A nutrition coaching client comes to you with a lot of questions and concerns. After talking with the client you realize they have some misconceptions about the use of nutrition coaching and nutrition facts. They believe the nutrition facts are for everyone and the reason they are overweight is because they don’t take the information into account. You feel that you need to teach them the nutrition coaching process in a way that they can understand. What do you do?

Most dieters have the same goal, which is losing weight, but the path to getting there is different for everyone. As you know, that path can cause a lot of stress and frustrations, and that’s where coaching comes in. It can be an effective way to solve almost any weight loss problem.

Nutrition coaching is a powerful and practical approach to solving employee health and wellness problems. It’s a process that combines traditional counseling with scientific research on how the body responds to food and exercise. Using coaching techniques that combine traditional counseling and traditional research, nutrition counselors can help you address any health problem.

People have their own reasons for doing things.

For consuming too much food. Exercise is being skipped. I’m disregarding your counsel.

And if you want to help people quit self-destructive behaviors, you must first understand why they do so.

This is a nutrition coaching universal rule.

It’s also a significant concept that can help you go from being a “frustrated coach” to being a “client whisperer.”

What do you mean by that? Let’s have a look.

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Have you ever had a client who has a strong desire to improve but yet appears to be entrenched in self-sabotage?

Perhaps they’re:

  • every night with four glasses of wine
  • rescheduling workouts at the last minute, or
  • buried a pint of ice cream before going to bed

Clearly, their actions are in direct opposition to their objectives. Isn’t it almost as though they’re deliberately doing it to make you feel like a failure as their coach?

Not so fast, my friend.

It could be their way of dealing with an issue that is considerably more serious than the “muffin top” they keep moaning about. 

Perhaps there’s a problem you haven’t considered.

Your client may be downing four glasses of wine to temporarily forget about how bad their job is.

Or canceling appointments due to a traumatic experience that makes them feel uneasy in a gym.

Or pounding Ben & Jerry’s because it calms them down.

As a result, don’t assume they’re disregarding your counsel. Rather, concentrate on connecting the dots.  

When you recognize that every negative behavior has a deeper cause, you’ll be able to:

  • more empathy for your customers
  • When clients don’t do what they’ve agreed to do, you’ll be less worried, and
  • To assist people in changing their behavior, more effective tactics should be used.

What are those three things? They’re a recipe for becoming a fantastic coach.

In this post, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step method for identifying the true roadblocks impeding your clients’ progress.

But, even better, we’ll show you how to develop solutions that work.


Every action taken by a person is an attempt to deal with or solve an issue.

Take a moment to think about that.

This single piece of information visibly blows coaches’ minds when we give presentations to them.

It can be as simple as this:

When you’re hungry (which is the issue), you eat (the behavior).

However, it is frequently more complicated. Because you frequently notice the behavior but are unaware of the problem.

As an example…

… it’s typically not because of the question your spouse asked when you snap at them for asking a completely innocuous question concerning tonight’s supper (the behavior). It’s most likely due to something else, such as that vexing email from a coworker (the problem).

…your hyperactive child is attempting to unleash pent-up energy when she acts out (the behavior) (the problem).

…and it’s probably not because your mother is yearning to fold your underpants when she shows up unannounced to do your laundry long after you’ve reached maturity (the behavior). She probably wants to be needed, and she doesn’t feel that way right now (the problem).

Similarly, unwelcome eating habits are frequently linked to a deeper issue that is unrelated to food.

This is difficult since many nutritionists are solely concerned with food: meal planning, macros, organic vs. regular foods, supplements, and so on. Intuitively, this makes sense.

You want to be certain that your customer is getting all of the nutrients he or she requires. So you and your partner have decided to eat more vegetables.

Your client’s meal log, on the other hand, reveals a lot of ice cream… and not much else. Ice cream isn’t a vegetable, as far as I know. (It occurs to me that someone should invent it… )

So, what went wrong? Why didn’t your client follow through on their promise to try? It’s most likely because…

The issue isn’t with the food.

It’s nearly never the case.

This concept is one of the cornerstones of our coaching process, which we’ve proven with over 100,000 customers and three peer-reviewed studies. 

Two case studies will be discussed to demonstrate how this coaching idea works in practice.

Let me introduce you to Sam and Min.

Nutrition coaching case studies.

Sam, a 24-year-old medical student, has an extremely busy schedule. He studies when he isn’t in class or in the lab performing research.

He also comes from a culture where spending time with his family is quite essential. As a result, he spends most of his free time with his parents and siblings.

Sam wants to lose weight, but he has regular binge drinking sessions with his medical school buddies (who also happen to be his roommates). This is causing him a slew of issues with his diet, training, and recovery.

Min, a mother of two teenagers, is 56 years old. She also looks after her elderly parents. She also works full-time in an office.

Min, who was slim until her mid-40s, is now battling the spare tire around her middle.

During the day, Min eats largely entire, nutrient-dense foods. She, on the other hand, has a problem with nighttime snacking. It’s difficult to lose weight when you eat late-night chips, cookies, and dinner leftovers.

It’s tempting to simply urge Min to quit snacking at night. Alternatively, tell Sam to cut down on his drinking.

After all, how difficult can it be to simply… stop?

But you’re undoubtedly aware of this:

Clients don’t always follow through on their promises.

Why? If they accomplished all you wanted, they’d be left with a problem—stress, feelings of unworthiness, a need to fit in socially—and no way to solve it.

So, how should you address situations like these? Let’s have a look.

There are five steps to resolving the underlying issue that is causing the behavior.

Step 1: Gain a better understanding of the behavior.

Let’s take a peek at Min’s eating habits.

Your job is to talk to Min about the behaviors she’s describing in detail, clearly, accurately, and concretely.

You could inquire, for example:

  • “What do you generally do in the hours leading up to snacking?”
  • “What are you thinking about right before you start snacking?”
  • “How do you feel physically while snacking?” Is there anyone else with you?”
  • “How do you feel emotionally when you’ve finished?”

The answers to these questions will provide you with a deeper understanding of Min’s situation. They will, however, assist HER in comprehending it.

In fact, the more questions you ask, the more likely Min is to figure out what’s causing her late-night munching and come up with remedies on her own.

You can use our Behavior Awareness worksheet to help any client with this process. (It would also work for Sam’s binge drinking problem.)

Step 2: Determine the issue.

It’s time to identify the problem now that you’ve identified the behavior (thanks to step 1). This is the most enjoyable part.

Clients may be able to quickly identify their issue. 

Min might come out and say directly after completing the Behavior Awareness worksheet:

“It seems like if I’m having a bad day and feeling neglected, I start munching. I’m under a lot of stress between work, taking care of my kids and parents, and trying to take care of myself. My mother has cancer, and we’re all dealing with it. Plus, she’s always lecturing me about why I’ve never accomplished anything in my life.”

It’s sometimes that simple to figure out the problem (or, in this case, problems). And, given everything going on in Min’s life, her “solution” makes perfect sense as a way to receive instant (though temporary) relief.

Clients may have no concept what the real issue is. 

As a result, you’ll have to do some detective work.

Consider this a puzzle that you and your client will solve together, using a compassionate inquiry approach.

One method is to ask what we refer to as “two insane questions.”

This is what it goes like…

“Sam, I’m going to ask you two ridiculous questions, and I know it’ll seem weird, but please bear with me…”

“What is good about drinking so much on weekends?” asks the first question. In other words, what is its function in your life? “Can you tell me how it helps you?”

“What would be the worst thing about changing?” asks the second question. What would you give up or lose if you didn’t drink so much when you went out?”

Sam may admit that drinking with his pals helps him relax after a stressful week of school, job, and family obligations.

He understands that drinking less will make it easier for him to eat healthier and go to the gym on a regular basis.

Sam, on the other hand, is concerned that if he isn’t there with a beer in his hand, he and his med school buddies would miss out on the fun. Whether or not that dread is justified, it is very real for Sam.

As a result, there are two issues:

Because of his busy schedule, Sam is (understandably) worried, and he also sees himself as accountable for his friend’s ability to have fun together.

What if my client’s issue isn’t within my scope?

You may need to send out another specialist depending on what your customer is struggling with.

Let’s imagine they’ve been emotionally or sexually assaulted and are still struggling with the consequences.

These are difficulties that are much above your expertise. However, if you have a strong referral network, you can help your customer find the help they require.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t keep them as a client. Rather, your customer just adds a new player to their support team with a different skill set.

Provide responsibility, and assist your client in honing the essential skills they’re ready, willing, and able to undertake while also receiving assistance from a competent professional with their deeper-seated issues and worries.

When a person begins to improve their diet, fitness, sleep, or stress-relieving habits, their larger, underlying difficulty often becomes simpler to manage. Because they’re no longer feeling horrible about their health practices, it’s no longer exacerbating the problem.

By the way, having your own referral network is also a good idea (for YOU). Clients’ “stuff” may trigger your own “stuff,” so having your own “stuff support system” will be beneficial.

Step 3: Become a member of your client’s team.

This is the part where you get to be your client’s biggest supporter. In the process, you’ll strengthen your coaching relationship.

Determine what you like about your client and what you don’t like about them. 

Even if it’s difficult, you want to find the silver lining.

Turn their difficulties into proof of their resiliency and strength.

Here’s how you could go about it with Sam:

“From what I’ve heard, Sam, you’re the social glue that holds your group together. Everyone is stressed out from med school and other things, and you’re the party animal who tries to lift everyone’s spirits. That demonstrates how deeply you care about your friendships. It’s very remarkable how you manage to prioritize them.”

It’s especially crucial to be conscious of how your personal experiences and biases may impair your judgment in this situation. 

If you’ve always been a healthy athlete and now you’re coaching someone like Min, you’ll have to let go of the notion that being fit and avoiding trigger foods is “easy.”

Emphasize the benefits of not changing as well as what your customer has to offer:

“Min, it’s incredible how you manage to juggle two teenagers, a full-time work, and your parents, who, to be honest, sound a little difficult to deal with. I can’t even begin to imagine! I can’t even contact my mother for 15 minutes, and yet you do it all the time. That reveals a lot about your dedication to your family. That is something I admire greatly.”

This step may appear insignificant. However, it tells your client that you are not passing judgment on them. It also makes individuals feel heard and appreciated by validating their sentiments. It also encourages individuals to take a different, more positive perspective on themselves (and their behaviors).

Bring on the warm and fuzzies. Because your client will be relying on them to make a critical decision, which leads us to step 4.

Step 4: Allow your client to make the final decision on whether or not to change.

The majority of individuals are resistant to change.

Nobody likes to stop doing something they enjoy.

But here’s the thing about resistance: allowing someone to refuse to change might really lead to their realizing that they DO want to change. 

So, ask your customer:

“Do you want to change in light of all of this?” It’s fine if you don’t change.”

Of course, this can necessitate a stomach-churning leap of faith. You must honestly accept that they will not change their behavior.

In fact, there are occasions when not altering one’s conduct is a better option than changing one’s behavior. 

You might find a client’s 12-hour-per-week exercise routine excessive. However, it could be assisting them in coping with their deteriorating marriage.

If you remove (or drastically restrict) the exercise, they may begin to cope in a harmful manner.

Maybe your customer refuses to eat any vegetables at all. Consider a carnivore’s diet.

They are aware of the dangers to their health. And they’ve established that they’re doing it because food is the only thing they have control over in their lives. As a result, they are unwilling to change.

That is something you must accept. (However, you are not obligated to continue working with them.)

The next step can go one of two ways, depending on your client’s change or no change response.

Step 5: Work together to develop strategies.

Let’s take a look at two instances. In one, your client is completely open to change. On the other hand? Not at all.

Client wishes to make a change: Consider what that may entail.

Min makes the decision that she does want to change. She recognizes the negative effects of late-night munching, but she’s eager to try something new.

You don’t want to just toss solutions at her, either. Instead, urge her to talk about where she sees room for improvement.

You could try asking queries like:

  • “Put on your coach’s cap. What would you advise me to do if you were in my shoes?”
  • “What would you do if you had the power to avoid snacking at night—even if it seemed impossible? For the next five minutes, let’s simply brainstorm and ignore reality.”

Work together to choose one new action, making sure it feels completely realistic given Min’s circumstances—even if it’s difficult. 

Perhaps Min begins by remodeling her kitchen to assist her prevent late-night eating. She keeps trigger foods in the garage, including dinner leftovers, which now go straight to the mini-fridge in the garage. Min can still enjoy them if she wants, but they’re out of sight for her children.

Ask Min whether she’s ready, willing, and capable of incorporating this new habit into her daily routine. 

Find out what it would take to get her totally on board with a suggested change if she gives it a score of less than an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s usually about lowering the severity of the habit to make it feel more manageable. (Here’s where our Ready, Willing, and Able worksheet comes in helpful.)

If the client refuses to change, try a different approach.

Sam is adamant about not changing his drinking habits. He recognizes the tradeoffs, but he’s not ready to change his ways just yet.

That’s OK.

Say anything along the lines of:

“So, it appears that you desire to be more fit and less stressed. However, quitting drinking with your pals does not feel like the best answer for you right now, which is understandable. What else can we do to help you get closer to your goal?”

Sam might be ready to limit himself to three drinks per social outing, rather than the five or six he usually consumes.

Or he may be adamant about not changing his drinking habits at all. It’s not a huge deal.

Instead than seeing this as a setback, consider it an opportunity.

To address a problem, you may need to look deeper upstream. 

In other words, it’s possible that Sam won’t be able to stop binge drinking unless he makes a different decision.

Take a look at the “deep health” chart below, for example.

Let’s say you’re lonely and isolated from others (see: relational health). To feel better, you could eat or drink more, which is bad for your physical health. And it can lead to anxiety or rage, which can be harmful to your mental well-being.

Deep health wheel.

The various aspects of profound health are intertwined. Working in one area allows you to address the others without having to think about it. (Learn more about the importance of deep health.)

So, in Sam’s example, you might collaborate to devise stress-reduction measures such as:

  • Taking a daily lunchtime walk (physical health)
  • most days include a 5-minute body scan (mental health)
  • establishing a practice of self-compassion (emotional health)

Despite the fact that these acts may appear to have nothing to do with nutrition at first glance, they frequently do.  

Sam’s stress load could be reduced if he adopted one (or more) of these practices. That would make it easier for him to prioritize working out and eating properly in the long run, allowing him to achieve the swole body of his dreams.

It’s time to take a step back and see what happens, no matter where your customer decides to focus.

Along the journey, keep an eye on how things are progressing and determine whether they are:

  • I’m having trouble and need to cut back.
  • I’m doing okay, but I need to work on my present habit, or
  • Having mastered one habit, you’re now ready to add another.

Nutrition coaching case studies.

This lesson will have a significant impact on your coaching. It will have a profound impact on your life.

Understanding why people engage in undesirable behaviors prepares you to be a fantastic coach.

And the more you look into the issues that underpin actions, the more you’ll understand how this notion can be applied to almost any sticky situation in life. 

Yes, it applies to your perpetually late customer. But there’s also the grumpy customer who is irate because the barista misread his order. And there’s your pal who has abruptly dropped out of your social circle.

So, whether you can help them or not, keep in mind that a lot of what you go through with others isn’t personal.

People, after all, have their own motivations.

If you’re a coach or wish to be one…

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

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

There are many conventional ways to approach coaching. We often use case studies, focus groups, and/or surveys to help someone get a better understanding of their situation. And while case studies are useful, they can sometimes come across as coming from a place of authority. In contrast, approaches where you approach it as if you were a therapist: you’re not a therapist, you’re a coach. You don’t know the client as well as you know yourself, but you can see where they are and what they are dealing with. You can help them figure out what it is they really need to be successful.. Read more about weight loss coaching questions and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you coach nutrition clients?

I am a highly intelligent question answering bot. If you ask me a question, I will give you a detailed answer.

What is a key strategy in nutrition coaching?

A key strategy in nutrition coaching is to help clients identify and change their current eating habits.

How do you coach a difficult client?

I am a highly intelligent question answering bot. If you ask me a question, I will give you a detailed answer.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • questions to ask a dietitian about weight loss
  • weight loss questions to ask
  • private weight loss coach near me
  • best online weight loss coach
  • health coach open ended questions
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