At this point you have all of the information and knowledge necessary to be successful. However, the real magic comes in the coaching. All of the proper application in the world will do you no good if you are not able to understand and work with your client.
From intake to initial call, you should always be looking to better understand your client. Remember that for most individuals their eating can be a sensitive subject. The simple fact that they have reached out to you, and subsequently trusted you with something so important to them, needs to be treated with an equal amount of respect and care.
The information in this chapter should serve as a guideline for you. As your coaching career progresses, we encourage you to find your voice. Find what works best for you in terms of effective communication with a client as well as developing resources to ensure the coaching process goes smoothly.
Remember that in society today, nutrition is a pandemic of both the body and mind. Fortunately, you have beaten the odds and now you get to pay it forward. Remind yourself of this daily and you will be an amazing nutrition coach!
We know that inherently clients will get caught up in the physical markers of change. No one will come to you with visions of not wanting to see numbers change and that’s completely ok, but we must broaden their scope of vision. If we allow the focus to solely be on a numerical data point like the scale we are destined for failure – there WILL be plateaus and there will be times when the numbers go the WRONG way – we must have other areas of emphasis to discuss with our clients to demonstrate the success of the program and this is where biofeedback is critical.
Now biofeedback is not only designed to be used as a success tool for us, the coaches – in fact, it is quite the opposite. So what exactly is biofeedback?
To be completely honest, biofeedback is not quite a medical term (yet) in application to a dietary setting. However, it is widely becoming recognized as a word to reference the physiology of change from a dietary and/or training protocol. Biofeedback will include changes in things like hunger, energy, mood, sleep quality, and even sex drive. Changes in biofeedback will usually precede physical changes and this is where Jason coined the phrase “The physical follows the physiological.”
Let’s examine each of these biofeedback markers and how they can be used in the coaching process:
Your body has several hormones responsible for regulating hunger but for the purposes of this text we will focus on two:
Leptin– Leptin is mostly made by fat and will decrease hunger
Ghrelin– Ghrelin is made mostly in the stomach and will act on the HPA (hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal/brain) to stimulate hunger
Logically, we would think that an ideal dieting scenario would involve higher levels of leptin and lower levels of ghrelin, therefore leaving our clients with less hunger and a greater ability to handle any cravings that may come their way. And while to some degree this is true, we know that long term dieting and/or extreme dieting can lead to metabolic adaptation which will in turn decrease circulating levels of both of these hormones.
Research on these two hormones began in 1994 when leptin was first discovered and has become a very hot topic since. Ghrelin research began 7 years later and while it is far less researched, it is still massively important. Because the research is still relatively new, some of it is conflicting in terms of overall metabolic effect of these two hormones. However what we do know is that maintaining appropriate levels of both hormones is essential to long term success in a dietary endeavor.
Now that you understand the hormones behind hunger response (or lack thereof) let’s review how to use this response when working with clients.
Initially, assuming all things are normal, a client should yield a hunger response if given a calorie deficit. It should not be extreme and should be manageable, but there should be some degree of hunger associated with the “dieting” process.
This hunger should be maintained throughout the majority of the dietary process. Naturally there will be ups and downs but a client should never reach a point where there is a complete absence of hunger.
With this understanding, monitoring the hunger response of your client is critical. If they report a lack of hunger it is a sign that you need to begin investigating further. Possible outcomes could be the need for a refeed, a temporary diet break, a discussion around life stressors, or a discussion around overall training volume and/or intensity.
To sum it up – A lack of hunger during the dietary process indicates that you have navigated so far away from set point that your body is now compensating and/ or adapting. As discussed in the metabolic adaptation chapter, this can lead to some nasty long term consequences, so do not ignore this marker of biofeedback. Instead, work WITH the body, reignite the hunger response, and continue on a successful path.
While energy may not be directly modulated by specific hormones, monitoring energy levels can be a very important piece of biofeedback when working with your client.
Naturally, if in a calorie deficit, energy levels will decline over time. This is normal and something that you need to help your clients understand. However, an extreme decline in energy is not ok, especially in the early stages of a dietary process.
An appropriate calorie deficit and a well designed overall dietary protocol should yield plenty of energy for the specific tasks of the client. If the client is reporting extreme energy and/or performance decrements it is time to reassess and potentially consider increasing overall caloric intake.
This increased intake can be achieved in several ways, including a simple addition to caloric baseline, periodic refeeds, and in extreme cases sometimes a diet break. To better understand which protocol to use you will likely need to assess other biofeedback markers in addition to energy.
Sleep will be a topic that is covered in depth in level 2, but as a coach it is important that you begin to have conversations with your client around quantity and quality of sleep.
At this point you should have already discussed the importance of adequate sleep with your client. Unfortunately we know that clients are not always compliant to what they “should” be doing, so a constant reminder may be necessary.
When referencing biofeedback and sleep we are typically looking more at sleep quality – or the ability to fall asleep and remain asleep.
Recall from earlier that a calorie deficit is a stressor to the body. Also recall that virtually everything is a stressor – training, traffic, work, family – there are stressors everywhere we turn. And finally, recall from the cortisol section that an abundance of stressors can dysregulate your cortisol production, leaving you with an inverse cortisol curve. The tail end of this inverted cortisol leaves a client “tired and wired” or with the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
With that in mind, we should always be monitoring a client’s sleep patterns. By staying on top of them we can help ensure that we are preventing them from operating on an inverse cortisol curve, thus preserving adrenal function.
If a client reports impaired sleep, consider moving some of their carbohydrate intake to later in the day. This will promote a rapid rise and subsequent fall of insulin levels, leaving the client with the ability to produce more cortisol and human growth hormone overnight – thus re-regulating the cortisol curve and restoring proper hormonal function.
If this doesn’t work, it is indicative of the inability to fully recover from the current stress demands in the client’s life. This leaves you with a few options:
- Increase the recovery stimulus via more calorie/carbohydrate intake
- Decrease the stressors (reduce training volume/intensity)
- A combo of both
Unfortunately in western culture, most clients are resistant to reducing training output. However this is often the best route to take – even if only for a temporary amount of time. The ability to successfully communicate this to your client will come as a result of the trust built over the course of your coaching relationship.
This is the final biofeedback marker and one that will be at your discretion to use. However, it can absolutely tell you a lot about the client’s ability to recover.
We have discussed several times by now that a long term calorie deficit can yield hormonal disruption. This occurs first with cortisol production and then happens with sex hormone output. Naturally lower circulating levels of sex hormones will yield less sex drive, but will also yield an inability to focus and a poor mood throughout the day.
When using these markers of biofeedback it is important to have first created a solid relationship with your client. Remember that “dieting” can be an uncomfortable topic for a lot people, and the fact that they have come to you is already a big step. With that said, you do not want to alienate this trust with questions that leave them feeling uncomfortable. Ensure that you have created the proper education with your client before addressing these questions then feel free to use them as part of your regular biofeedback check ins.
In a world that is becoming more aware of the importance of proper nutrition, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that your client has chosen to TRUST you with their health. This decision should never be downplayed or disrespected, and needs to be valued by you – the COACH.
With this value, comes communication.
As discussed above, there is an inherent level of discomfort around new dietary protocols that most individuals will have. Poor communication, or a lack of communication, will only exacerbate this problem.
At the core, being a Life COACH revolves around truly serving your clients, not simply providing them with a set of macros. For this reason, we believe that communication is the variable that can make or break success.
As a recommendation we believe you should communicate with your clients at a minimum of every 12 days. However, if this communication is purely digital (email only), we recommend increasing this frequency to a minimum of once every week.
Ultimately it will be left to your discretion how frequently you communicate with your clients, and what access level you allow them to have to you, but here are a few things to consider:
- Creating true relationships with your clients will typically create better compliance and longer term working relationships
- The better the communication, the better the implementation
- Creating an access level that is unsustainable can be as detrimental as not providing enough access
While simple in nature, it can not be overstated enough that communication can and will make or break your success as a coach. No matter how much knowledge you possess, the inability to successfully communicate it to your client will not create an environment conducive to progress.
Tracking documents are an essential part of the coaching process but should not be relied upon as the sole marker of success of a program. This is a mistake that too many coaches make but one that can be easily avoided.
Remember that as a coach you should be monitoring physical and physiological (biofeedback) data.
As mentioned previously, most individuals will come to you with an emphasis that is too extreme on the physical data. For this reason it is highly advisable that your tracking document provide the ability for your client to insert values pertaining to biofeedback as well as the typical physical markers.
It is worth noting that prior to distributing a tracking document you should have the conversation with your client around WHY you are tracking this data. This is your opportunity to help create a mental shift away from simply looking at numbers and to also include success pertaining to biofeedback.
Scope of Practice
This section may be as important as any but is often overlooked.
It is important to remember that your title moving forward will be Nutrition Coach. This means you are not a registered dietitian, not a physician, not a clinical psychologist, nor any other kind of medical professional. And while you absolutely care about each and every one of your clients, sometimes the best help you can give is to refer them to the proper professional.
If you suspect a client has hormone issues, send them to a doctor.
If you are working with a client that is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, suggest the proper help.
If a client wants a meal plan, you are not legally allowed to provide it.
Finally, if at any point you feel uncomfortable with what you are being asked to do, refer your client out to the proper professional.
While this may seem scary and you feel as though you might lose your client, you must always do the right thing. In fact, the trust you will earn will go a long way in your clients recommending your services to others.
The bottom line here is simple – operate as a Nutrition Coach, nothing else. Never make yourself or your client uncomfortable. You should always definitively know that what you are providing your client with is going to help them – no guess work!