By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD
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Feeling a little frustrated that your clients sometimes don't follow your weight loss advice? It could be a lack of willpower, but it may also be a sign that you can improve your client questionning.
Being a good weight loss coach is more about asking the right questions than dishing out the latest food and fitness news.
Here are ten tips for fine-tuning your approach to client counselling. Each tip is followed by three key questions. Add these to your communication repertoire and you'll be surprised at the progress you make.
1. Take the order
Before you start giving advice, ask your clients what they think is wrong with their diet. This saves time and provides important insight into what sort of dietary modifications are required.
2. Hit the hot buttons
- Would you like to focus on changing a few poor eating habits or do you think we need to overhaul your whole diet?
- What changes do you think you could make to your diet to make it better?
- Would you feel more comfortable starting with changes to your diet, exercise routine or both?
Establish your clients' personal motivations or “hot buttons”. Motivators can include avoiding blood pressure or diabetes medication, getting fit for a sports event or just being able to keep up with the grand children. You can press one or more of these hot buttons each time you see your clients.
3. Give good news
- Is there is the one thing that will really motivate or inspire you to make weight loss successful?
- What would motivate you to change your eating habits today?
- What is the best way for me to motivate you to stick to your dietary changes?
Your clients know they have to make dietary changes, but they won't always respond well to hearing the bad news first. Rather than reminding about need to eat less, drink eight glasses of water a day or halve alcohol consumption, sell your clients with good food news.
4. Gain commitment
- If I were to recommend eating less fat in a way that you wouldn't go hungry or have to compromise on taste, would you like that?
- You may be surprised to know that a standard drink each day can be good for your health. Would you like me to show you how you can enjoy a drink?
- If I make any recommendations for changes to your diet that you feel you couldn't make, can you let me know straight away?
When clients start working with you, news reports, magazine articles and the latest diet book to hit the bookshelves can still distract them. For long-term success you must ensure your partnership is not being undermined.
5. Find healthy goals
- When you've started a weight loss program in the past, have you focussed on that program alone, or have other information or programs influenced you?
- If we work together to get you results in the next `X' weeks (X = length of your program), can I get your commitment to focus on this program?
- Can you tell me how your level of commitment is different this time, compared to your last attempt at weight loss?
Clients who only have weight loss goals and don't achieve them, don't remain clients for long. From day one, it's important to establish other healthy reasons for eating well and being active. Examples include reducing cholesterol, strengthening bones and maintaining muscle strength.
6. Track emotional well-being
- If you had to focus on one or two health-related goals to add to your weight loss goal, what would they be?
- What would you like to do with the improved fitness you'll enjoy as a result of being more active?
- How will you know your level of health is improving?
Measuring and monitoring how your clients feel, in terms of energy level, mood, sleep patterns and other emotional markers are important to provide back-up evidence that your “eat right and exercise regular” program is working.
7. Provide the right tools
- How would you rate your sleep pattern? Have you noticed any changes since we started?
- Do you think getting into shape is having a positive influence on your stress levels?
- When you get home from work do you still flop into your chair exhausted, or do you have some energy left over at the end of the day?
Some people are just looking for a few useful food and fitness tips, whereas others need the whole lifestyle toolbox. Find out what resources your clients need to be successful.
8. Log it to lose it
- What sort of dietary tools would be helpful for you - a diet diary, menu planner, shopping lists, etc?
- Tell me which food-related skills you could do with a little help on?
- What information, such as stretching routines and exercise techniques, would you like, to feel confidence you are on the right track?
Ninety percent of the three thousand successful losers in the US National Weight Control Registry record their progress. These people have lost over 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. It's hard to argue with that logic!
9. Recruit support
- Recording your eating and activity habits helps break negative patterns. Would it be more productive to look at eating or activity first?
- Did you find keeping a journal helped you in the past?
- Do you think keeping an eating diary would make you more accountable?
Social support is an important predictor of success at weight management. Where possible, significant people in the lives of your clients should be recruited as cheerleaders for the slimming event.
10. Encourage patience
- Have you told anyone at home you are starting to get active and eat better?
- What do the people at home say about your decision to get into shape?
- Who could you recruit to support you in your efforts?
It's tempting to promise fast results in our quick-fix society, but be careful not to over-promise and under-deliver. Extending the results timeframe can take pressure of you and your clients.
- If it took you a year to reach your goals, how many more years would you have to enjoy them after this?
- At some stage you can expect to hit a weight loss plateau or sticking point. How do you think you'll handle your weight being stable for a number of weeks or months?
- What do you want to be doing in five or ten years with your new-found vitality?
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