one of the great challenges I face is that I have to tell people who are struggling with food, how to eat properly so that they can experience the full benefits of healthy eating and their health. This doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes a lot of time and energy as well as the desire to change. However, if we can help them get on the right path, I know that they will feel better and it is possible that they can lose weight. If you are a nutrition coach, or want to become one, and want to help others, here are a few things you can do.

“Am I doing everything correctly?”

Self-doubt. It rattles around behind you like a rusted sidecar on your coaching motorbike, no matter how long you’ve been doing this.

When a customer presents you with an issue you’ve never encountered before, or when a client says, “I’ve done everything you’ve suggested—and nothing’s changed!”

Oof.

Our armpits are prickling as well.

Here’s a little known fact: even the greatest health and nutrition instructors have doubts about their abilities and expertise.

That is, in fact, a good thing.

However, in order to assist your customers figure out next steps and be their trusted advisor, you must ultimately break those shackles of self-doubt.

In this post, we’ll show you how to use five methods to stress-test your knowledge and decide the best next actions for your customers when you’re uncertain.

Scientists have loaned us these tools. (They’re specialists at acquiring information and using what they’ve learned to make better choices in the future.)

These tools will make you feel wiser as a coach, and more at ease when dealing with new coaching situations. Your customers will see improved outcomes. And, in most cases, this results in additional recommendations.

(To put it another way, everyone benefits.)

Let’s get started.

Tool #1: Become used to the words “I may be wrong.”

‘s scientific adviser is Helen Kolias, PhD.

Every week, Dr. Kollias enters the PN Facebook groups’ comments section, giving a well-researched perspective on the most contentious health and nutrition issues.

What I find fascinating about Dr. Kollias is:

Even if someone says anything that seems like “the Earth is flat” nonsense, she examines PubMed to see whether they’re right.

Dr. Kollias adds, “It doesn’t matter how much I believe I already know.” “As a scientist, I’m taught to ask myself, ‘Could I be wrong?’”

She does this to escape the psychological trap of confirmation bias, which is defined as the propensity to seek out and retain information that supports our existing beliefs while disregarding any evidence to the contrary.

To counteract this prejudice, she and other scientists are taught to ask themselves, “How could I be wrong?” 

And they look for proof to back up their claims.

In other words, scientists are able to constantly progress toward what is more correct by investigating how they may be incorrect. 

Embracing wrongness has comparable advantages for coaches. It enables us to better understand what works and what doesn’t, as well as for which customers.

Of course, being incorrect appeals to most of us about as much as eating a hornet.

We just need a little practice to get over that pain. Here are a few suggestions:

  • When you’re looking for knowledge, Google the polar opposite of what you believe is true.
  • Frequently question yourself, “What if I’m wrong?” “Are there any alternative perspectives on this situation?” you may wonder. “Can you tell me where my blind spots are?” And since it’s not always possible to notice your own blind spots…
  • Encourage people to disagree with you by stating things like “Tell me how I’m wrong” or “I may not know everything, so if you know more about this than I do, I’m eager to learn.”

This is also beneficial to clients.

Ask, “What if that’s not true?” when customers remark, “I can’t control myself around chocolate” or “I can’t consume sugar.”

Assist customers in overcoming their own limiting beliefs so they may discover what is really possible.

Do you suffer from confirmation bias?

We have a propensity to believe that confirmation bias affects just other individuals.

Let’s see what happens.

Think about the following issues:

  1. Do you pay attention to individuals or organizations whose health beliefs differ from yours?
  2. Do you click on results that contradict what you already think when you Google a health topic?
  3. Are you acquainted with counter-arguments to your beliefs? Can you, for example, offer reasoned reasons for eating meat if you’ve adopted veganism?

If you responded “no” to any of these questions, you may be prejudiced in some way.

You’re also a regular person.

It’s normal to seek out information that supports our beliefs while ignoring information that contradicts them. It’s the way our brains operate.

The issue isn’t whether we have confirmation bias, but rather: do we have confirmation bias?

Is there anything we can do about it?

Being aware of your own blind spots and confronting them on a regular basis may greatly expand your knowledge and help you become a better coach (and maybe even a better human).

Tool #2: Recognize the difference between trustworthy knowledge and nonsense.

Alwyn Cosgrove has been collecting and storing data for every single training session with customers at Results Fitness, the club he runs in Santa Clarita, California, for more than 21 years.

“By 9 a.m. on Mondays, I’ve seen more exercises than anybody could complete in a year. Cosgrove, who also owns Results University, adds, “That’s how much knowledge I have at my fingertips.”

This data, which comes from approximately 40,000 sessions each year, acts as a continuous research study. This enables Cosgrove to make educated decisions based on his own vast data collection, allowing him to confidently respond to queries such as:

  • Which is more effective: power, strength, or cardio if someone only has time to perform one kind of training?
  • Crunches or stability work: which is better for core strength?
  • Do customers develop more quickly whether they work with a trainer one-on-one or in small groups of four?
  • Will doing shoulder lifts while standing help you develop strength faster? Or when you’re seated?

(By the way, based on Cosgrove’s statistics, the answers to the above questions are: power, stable work, small groups, and standing.)

Perhaps you don’t have the same level of expertise as Cosgrove and don’t have access to hundreds of thousands of data points.

So, how do you select the optimal course of action for each individual? 

Well, a safe option is to start with the basics of diet and lifestyle, which, according to research, have the best chance of having a good effect.

(Read more: 5 Universal Nutrition Principles That Everyone Can Benefit From.)

Beyond those timeless principles, you’ll need to build a BS-meter when evaluating the usefulness of a new diet, activity, or supplement.

There’s a lot of talk these days about “avant-garde” methods to improve one’s health. Here’s how to figure out what to believe:

When it comes to scientific and research resources…

Prioritize meta analyses and reviews that synthesize study results (such as Cochrane reviews), as well as position statements from government and nonprofit organizations such as the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, and American College of Sports Medicine.

To find out who took part in the research, look at the “materials and techniques” section. Consider: How does your customer compare to the study’s participants? What makes your customer unique?

Look for reputable research curators. If you’re a PN Academy member, check out “Research Insider,” which provides easy-to-understand research summaries. Subscribing to examine.com, an independent business that evaluates and summarizes nutrition studies, is another option.

(Learn how to interpret a scientific research to sharpen your scientific BS-meter even further.)

When it comes to assessing health professionals…

Pay greater attention to seasoned professionals with decades of experience who are still successful, rather than “hot” newbies.

People who provide advise in areas they haven’t researched should be avoided. In other words, dermatologists are more knowledgeable about your skin than they are about your heart.

Pay attention to individuals who speak in a scientific manner. True experts are forthright about the advantages and disadvantages of different methods, acknowledge what they don’t know, are open-minded, and speak with qualifications. For further information, see “Can you put your faith in this expert?” below.

Can you trust this expert?

You can find someone, a website, or a research that supports virtually anything on the internet.

So, how can you tell the difference between fact and fiction? Here are a few pointers.

How True Experts Communicate  How Non-Experts Communicate
This seems to be the case in this demographic and environment, based on what we know thus far. This is completely correct. [Full halt.]
This finding was discovered in this population, but further study is required. We have no idea how it will impact other people. This is a miraculous treatment! This is the solution!
This adds to the corpus of work that has already been shown…. This is proof of it.
If you do this, you may notice a difference. On the negative side… This supplement is capable of doing anything. There are no drawbacks.
Future study may show that this is incorrect. There isn’t anything that could ever alter the outcome.

True experts, on the other hand, may sound less assured than pseudo-experts. 

That’s because they’re cautious and take their advice—and the implications of their advice—very seriously.

They aren’t fully assured since they don’t know what they don’t know.

Tool #3: Understand nuance.

If you’ve been with us for a long, you’ll notice that we often utilize one phrase:

It is debatable. 

How much protein should you consume? It is debatable.

Is alcohol harmful to your health? Depends.

Is it okay if I eat extra broccoli? Also, it is debatable.

Why is there so much reliance? Because:

There is no one discovery that applies to everyone in all circumstances all of the time.

This is what science has shown us:

Protein requirements for younger individuals vary from those for older ones. Men and women have distinct health risks when it comes drinking wine. Broccoli is a healthy vegetable for most people, but it turns certain individuals become fart factories.

So, whenever you’re contemplating a study result, whether good or bad, constantly question yourself:

Is this correct at this time? When isn’t this the case? 

People are one-of-a-kind, and circumstance is crucial.

Tool #4: Put your ideas to the test through experiments.

Every year, our coaches come across a few customers who are eager to shed a few pounds.

And those final few pounds are often predicated on a figure from…a long time ago. (Perhaps that was their wedding day weight.) Alternatively, their pre-pandemic weight.)

The problem is that, in addition to gaining weight, a lot of other things have altered over time. For example, how much time does one have to spend to exercise or how much control does one have over the sweets that enter the house?

Which may make achieving that long-ago scale number a lot more difficult.

They want for that “magic” number, but “either they’re unable to undertake the very difficult job of limiting that much—or they DO restrict a lot and still don’t drop those final few pounds,” according to coach Pam Ruhland.

Ruhland often recommends a paradoxical experiment to these clients: giving up the scale for a month.

Clients frequently come out of Ruhland’s sessions changed, saying things like, “I thought I needed to drop more weight.” But I’m content with where I’m at right now.”

Experiments like the one above are often used by our coaches at because they allow clients to examine deeply held ideas that may or may not be true for them.

Beliefs like as:

  • “I’ll be content if I had a six-pack.”
  • “If I become too hungry, I’ll devour the whole refrigerator.”
  • “This vitamin will make things better.”

The only way to know whether these beliefs are correct is to put them to the test. To accomplish so, follow Cosgrove’s advice:

Determine what you’re measuring and establish a baseline. Are you keeping track of your happiness? What is the quality of your sleep? What is the makeup of your body? Make a note of your beginning position so you can compare it later.

ONE THING AT A TIME should be changed. This is referred to as “controlling variables” by scientists, and it aids in determining what really worked (or didn’t). So, instead of taking the supplement, increase the intensity of your hill sprints.

Wait two to three weeks at the very least. Clients may decide tomorrow to get on their scale and declare, “It’s not working!” NEXT!” However, they should be aware that any intervention typically takes a few weeks to take effect.

Consider putting your data on a graph. Change isn’t always completely linear. (You know, there are good days and terrible days?) Graphing allows you to observe if things are (generally) getting better, remaining the same, or worsening.

Read “3 diet experiments that may alter your eating habits—and transform your body” for additional information on how to set up studies.

Tool #5: View failure as information rather than proof of your inadequacy.

It’s uncommon for a scientific breakthrough to occur without a lengthy and difficult process of elimination.

Katalin Karikó is a University of Pennsylvania scientist. No one would finance her research into how messenger RNA might be utilized to combat illness back in the 1990s.

No one thought her plan would succeed. 

Undaunted, she experimented for decades, the majority of which taught her one thing: how not to utilize mRNA to combat illness.

These setbacks turned out to be very beneficial, since they led to the development of vaccinations that have been crucial in the battle against COVID-19.

Nutritional coaching works in a similar way.

When a sequence of activities fails to assist a customer go ahead, it’s disappointing. However, it is exactly this process of elimination that aids clients in determining which methods work best for them.

They customize diet, exercise, and health activities for their body, objectives, and life the more they try and test.

Use the 6-steps we teach our Level 1 certification students to embrace this process of finding out what works (often via useful failure):

1. Evaluate and collect data.

What are your client’s objectives, requirements, and abilities? To put it another way, who are they, what do they want, and what can they do? Any baseline measurements for variables you wish to monitor should be included.

2. Recognize and investigate.

Keep an open mind regarding your client’s history, narrative, and circumstance. Build their trust by getting to know them as a complete person. (As previously stated, talk like a “real expert.”)

3. Make a strategy and a plan.

Consider what may be the most effective solution for your customer (based on what you uncovered in steps 1 and 2). Then devise a strategy for testing that hypothesis.

4. Decide whatever activity you’d want to attempt.

Drawing from the plan you’ve drafted, give your client some options, then let them choose their next action. Make sure this action is meaningful to them, and that they feel confident about their ability to do it.

5. Keep an eye on things and keep track of what’s going on.

How good is your customer at doing the job? And how reliable is it? What do you and your customer learn from each other? Keep track of your client’s progress as well as any new information you discover about them.

6. Examine and assess.

Examine how things went, taking into account both triumphs and failures. (Remember, it’s all constructive criticism.) Return to step 3 after using what you learned in this step to select another action to help your client get closer to their goal.

Colorful graphic representation of a 6-step coaching process that starts with planning and never ends.

Our coaches ultimately reframe failure by embracing this never-ending step-by-step cycle.

Instead of identifying errors or poor client outcomes as “I’m a terrible excuse for a coach,” they grow to think that “I need to fail in order to learn from my mistakes.”

Feel the fear—and then apply science to overcome it.

We want you to know that it’s quite acceptable to have doubts about yourself, particularly…

  • Throughout the early stages of your coaching career
  • while dealing with a difficult customer or circumstance
  • when you’re not sure whether your counsel will be effective

As a result, we’d like to leave you with two ideas.

First and foremost, you do not need all of the answers.

What you’ll need is a method for exposing future steps.

This article’s five tools will help you do just that. You’ll always find what’s appropriate for each customer if you believe and use these science-based tools.

Second, whether we like it or not, fear is a necessary component of this process. 

Coach Jon Mills once advised a struggling rookie coach:

“Fear is what makes a great coach, because if we had to be fearless to start anything new, we wouldn’t accomplish anything.”

If you’re a coach or wish to be one…

It’s both an art and a science to guide clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy food and lifestyle adjustments in a manner that’s tailored to their individual body, tastes, and circumstances.

Consider the Level 1 Certification if you want to learn more about both.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I be a better nutrition coach?

To be a good nutrition coach, you need to know how to cook and you should also have some experience with dieting.

How do I coach my clients?

Coaching is a process where you help your clients improve their skills in a specific sport.

Is a nutrition coach worth it?

Nutrition coaches are a great way to help you stay on track with your diet. They can also help you find new recipes and meal ideas that fit your needs.

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