Much like exercise coaching, nutrition coaching is not one-size-fits-all. I’ve been lucky to have coached a variety of people, from complete novices to athletes, with their nutrition. But my most common client is someone who is just starting out on their journey-complete beginners in both exercising and diet. I’ve found that there are some similarities when coaching someone who is completely clueless about their nutrition. These are my favorite clients, because small changes end up making huge differences.
Typically, these are people who never really paid attention to the food that they eat, don’t really make an effort to eat fruits and vegetables, eat out at restaurants often, and don’t really cook any of their own food. These are some of the tips I start out with when I get a client like this. It’s super important not to overwhelm them by doing a complete diet overhaul right off the bat. Starting out with changing one small thing a week is much more sustainable and realistic, and sets them up for success!
Veggies and/or fruit at every meal
If you aren’t already eating veggies at least once a day, this is going to be hard at first. Most people seem to think that veggies are a “dinner-only” food. When I tell clients to have at least one serving of fruit or veggies with every meal and snack, they look at me like I’m crazy. But guess what? It’s actually super easy to sneak them in! At breakfast, throw some veggies in your scrambled eggs or make an omelet. For on-the-go breakfasters, scrambled egg cups are the perfect solution. You can put literally anything you want in them, and just heat them in the microwave on your way out and you’re good to go! For a mid-morning snack, have a piece of fruit and some nuts. Lunchtime? Go for a salad or a wrap. Mid-afternoon snack could be some raw veggies like carrots or sliced cucumber, or another piece of fruit. And at dinner, a side of steamed veggies or a side salad. And there you go! A full day of fruits and veggies at every meal!
Hide the taste
What happens if you hate vegetables? Hide the taste with hummus, peanut butter, guac, or salad dressing. Carrots and cucumber with hummus is one of my favorite snacks. Peanut butter is great with celery sticks and apple slices. Now, you do have to be careful that you don’t go overboard with dips. Read the labels and stick to servings sizes. Buy salad dressing that is low-fat, low-sodium, or low-cal. Try to stick with balsamic dressings or olive-oil dressings so you can still get some good fats into your diet. Try almond butter or powdered peanut butter. Powdered PB (called PB2) can be mixed with water to create actual peanut butter, but has significantly less fat and calories than regular PB. Some nutrition coaches may disagree with using dips and dressings, but my philosophy is that if it’s the only way you’ll eat veggies, there’s no problem. At least you’re getting veggies in your diet now. There are worse things you could be eating, and this is the first step to getting used to eating veggies on a regular basis.
Eliminate sugary drinks
Maybe it has to do with the fact that you don’t actually “eat” drinks, but most people don’t even realize how many calories and how much sugar most drinks have these days. Things like juices, sports drinks, sodas, energy drinks, flavored coffees, and cocktails/beer could be doing major damage on your diet. Try replacing these with regular coffee (almond milk instead of cream, no sugar), tea, or good ol’ water. I’d even be happy with switching someone to diet soda at first, if they are especially resistant to giving it up completely.
Make meal prep easy
One of my very first articles here was about how I make meal prep easy. You can read that here, if you’re interested in specific tips and tricks. But meal prep doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to take up your whole day. My weekly meal preps take one hour, tops. Think about what you want to eat for the week, and what needs to be prepped ahead of time. Chop veggies so that they’re easy to grab out of the fridge, cook meat and heat it up throughout the week for meals (cooked meat will keep in the fridge for up to a week), make salads ahead of time minus the dressing, and add the dressing when you’re ready to eat it, pack your meals the night before, use frozen veggies that can be steamed in the microwave, hard-boil a bunch of eggs to take on the go…..there are so many ways to make meal prepping easier. If you have healthy food ready to go, you’re more likely to grab it!
Don’t eat stuff you hate
If you hate Brussels sprouts, don’t eat them. If you hate oatmeal, don’t eat it. If you hate bananas, don’t eat them. So many people fall off the healthy eating wagon because they are trying to choke down food that they hate eating! Eating should be pleasurable. You don’t have to eat something you don’t like, just because it’s “healthy”. Guess what? There are thousands of different kinds of fruit. There are thousands of different kinds of vegetables. There are so many different ways to eat protein. There is bound to be something you enjoy! Experiment with different foods, and different ways of cooking, and different seasonings. For example, I hate plain asparagus, but when I sauté it in olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, it suddenly tastes amazing! I also hate bananas on their own, but I love my banana-oat-chocolate chip energy bites. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to force yourself to eat shit you don’t like.
Don’t overthink it
Organic vs. regular. Low-carb vs. high carb. Low-fat vs. high-fat. Dairy vs. dairy-free. Calorie counting. Food tracking. Macro tracking. These are all questions I’ve gotten from clients. And these are all things that they should not be worrying about! The first thing you should be focused on is getting your diet on the right track. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating an organic apple or a regular apple. I’m just happy you’re eating an apple instead of a chocolate bar! I can’t stress enough that as long as you’re actively working on improving your diet, nothing else matters. Don’t try to go low-carb. Don’t try to go low-fat. Don’t cut dairy cold-turkey. Don’t decide to count every single calorie and track every single macro if you’ve never done it before. Those are all much harder to maintain than these small changes we’re talking about. Like I said above, don’t set yourself up for failure by doing a complete diet overhaul all at once. You’ll just make yourself crazy! P.S. see this article for why I’m not a fan of counting calories.
Don’t think of it as a “diet”
Think of it as positive, lifestyle changes that you can sustain for the rest of your life. You aren’t “going on a diet”. You’re changing small things here and there that overall, will help improve your health! Diets are strict. Diets are hard. Diets are tedious. Working on lifestyle changes will still allow you to live your life…you’re just living a healthier one!
So there you have it! If you are a complete novice in the area of nutrition, try implementing these and see what changes. Remember: slow and steady always wins. You may not get results as fast as you want them, but the most sustainable results happen slowly over time. If you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to me! I am accepting online clients for nutrition coaching, exercise programming, or a combination of both. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email –> firstname.lastname@example.org