Hallmarks of a Good Nutrition Coaching Program

As you may or may not know, I’ve decided to further invest in my education.  On top of my certification as a CanFitPro Personal Training Specialist, I felt led to deepen my knowledge, understanding and teaching of nutrition.  How many times have you heard, “Abs are made in the kitchen,” or, “Results are 80% nutrition”?  To that end, I am pursuing my Level 1 Certification from Precision Nutrition.   So far, everything I’m learning really resonates with me in terms of what I have experienced to be true about my own journey with nutrition.  From a coaching perspective, I shared on my Instagram video series (and my videos on Facebook), five hallmarks of a good nutrition coaching program.

Regardless of the type of food (vegan, vegetarian, non-GMO, organic, processed, paleo, etc.) or approach (intermittent fasting, mini meals, etc.), the COACHING to support good nutrition should exhibit the five characteristics that follow.

Whether you choose to coach yourself through a change in nutrition, or work with someone else…

Whether your budget for food is on a shoestring or unlimited…

Whether you adopt a vegan lifestyle and approach to eating or you are a diehard “meatatarian”…

Your approach to nutrition should:

Control Energy Balance

This means balancing energy in and energy out. For those looking to lose weight, energy in must be less than energy out. For those looking to maintain weight, these should equal and for those looking to gain weight, energy in must be greater than energy out.  The food choices you make each day must be considered in the context of your energy expenditure each day, in order to create an energy balance that aligns with your goals.

Of course, “energy in” isn’t quite so simple as calories on a label. In the base case, labeling can be inaccurate by up to 25%. Even if the label is accurate, the food would have to be precisely weighed/measured. And finally, even with precise labels and measurements, some calories may not be absorbed by the body, depending on the efficacy of its digestive processes. That varies from person to person but also within the same person day to day!

Energy out is also notoriously hard to measure. Calorie counters for exercise are rarely accurate and then there are the other components of energy expenditure, including resting metabolic rate (governed partly by body size, gender, genetics, etc.), the thermic effect of eating (energy used to digest food), and non-exercise activity thermogenesis – all of the other movement in a day undertaken outside of formal exercise.

Phew! Simple in concept, complex in practice.  A good plan acknowledges this and takes it into consideration when it comes to your food choices, in terms of types and amounts.

Be Outcomes-Based

Essentially, in Precision Nutrition language: “How’s that working for ya?”

You have goals in mind. A good nutrition coaching program should articulate how it will move you toward those goals, and periodically assess whether it’s working as intended. If it isn’t, then the approach should be tweaked to match the desired outcomes.

Generally, goals are even more nuanced that the “lose/maintain/gain weight” we mentioned above.  When we really dig in, it’s usually adipose tissue (fat) that people are looking to lose, and it’s usually lean muscle mass that people are looking to maintain or even gain.  This aspect of body composition speaks to an even more nuanced goal than simply weight, and requires a more nuanced approach to nutrition.

Be Sustainable

Sustainability isn’t just for the client; it’s also for the planet.  For the former, this means that it is an approach that can be implemented for the long-term, a.k.a the rest of your life, and not just another “diet” with a finite start and end date. It’s not something you’re “on” or “off”; it’s a lifestyle.

So, you don’t just lose the weight and then put it all back on (and more). Or gain the weight and then lose it when the diet is “over.” These are healthy habits FOR LIFE.

Also, a good nutrition program should be sustainable for the planet. The food choices should be sustainable so that future generations can also benefit from good nutrition and health.  This means that agriculture and livestock practices are such that nutrients are returned to the soil, animals are treated humanely and are in good health to produce future animals that are in good health.  This means that the farmers and ranchers work in good conditions at fair wages for their own livelihoods and health so that we are all moving forward together.

Remove or Reduce Limiting Factors

These are elements of your surroundings, like the people you spend time with, the food you have immediately accessible to you, the time you have available to prepare food, your budget, and even your mindset.  Even your genetics (and epigenetics – how your genes are expressed, which can be partly governed by your food choices – isn’t that wild?), can be limiting factors.

Some of these things you will have greater and lesser degrees of control over.  And that’s okay.  It’s far better to identify and acknowledge these factors and decide how much you can or should do about them, then to ignore them completely.  So even if you believe that it’s “in your genes” to be heavyset, you can decide how much you want to do about that.  In light of your genetic predisposition, how do you want to move forward?  As I said, just because you carry certain genes doesn’t mean those genes have to be “switched on” – exciting new science is showing us that lifestyle choices including food play a role in whether certain genes related to weight gain or loss are “switched on” (expressed) or not.  If you’d like to learn more about this, here is a great Q&A article on the topic, which builds on the article published by a doctor, and a fascinating account about a historic event that resulted in changes in a population’s epigenome.

A good nutrition program will look to identify and eliminate (where possible) or mitigate limiting factors so that you are set up for success, however success is defined for you.

Identify Strengths & Weaknesses

We all inherently have things that we do well when it comes to nutrition (whether we believe that or not – something about the way you’re eating has kept you alive and given you the ability to read these words today).  A good coaching program will identify and build on those things.

As for “weaknesses” – they are really just opportunities.  Opportunities to learn why you’ve been making certain choices or repeating certain patterns that haven’t served you in terms of your health and fitness goals, and how to release and re-program those choices and patterns. Again, a good program will identify them and you and your coach will brainstorm, troubleshoot and decide together which ones to tackle and how.

Are you excited about nutrition coaching?  I certainly am!  As always, I’d love to hear from you on any or all of the foregoing.

Have a fit day!


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