When it comes to nutrition, you know your stuff. So, even though people come to your for advice, why do they get so distracted by The Dr. Oz Diet and other hyped-up nonsense? Even more importantly, how can you help them to stay safe and on track? Check out these 5 steps for doing just that.
I bet this’ll ring a bell:
A client (or friend) comes in and tells you they just started a Dr. Oz diet.
(Oh no, you think. Here it comes.)
“I watched Dr. Oz and he was talking about this new idea to eat certain things before bed so you lose a bunch of weight while you sleep. That’s different from what you told me about how to rev my metabolism. I’d like to try it.”
As a competent, caring person, every fiber of your being is screaming:
No, no, no, no, no, no.
You teeter on the brink of a full-force tantrum. You are sick of people coming to you with these bogus ideas about health and fitness from TV personalities, celebrities, bloggers, Instagram stars and assorted Internet know-it-alls. It’s total quackery.
You can’t help thinking…
Why do people listen so closely to celebrity doctors and hyped-up, faddish nonsense?
I know you’re thinking this, because you tell me. Every single time I give a seminar — and I’ve given hundreds of them over the last 25 years — attendees ask me some version of the same question:
“What do I do when someone wants to follow a diet, try an exercise routine, or take a supplement that I just don’t believe in?”
So here’s my answer, in 5 steps.
These will help you retain trust, keep people safe, and maintain an open line of communication. This way nothing can get in the way of their progress — not Dr. Oz, not Gwyneth Paltrow, not anyone.
Resist the urge to tell people they’re wrong.
I know you have their best interests at heart. You want to take care of them. You don’t want them to fall for quackery, or get sidetracked, or get involved in a diet or program that will hurt them.
But if you flat-out tell folks they’re wrong and shut down their ideas, here’s what’s going to happen:
- You’ll kill your credibility.
Silly as it seems, people trust TV Doctor. In their eyes (or at least in their subconscious), the person on TV with the shiny hair has more credibility than you do. Your education (and/or certifications) are nothing compared to being on television, publishing dozens of books, and having a medical degree.
By pushing back against TV Doctor’s ideas, in that person’s eyes you’ve become less credible yourself.
(This goes for Beautiful Actress and Instagram Star too, by the way. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe them. For whatever reason, other people do. And that’s what counts.)
- You’ll kill your collaboration.
When you start dictating the terms (“Don’t do that, do this!”), it no longer feels like you’re in it together. You are no longer making decisions as a team. Instead, you’ve set up a tug-of-war called “I’m right, you’re wrong.” And that’s a game you can’t win.
- You’ll kill your positive relationship with the person.
When you tell someone that the idea they’ve discovered or researched is wrong, you’re essentially telling them they’re wrong.
If you tell them that TV Doctor is stupid, you’re essentially telling them they’re stupid.
So you’ve just put a big wedge between you and them. At best, this slows down their progress; at worst, it gets you fired.
As you can see, telling someone “no” isn’t going to help either of you. (It’s also pretty much the opposite of client-centered coaching.) And that’s a problem. Because you have some important work to do.
Remember why you’re here in the first place.
Your purpose is not to make them perfect, nor is it to be perfect yourself. Your goal is not to be right, it’s not to prove anything, and it’s not to show up some TV doctor. It’s to help people.
In any particular moment, whether they seem to be moving backwards, forwards or sideways, your job is to help them find (and follow through with) their next positive action.
As frustrating as a moment like this may be, it can actually be a great opportunity for you both. After all, if their progress is going to survive Dr. Oz, they need your guidance more than ever. They’re inviting you to work with them on this. This is a chance to really help them.
So hold your breath, bite your tongue, punch yourself in the face… whatever you have to do to not tell them they’re wrong.
Highlight what they’re doing right.
Instead of telling folks why they’re wrong, look for what they did right.
That might seem strange. What could be right about following a TV doctor’s progress-killing advice, wasting money on a pointless supplement, or doing a hyped-up crash diet that puts the metabolism in peril?
Well, think about it. For someone who may have been sedentary before, to come in and say, “I watched a health show, I tried to evaluate health claims, and I’m thinking about health in a new way,” that’s actually a big high-five moment.
Before doing anything else, you could say:
“Wow, that’s really cool that you were digging into health and fitness in a new way, on your own. It’s great to hear you bringing up new ideas to explore.”
See the difference? You’ve made them feel good, you’ve maintained your own credibility and you’ve set yourself up for a collaborative discussion.
(Hey, I think you deserve a high five, too.)
Give them options.
Here’s how this might look.
“Okay, now that you’ve brought this new idea to the table, let’s think through our next steps. The way I see it, we have a few options:
- Option A – We could stay the course. You’ve been making great progress with your existing program. We could simply keep going as planned, and keep your idea in our back pocket for later.
- Option B – We could maintain your existing program but make some tweaks to incorporate your idea. I have to admit, it’s not what I’d recommend for you right now, and I do have a few concerns about it. But if you really think it’s important to try, I’ll monitor you closely and we can course-correct if needed.
- Option C – We could throw out the existing program and just focus on this new idea. I’ll be honest, this option concerns me a little. It might even be dangerous. But you’re an adult and it’s your choice. If you decide to go this route I’d like to monitor you closely to make sure you’re safe.
In the end, I would recommend Option A. But it’s not up to me. This is your body and your life. So what do you think?”
Once they’ve chosen a direction, it’s your job to respect that decision and help them proceed as safely as possible.
An experimental mindset can help with this too. Regardless of their choice, treat it like a mini research study. Give them the opportunity to try things for a few weeks, evaluate, and then see for themselves what works and what doesn’t.
Simply asking, after some period of time, “How’s that working for you?” — without judgment or sarcasm — can be illuminating for you both.
Continuously monitor their health and safety.
There are a lot of dumb, pointless ideas thrown around in health and fitness. And some can be downright dangerous.
It’s your job to support folks — but it’s also your job to help them stay safe. If they want to try something that you think could really harm their health, not just their progress, make sure you are monitoring them carefully and flagging any reasons for them to go have a chat with their doctor.
Assessments may include:
- Weight and body measurements
- Major physical changes (e.g. if a 30 year old female client is no longer menstruating, her 1200 calorie diet could be an issue.)
- “How’s that working for you?” Let them talk about how they feel. Listening can be one of the best tools you’ve got.
- Tests you ‘assign’ either in your facility or with another health professional. This may include hormones, blood markers, bone density, etc. Keep in mind what is in and out of your own scope of practice, and don’t hesitate to bring in an expert if you need to.
That said, there are relatively few fad diets and popular health myths that we know will be critically harmful. So try to separate your own pet peeves and assumptions from what is legitimately dangerous.
For example, taking diet pills or steroids carries significant risk for many people. But going gluten-free is unlikely to put them in imminent danger. (Though admittedly, a juice detox did put one of our team members in the hospital.)
No matter what they’re doing, remember that they’re likely worse off without you. Even if they’re trying something crazy, you can monitor them, alert them if anything is radically “off”, and keep nudging them forward towards progress, bit by bit.
(And, of course, if they really insist on doing something you think is life-threatening, you should politely bow out while encouraging them to get medical support in case things go really wrong.)
Keep the (grown-up) conversation going.
So far, I hope I’ve made two things clear:
- Being respectful of people’s wishes is paramount to being a good coach, even if you disagree with what they want to do.
- You still have an important responsibility to guide them in the direction of safety and progress.
In the end, good coaching isn’t about bossing people around and telling them “no”. But it also isn’t about sitting on your hands and looking the other way. You can still share your knowledge, concerns, and recommendations. Just do it in a respectful way.
Recognize that these are grown-ups. They are the bosses of their own lives. You’re here as a guide. Together you can have an adult conversation about the facts, the options available, and work out a constructive plan to move forward.
Tell them what you think, but be OK with the direction they ultimately choose. Support them in it and help them keep going.
Don’t bail, don’t flail your arms around, don’t rant. Don’t be one more person telling them what they have to do or what they can’t do.
Just be a coach. A damn good one, at that.
What to do next:
Some tips from Precision Nutrition
In the age of 24/7 health advice, being a fitness and nutrition coach is a big responsibility. Here’s how to approach the challenge starting today.
1. Feel the frustration. Then get over it.
If you’re feeling frustrated, give yourself a moment. We all feel that way sometimes. Let yourself have that quiet second of thinking, “not this again”.
Put your coaching hat on and remember what you’re here to do: help people. Think, “how can I help this person move forward from here?” Focus on that.
2. Practice client-centered coaching.
Client-centered coaching helps you frame every interaction around their perspective and needs — even when the perspective and needs are driven by the TV doctor of the week.
The client-centered coach never acts like the answer is obvious, or flaunts their expertise, or overloads folks with health jargon, or tells them they’re wrong.
By the way, this approach isn’t just a way to navigate your TV Doctor conversations — it’s crucial to being an exceptional coach and trainer. It’s the difference between succeeding and failing in this industry.
3. Deepen your understanding of health and nutrition.
As a coach, you’re in the tough position of protecting people’s hard-earned results and their health in the midst of a continuous stream of bad and confusing popular advice.
The more you know about health, fitness, and nutrition, the better you’ll be able to keep them from backtracking or making themselves sick.
4. Let Dr. Oz and Gwyneth do their thing, and you do you.
It’s easy to get defensive. You want to be the expert they go to! You want to be the person they listen to! But remember, it’s really not about you.
Your job as a coach is to help people. That is a great gift and responsibility.
Try to let go of your pet peeves. Instead, focus on why you got into this business in the first place. Why you’re here. And how you can help.
You’ll find your business becomes a lot more satisfying — and successful.
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
You can help people build sustainable nutrition and lifestyle habits that will significantly improve their physical and mental health—while you make a great living doing what you love. We'll show you how.
If you’d like to learn more, consider the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.