How often have you heard someone say, “I know what I should be doing, but I’m just not doing it”? As a nutrition coach, I often hear this as if it’s as simple as flipping on a light switch. In reality, the gap between what you’re doing and what you think you should be doing can be more significant than you might expect. It can be far more complex than just making up your mind that all of sudden, after years of neglect, you’re going to start exercising and really clean up your nutrition.
The fundamental habits needed for sustaining a healthy weight for the long-term are:
- Learning to match energy intake (food) with expenditure (exercise) Balancing your daily energy intake versus output can be challenging to say the least. You will struggle if you’re attempting this based on external cues like counting calories, balancing macros, or measuring how many steps you get a day. The key to balance is to learn to trust internal cues…not the feedback from an external method or device.
- Learning to eat when you’re hungry and to stop when you’re full This may be the most significant of the four points because it eliminates emotional eating and eating to excess. If you solve these two issues, you will never struggle with managing your weight. And like the first point, this can only be accomplished by relying on internal cues.
- Get regular exercise, balancing cardio with strength training Less than 25% of our population gets in the weekly recommended amount of exercise, including strength training and cardio. While there are many recommendations, 5 hours total per week is an excellent standard to strive for. For example, 3 days of strength training combined with cardio on most other days would be fantastic. The cardio could be more formal, like using a treadmill or elliptical; however, it could be as simple as taking a walk.
- Get enough rest to fully recover Approximately 40% of our population gets less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Please don’t discount the latter as being simple or easy to do. Each of the four requires several life skills; without them, you will find it virtually impossible to execute these seemingly simple steps. You see, most people possess certain limiting factors that make up the gap between their current reality and where they would ultimately like to be.
The following is a sampling of the coaching clients I’ve worked with over the years:
- Not eating enough protein
- Not eating enough fruits and veggies
- Eating too many overly processed carbs
- Eating too many unhealthy fats
- Not drinking enough water
Does this sound like anyone you know? And this is just getting started with basic nutritional needs. It doesn’t include the following other significant skills and behaviors:
- Eating slowly
- Eating to only 80% full (satisfied versus stuffed)
- Planning and preparing your meals
- Managing stress
- Getting at least 7 hours of “restful” sleep per night
The first five are obviously negative traits that need to be reversed. The second five are some of the positive skills & behaviors that need to be learned and practiced efficiently to achieve the abovementioned four skills. Ultimately, these ten areas of focus will take time to achieve proficiency.
When I talk with a potential client during their initial consultation, they typically look for a meal plan, including how many calories to consume combined with a specific ratio of macronutrients to strive for daily. In their mind, that’s nutrition coaching. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Handing out meal plans is not nutrition coaching.
How many physical books are available on the subject of nutrition and exercise? How about on the web in a digital format? And what about hard copy magazines or articles online? Between these combined sources, there’s more info than you could ever possibly consume in a lifetime, and yet as a nation, we’re more overweight than ever and moving in the wrong direction.
The problem is not a lack of information; it’s a lack of ability to put the knowledge to use. That’s where nutrition coaching comes into play. My job is to fill the gap between clients and where they want to be. And most want it all upfront. Unfortunately, simultaneously tackling a list like the ten items above would be a recipe for failure.
So how many of you know someone who prides themselves on being good at multitasking?
I learned this valuable insight from my mentor, Darren Hardy. You do understand that there’s no such thing as multitasking. Right? It’s impossible to run two cognitive processes in your brain simultaneously. If you are doing two things at once, you’re switching between the two tasks, making you dumber than if you were smoking dope. When you’re smoking dope, your IQ drops by about five points. When you’re switching between two different and yet like cognitive tasks, it drops by about ten.
Look, you can walk on a treadmill, chew gum, and watch a video on your phone simultaneously and do great because you’re using different parts of your brain. But when you’re driving with your phone, you’re either driving or looking at your phone. You can’t do both simultaneously, and that’s why driving while using your phone is incredibly dangerous. Add a cup of coffee to the mix, and you’re a wreck waiting to happen.
So, when it comes to making changes to your nutrition, one thing at a time works the best. You’ve probably heard that it takes at least twenty-one days to make something a habit. That’s debatable, depending on what you’re talking about. However, two weeks seems to be a perfect time frame to focus on building a new habit when it comes to nutritional habits.
Depending on the person, you might be more wired towards going after the big rocks first, or you might prefer to start with the low-hanging fruit. Either way, just focus on one area for improvement for a couple of weeks and then move on to something different. Don’t forget about the first area of focus; however, shift your attention to layering in the new habit.
The list of ten above would take about five months to work through, and for some, that might seem slow, but if the skills gained would last forever, would it be worth it? Would it be worth it if the second list of five, in particular, protects you from ever relapsing back into your old ways? Five months is nothing in the big scheme of life, and this is just a simple example.
My average nutrition coaching client needs to lose 25 lbs or more. We’re looking at four months of losing 1-2 pounds per week, which is very doable and sustainable. So, for the sake of perspective, my example above of spending five months to achieve your goals is not that long.
Be careful about dismissing an opportunity for growth and change because of the time commitment. The time will pass regardless, and no matter how much you need to lose, if what you’ve been trying is not yielding the results you’re seeking, maybe it’s time to consider a different solution.
Closing thoughts for my readers:
If you’re someone who feels like you know what you should be doing, but you’re struggling to take consistent action and or achieve the success with your health that you’re seeking, then consider getting some help. The most successful people from all walks of life have coaches for every area you can imagine…including nutrition.
Beating yourself up for struggling to reach your health and fitness goals is like scolding a 1st grader for not being able to do college-level algebra. They simply don’t have the skill set to do what you’re asking, precisely like the limiting factors I’m referring to about your health.
I listed only ten limiting factors at the beginning of this post. When working with clients, I look at eight categories totaling thirty-three limiting factors. And any combination of these could absolutely derail you from reaching your goals.
Remember, we all need a little help at some point in life.
Best of luck in your journey.