Food Police: Evolution in Thought

Personal training is not a mindless endeavor. I actually learn from every single client I train. Some sessions I am confirming that what I know works and is, indeed, working. Others, I learn I need a new approach to inspire a “tough case” or to help get them into a proper squat position. Some days I test a new silly cue on clients with a particular sense of humor (“spread your taint, anyone?”).

As a performance coach, there are so many skills to improve upon on the quest to help as many people as possible. As soon as I feel like I have mastered a skill, like teaching squats (formerly nicknamed Sir Squatswell), I focus on something else like psychology, business development, program design… blah, blah… the list goes on.

Each month, my training is slightly different than the month before. I’m always growing.

This is the main reason I never get bored with my job. I am certain I can continue to hone my craft until the day I die. The moment work starts to feel like work, I realize a new opportunity for growth.

This Labor Day weekend, as I studied incessantly for my Nutrition Certification, I realized how much I’ve failed some clients. And I got really excited about it!

You see, I have always half-heartedly coached nutrition. I got a lot of clients great results, but some faltered and left me.

The thing is: studying in-depth nutrition bored me. It was much easier to align myself with a Paleo-Zone Diet camp because it worked. And it was a very simple shortcut. I read a couple of books and tweaked the diets to something I could sustain.  I have followed a very similar diet approach for years, and if I could get a client on board for Matt’s Diet, they would see good results.

However, no diet plan is perfect for everyone. People have different schedules, tastes and preferences.

Again and again, I was the bearer of bad news. “You can’t eat bread.” “No eating out.” “Eat 4 cups of vegetables at dinner.” “You have to eat breakfast.” No wonder some of my clients left me. I was the food police.

I knew what worked for me, and that was enough. See, instead of focusing on what would work for them, I tried to put round pegs into square holes.

Well let me tell you, I have seen the light!

People need to be coached as individuals.  Dietary recommendations need to be outcome-based with progress tracked. If the plan is working, continue.  If progress stalls, it’s back to the drawing board.

I am learning the tools to really get into clients heads and make step-by-step corrections that people are ready for. I am developing programs to tell clients that want to track calories exactly how many calories they need. Clients that want to track macronutrients can get individualized macronutrient recommendations sent to them.

So here is the take-home message. You ready? There are two things.

One. For a personal trainer/nutritionist picking a camp, like “I’m Paleo. This is what we do..” is an easy shortcut for decision making.  Stubbornly sticking to an opinion (or diet plan) and promoting the hell out of it can sell a lot of books and create disciples and zealots. It’s a hell of a lot easier. Some people will get great results, others will leave frustrated, blaming their will power for failing them.

Two. For those fitness professionals reading this, it is our duty to use critical-thinking skills to sort through the noise. We need to distance ourselves from narrow-minded camps and join the progressive camp. For every destination, there are many roads. No tool will work for every individual. This is why you need to learn many methods and strategies to deliver the same outcome.

Design a program that fits the individual. Don’t fit the individual to the program.