Posted by on Sep 29, 2014

Thom Lamb retired from a ten year stint in the Canadian Military Engineers, to become a full time strength and conditioning coach in 2003. His athletes have set over 60 national and world records in powerlifting, however his real passion is to help people discover their inner athlete, and reconnect with their bodies, no matter what their level of fitness. Would you like to train with Coach Lamb? Check out his new Fitocracy Team, Rookie to Rockstar.

Step 1: “Think Back on the Past Two Days…”

When I first discuss nutrition with new clients, I like to ask them what they ate over the last two days. After asking this question for more than a decade, a trend has emerged.

About 99% of the time people will tell me that they ate way worse over the last two days than they normally do. If that were true, it would mean that I happen to ask that question, over and over again, one day after each of these hundreds of clients had eaten very abnormally. Or, and this is statistically far more likely, those clients are not in the habit of being mindful about what they eat, and, when they are forced into it, are surprised at what they find.

Most people were being honest, but that they eat like that all the time. It’s important here to make one thing clear: there’s no need to be embarrassed about it! I point out that even coaches have flawed diets: I eat like shit sometimes too. Just make sure you lay out all the cards so we can get to work on getting you better. Being embarrassed is no reason to hide anything.

Empowering Clients to take Charge of Their Nutrition

Once I get to hear what someone is eating, I then ask what they think they should change first. This is key, because if we want to create a lasting change then it needs to feel like something the person has decided to do for themselves. This is called motivational interviewing, and is used in a lot of counseling professions. The key here is that we want to improve the self efficacy of the client, and the easiest way to do that is to either validate that they made a good decision, or increase their knowledge by correcting their idea. This also helps the person learn skills in a “just in time” fashion, which increases the likelihood that they will retain the knowledge. It also tells me where my client stands, information wise, which prevents me from lecturing them about stuff they already know.

When teaching people about nutrition, coaches face a huge challenge. Everyone THINKS they know how to eat, but very few people know how to eat like an athlete. Insert standard diatribe about the evils of mass media and how it is enslaving the public here (not that I don’t believe this happening, but others have said it far better than I would).

Implementing Change – One at a Time

Once we find something that they want to change that makes sense, I repeat that change to them, and ensure we have a mutual understanding about what it is. I follow up the next day to congratulate them for doing it. Ideally I would time this follow up for immediately before the meal in question.

Often, I find that introducing one change a week is plenty – especially if it is a big one. If the person is having cereal, with banana and almond milk, plus yogurt and orange juice for breakfast and they decide based on what you told them, to start eating 3 eggs and 3 strips of bacon, they are going to see some awesome results within a week.

Timeline Doesn’t Matter

I don’t train people who want to do crossfit or body building competitions. My clients are regular people who want to feel better, so I don’t NEED to adhere to any timeline.

I’m reminded of a story that is attributed to Napoleon. He was touring his soldiers on a hot sunny day and they were sweltering. He turned to one of the generals and said “The troops are too hot, we should plant trees so they should have shade” The general said “well Sir, that will take twenty years “ Napoleon replied “That’s exactly why we should start today!”

The point is, I don’t promise to change people’s nutrition overnight (claiming otherwise is frankly bullshit). This isn’t a 30-day challenge, it’s a lifetime change. So it has to happen gradually. If coaches roll in and start pressuring someone to follow a diet plan, at some point they will rebel and return to their old ways. When we fail to give people time to learn and grow, we don’t allow them to lay down new powerful habits and then at some point the pressure of resisting urges becomes too overwhelming to resist.

Key Points…

1 – Whatever change the client suggests, that is the right one. It’s more important that they feel like they aren’t total idiots than to nit pick what they chose.

2 – Extract information, then insert it. The real trick to teaching is not merely spraying your client with a shotgun of information, but to create the precondition of retention. This means putting them in a situation where they need a piece of information, then either acknowledging them for possessing it, or providing it to them and immediately giving them the opportunity to use it.

3 – Resist the pressure from the client to “just give me a diet to follow.” If they really push for this, give it to them, but only after the first meal follow up. Best case they will follow it to the letter, or do about half of it. Make an agreement with the client that that if they don’t follow the meal plan you can return to an incremental approach. It’s better to divide and conquer.

I could write a book about the tips and tricks to help get regular people to eat better, but I hope this brief introduction will help you to get better results with your clients. If you are someone looking to eat better, and you don’t have access to a good trainer, maybe find a buddy that you can work on this process with, or contact me as I offer online training and nutritional consulting. Tomorrow I’ll continue to explain the process of making small gradual changes.

Featured image courtesy of healthnutrition and used under a Creative Commons license. 


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