Nutrition is one of my favorite things to talk about and topics to write about. Almost any trainer or client will tell you that nutrition is the number one struggle when trying to lose weight. One of the most popular quotes right now is weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. It can be difficult to understand or even sympathize with your client’s food struggles especially when you have never been an unhealthy eater. I would consider myself the perfect example of trainer bias, and I have taken a hard look at my past client diet criticisms. This may sound absurd, but my favorite foods in the WHOLE world are broccoli, salads, and mushrooms. I eat broccoli a minimum of 7 times a week often multiple times per day. I acknowledge that my dietary habits are not the norm, but that was how I was raised. My parents did organic and farm to table long before it was trendy or the gold standard. I didn’t have my first piece of candy until I was seven, yes, SEVEN years old. So with this dietary history, I used to have a hard time understanding how clients could eat fast food, drink multiple sodas per day, and buy processed food.
I would like to credit my husband and his family with changing my dietary bias and helping me truly understand how my clients eat what they eat. My husband’s family is a strong southern family where food means love and sweets mean even more love. With two hard-working parents and three wild boys, food wasn’t always the top priority. Quick, easy to prepare, and hardy food was mostly found their nightly table. My husband wasn’t exposed to a wide array of fresh foods that I was. He was a “meat and potato man” because that was what he was raised on. My husband’s dietary habits were engrained in him as mine were in me. He was shocked that I didn’t know what fast food fried chicken tasted like, and I was flabbergasted that he didn’t know what a sweet potato tasted like. This was my eureka moment, and all of my client’s food logs began flashing before my eyes. Poor eating habits weren’t just a choice, they were a habit and a culture. Changing a person’s dietary habits is so much more than just changing the foods they eat.
So once I understand that food was more than calories in, I began to restructure my nutrition counseling approach. When you ask a client to abandon what they know it can be scary, overwhelming, and almost impossible to spur long-term change. I decided I would take a small step approach starting with a dietary questionnaire. I would have client select foods they liked, didn’t like, or had never tried. Once I had a greater knowledge of their dietary backgrounds, I could start to suggest healthy alternatives that might not be such a culture shock. On great example is a client swore they hated broccoli and carrots because they were imagining their elementary school lunches. However, this client loved broccoli cheddar soup and dishes containing carrots such as pot pie. It took a lot of convincing, but I had them try roasted broccoli and carrots with olive and a seasoning mix. Now that client loves their veggies, and their dietary horizons are brightly colored. I had to change that client’s mental association with their food, which pushes the trainer farther into the therapist category. Once you understand why your client eats what he eats, you can begin to change their food culture.