“Get rock hard abs in 30 days!” “Drop a dress size in three weeks!” “Detox your body with juice!” As a coach, you know these promises often fall short. So what do you do when a client wants a quick fix? In this article, we’ll show you five strategies to turn your client’s short-term diet into lasting results.
“A friend of mine just lost 25 pounds on a 30-day diet challenge. I’m going to try it!”
Sharon was by no means my first client to gleefully skip into a training session and announce she’d found a quick-fix solution.
I understood her excitement. After all, who wouldn’t want such fast results?
But I felt concerned for Sharon. I’ve seen lots of these “overnight” diet challenges and any changes are usually short-lived.
It’s painful to watch clients go through this predictable cycle (see below).
They often wind up right where they started, if not worse off. So as coaches, isn’t our job to put an end to 7-day detoxes, 14-day juice cleanses, and 21-day metabolism makeovers?
Though every instinct might tell you to coach that “quick fix” mentality right out of your client, there’s a better way.
The best coaches can turn even the worst diet ideas into long-term success.
How? By being open, creative, and strategic.
In this article, we’ll show you five ways to transform your clients’ enthusiasm for diet and fitness “challenges” into rocket fuel for sustainable change.
Strategy #1: Celebrate their effort.
“I see a lot of people wanting to do the Whole30 or a juice cleanse or go sugar- or alcohol-free for a month,” says Jennifer Broxterman, R.D., a Precision Nutrition Certified Coach in London, Ontario.
And while these types of challenges have high failure rates, says Broxterman, don’t discourage them: “That’s a judgmental approach, and it creates a ‘me versus you’ mentality, which isn’t very good for building rapport.”
Instead, focus on the positives… even if it requires you to take a nice, deep breath first.
For example: “A challenge can be really useful if it gets your client excited about eating healthy and feeling good about the food choices in their cupboard,” says Broxterman.
It also shows they’re willing to make changes.
And with your help, clients can gain valuable insights that’ll help them achieve better results moving forward.
By supporting their efforts—instead of shutting them down—you’ll foster trust with your client and strengthen your coaching relationship.
For a three-step process to help you reframe your coaching perspective and respect your clients’ goals, check out this PN coaching worksheet: Meet your clients where they’re at.
Strategy #2: Learn what drives them.
Your client’s challenge offers you a great opportunity: To better understand their health and fitness goals, their frustrations, and what really makes them tick, says Broxterman.
With non-judgemental curiosity, ask:
“How have diet challenges worked for you in the past?”
This not only gives you background, it can also better set your client’s expectations (without you having to do so).
“Sometimes, they start telling you how they lost some weight, but not as much as they hoped, and that they gained it back right after,” says Broxterman.
Next, you might ask (in order):
- “Why do you want to do this challenge?”
- “What do you hope to get out of it?”
- “Why is that important to you?”
- “And why is that important to you?”
The goal is to understand your client’s pain points and true motivation.
That way, you’ll be better equipped to help them—not just during the challenge, but after it’s over, too.
What’s more, these questions might help your client discover a deeper purpose for change. One they weren’t even aware of. This can lead to much greater success, in the short-term… and the long-term.
To help your clients dig deep and find their real reasons for wanting to change, use our “5 whys” worksheet.
Strategy #3: Create a plan.
With any short-term challenge, your client is likely to make a lot of changes—all at once.
And in most cases, those changes aren’t meant to last. After all, people don’t go into a “cleanse” expecting to drink only juice for the rest of their lives.
This is where you, the coach, can really shine.
Help your client identify healthy habits that complement and intersect with the challenge they’re doing.
That way, you can bridge the gap between the “challenge” and the rest of their life. The idea: to not only improve their likelihood of success during the challenge—but also in days, weeks, and months to follow.
Keep these habits small, simple, and behavior-focused. (Read: “Lose 10 pounds” is an outcome, not a behavior.)
Let’s say your client is committed to only eating whole foods for 30 days. A good habit to practice might be packing their lunch and afternoon snack every morning, to help ensure they stay on track.
Or perhaps they’re attempting a “no dessert” challenge. In this case, you might suggest they practice eating slowly and mindfully, and/or eat lean protein at each meal, both of which can help them feel more satisfied after eating.
And what about a 14-day juice cleanse? That’s a tougher one, to be sure. So get creative. You might suggest they:
- Plan a social activity once or twice a week that isn’t centered around food and drink. (This is a highly underrated strategy for helping people adjust to a healthy eating lifestyle.)
- Take 15 minutes each day to walk, foam roll, or stretch. A juice cleanse is not the time to start exercising intensely, but it can be used to establish a baseline daily movement habit.
- Consciously recognize the feelings that come up when they’re hungry. It can even help to write them down. (Are they sad? Bored? Tired? See more ideas here.) Plus, they can learn to “sit with it,” too. Hunger is inevitable on a juice cleanse, which means it’s the perfect time to learn that “hunger is not an emergency.”
Ideally, by the end of the challenge, these habits are so ingrained it feels natural to continue them.
Bonus: If you and your client brainstorm more practices than can fit into the challenge timeframe, you have a built-in roadmap for what to work on once the challenge is over.
Use our “Outcome goals into behavior goals” worksheet to collaborate with your client on habits that will help get them closer to their targets.
Strategy #4: Turn “failures” into feedback.
Imagine your client signs up for a Dunkin Do-Not Challenge (a.k.a. thirty days without donuts).
But just four days in, they come to you, shamefully admitting they had a Boston cream breakdown in the office breakroom.
Broxterman recommends using a three-pronged coaching approach: curiosity, compassion, and radical honesty.
Curiosity: Talk to your client about what led to their decision to eat the donut. For example, maybe they worked late the night before and skipped breakfast or didn’t prepare their lunch.
Compassion: Emphasize that they shouldn’t beat themselves up. Encourage them to treat themselves the same way they’d treat a friend or loved one in a similar situation.
Radical honesty: Give your client a chance to be completely upfront about what was going on when the “failure” happened. Maybe they were feeling:
- a little stressed at the time
- deprived of the foods they love
- a bit like they “deserved” a treat
Now show them the upside: Perhaps the donut “failure” provides feedback about the importance of meal prepping lunches. That way, they don’t end up making less-than-optimal food choices.
It may also hint that completely eliminating food—especially ones they love—isn’t the best approach.
By reframing your client’s “failure” into a learning experience, you’ll prep them for future success (and minimize their guilt).
Here’s another example: Suppose your client is trying to avoid sugar for 30 days, but they’re really struggling. Help them identify their roadblocks.
For instance, perhaps their partner keeps stocking the kitchen with cookies and ice cream. This crystallizes two frequent problems: Their environment is full of tempting foods, and their partner is showing a lack of support.
Together, brainstorm what might they do to improve their environment and/or strengthen their support system. This is how you coach them through obstacles, and keep the momentum going long after the challenge ends.
For a hands-on way to teach clients what it means to be resilient, sit down together and fill out this worksheet on “turning failure into feedback.”
Strategy #5: Explore their results
When a client completes a challenge, it’s likely they’ll have some positive outcomes. Maybe they lose a few pounds, stop craving sweets so much, or are sleeping better.
Naturally, they’ll want to maintain these results. But that rarely happens.
People tend to gravitate toward short-term diets is because it’s hard to fathom changing their eating and lifestyle habits for good. For a few weeks, though? That sounds doable.
Here’s the problem: This line of thinking encourages all-or-nothing-ism. You’re either doing the most you possibly can to be healthy (an extreme diet challenge), or you’re doing nothing at all (back to your old ways).
But based on working with over 100,000 clients, we can confidently say this: The middle ground is usually where the magic happens.
Your client doesn’t have to keep all the habits they practiced during the challenge—just the ones that worked for them.
Find out what those are, and discuss how they might continue them. Even if it’s not all the time.
For example, maybe they’ve discovered they really do feel better when they don’t drink alcohol every night but miss having drinks with their partner.
The middle ground might be limiting their alcohol intake to just one or two nights a week.
Or perhaps they love getting to the gym more frequently, but they don’t find cooking all their own meals practical.
The middle ground: They keep their gym habit, but only prepare dinner three or four days a week, which they feel confident they can do.
Here at Precision Nutrition, we call this “always something”—and use it to effectively combat all-or-nothing-ism.
If practicing a habit at every daily meal is too much, how about at two meals? Or even one? Find out what feels doable for your client, and start there.
Instead of following through 100 percent of the time, what about 80 percent? Or 60 percent? We’ve even found that people can make real progress by being consistent just 50 percent of the time (or less).
Bottom line: Just because your client went all-in on the challenge, doesn’t mean they have to shut down entirely afterwards. Instead, show them how to “adjust the dial,” and keep benefiting from their positive actions.
Help your clients carry over their challenge changes in a way that’s sustainable, with our worksheet on “finding the middle ground.”
Leave your assumptions at the door.
The desire to embark on short-term diets, challenges, or cleanses isn’t going away anytime soon. Are they the best way to improve health and fitness? Probably not. But that won’t stop your clients from wanting to do them.
Truth is, short-term challenges aren’t useless. They don’t doom folks to failure. But most of the time, people start them with the wrong mindset—and without the right support network in place.
Meet your challenge-curious clients with compassion instead of judgement, and you might just be able to use their “summer body slim down” as a launchpad for meaningful change.
Not just for a month… but for a lifetime.
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.