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A guide to nutrition consultations for the fitness professional

Performing regular consultations with the client specifically about their diet can be a vital role in ensuring their adherence to any recommend dietary guidelines. You must ensure you are efficient at performing these and stay within their scope of practise when providing advice.

Your skill and knowledge play a major role in the outcome of the consultation with a client however they must also have guiding principles or ethics to base their relationship with clients on.

  • Client-centred approach

You should take a client centred approach to support your client in changing their health behaviour. This means that you should actively try to put yourself in your clients’ shoes in an attempt to understand the barriers they come across when trying to make positive health changes. It is also important that you consider what the client expects from you, often they just need you to offer support whilst they are the leaders of their own life changes.

  • Empathy, genuineness and acceptance

For the client-centred approach to be successful in a consultation you must be able to empathise with the client. By listening intently to the client and responding honestly it will support the client to be heard and understood and develop a trusting relationship. you must also be genuine when offering support and guidance, you should be in touch with your own feelings and values and may even use personal examples of feeling a similar feeling to the client. You must also be accepting of the client which means you should not judge the client regardless of what the client discuss’ about their dietary habits.

  • Respect

You have to treat each client’s choices about their diet with respect, even if they do not necessarily agree with it. If a client is definite that they want to perform a liquid shake diet for a week then you can educate them on the negative effects this may have but ultimately accept that it is the clients right to make this decision.

  • Social influence

Social influence occurs when you try to influence the client’s behaviour by acting as a role model or making practical suggestions on how to positively change health behaviour. Providing personal examples of what they or other clients have for breakfast to make a nutritious breakfast makes having a healthy breakfast seem more realistic for the client to achieve.

  • Collaboration

You must attempt to work together with the client to discuss their dietary goals and ways to achieve them. You should learn to negotiate, for example if the client is eating a chocolate bar every day, instead of cutting it out completely which would be optimal for health, they can negotiate and aim to reduce intake to two bars per week.

  • Self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is imperative to a client successfully reaching their goals. One of your most important roles is to support the client’s self-confidence increase and make their goals seem practical and easy to achieve. So if the client saw removing fizzy drinks from their diet as unachievable you could discuss the pros and cons of fizzy drinks and how they could be swapped for soda water and lime to give the same sensation of drinking a fizzy drink. This makes giving up fizzy drinks seem slightly more realistic.

It is important that you do not try to force the client to change their behaviour. Using pressure to try and convince the client to make changes will make the client feel out of control and will not be changing their behaviour out of free choice meaning that behaviour is unlikely to be adhered too.

You should not blame or judge the client, if the client says they are sticking to the diet plan then they should be believed. By asking questions about whether the client is weighing portion sizes or nibbling bits of their children’s tea could be good reminders of things that may have forgotten to add to add to their food diary.

It is a good idea for you to work within a framework for you consultations with their clients, this is not only productive for the fitness professional by ensuring they keep to time, but will also ensure they obtain all information and give out all advice required.

A good framework is listed below, each section is explored in more detail throughout the chapter;;

1. Meeting and greeting

The client, especially if they are relatively new, may feel nervous about the consultation and therefore the fitness professional should take time to warmly welcome them and ask them what they would like to achieve from the consultation.

2. Assessing the overall picture

As well as the client’s diet it is important that the fitness professional gets an insight into the general life of the client so they understand more about them. Here would be a good place to discuss goals and barriers, any necessary medical history, current knowledge of nutrition, anthropometrics and dieting history, expectations, current lifestyle and diet and motivation for change.

3. Exploring options for change

Once the client has made a decision to make a change the fitness professional can help them highlight the options available to do this. Some of these options may be more realistic than others, for example if a client wants to lost 0.5kg per week it may not be possible for them to go to the gym every day but it would be possible to enter a calorie deficit though making dietary changes such as not drinking alcohol five nights per week or reducing portion sizes or walking to work or swapping the afternoon cake for a piece of fruit.

Exploring these different options can be beneficial so the client understands there are many ways which their goal can be achieved.

4. Negotiating goals and developing a plan

The client needs to have an active role in creating a SMART goal as discussed previously.

A client and fitness professional should discuss appropriate rewards for establishing a healthy eating pattern, this will reinforce their positive behaviour and keep them motivated. These could be spending time on a hobby, buying a small gift for themselves. This should not be food related. Congratulating themselves mentally for their effort will increase their self-confidence and self-efficacy.

6. Creating social support

It is more likely to a client to achieve their goals if they have the support of those in their daily lives such as family, friends and colleagues.

7. Monitoring progress

As well as the client being accountable to you, discussing self-monitoring is an important tool for the client to be able to do. This could involve the client keeping a food and mood diary for themselves, to allow them to analyse their own eating habits. The prime purpose of this is to increase self-awareness, so they could record the time they ate, who they were with, what they were doing prior to eating, how they felt and what thoughts went through their head when they were eating. If this is a struggle for the client, there may be some motivational issues that need to be addressed together.

8. Ending the consultation

It is vital that you allow sufficient time to end the consultation in order to conclude the main points and allow the client to ask any questions that they may have. They should also discuss a date for the next review to ensure progress continues.

If you are interested in further developing your coaching skills, please get in touch for upcoming CDP events.