In my 15 years as a registered dietitian, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, countless clients have asked me for the “perfect plan” to achieve their fitness, health and weight-loss goals. And I’ve been only too happy to oblige. I operated from the belief that if my client was properly motivated and followed “the plan,” they’d be successful in achieving their goals.
Imagine my surprise when client after client fell off the wagon, seemingly unable to sustain an ongoing commitment to the fitness and food plan they said they so desperately wanted. My clients had all of the information and education they needed, yet they could not follow through with any consistency.
Over time I realized that something was missing, but what?
The idea that we can give our clients a plan that they will stick to and experience changes overnight seldom comes true for any of us. I began to realize that change—any kind of change—is a complicated and rarely linear process. In fact, it’s a series of stops and starts, successes and failures—a slow and steady slog toward victory rather than a quick sprint.
So, instead of being surprised and discouraged by our clients’ breakdowns, we should expect them. But that still begs the question: Why do they have such trouble following the programs we create for them? Is “telling” our clients the same information over and over really going to lead to change or is something within them getting in the way? If so, how do we help them overcome it?
As “teaching” professionals, we need a new set of tools in our arsenal that go beyond “telling” our clients what to do. In other words, we must develop a better understanding of our client’s mindset and how it both hinders and facilitates long-term behavior change.
We need a new approach—one that asks our clients to take a lead role in gaining awareness and understanding of the inner conflicts that are sabotaging their ability to stick with a diet and/or exercise plan.
Through ACE’s Behavior Change Specialty Certification materials, I began to learn about the power of helping my clients develop insight into their own thoughts and behaviors. I needed to shift from being an “educator” to a “facilitator”—from “telling” my clients the answers to “guiding” them to find their own conclusions.
My clients needed to develop their own awareness of their embedded or habitual behaviors and take ownership over why they were in direct conflict with their stated desires to make change. The end goal is the same, but my clients are now aware of their behaviors and can take ownership for making sustainable changes in their lives.
This approach is moving away from an expert-centered program to a client-centered program. As I’ve tried to be less of an expert and more of a coach or facilitator, I’ve realized how important (and challenging) it is for me to change my approach from “telling” clients what to do, to helping guide them to make their own healthful choices.
For more information on behavior change, check out ACE's "Harness the Power of Effective Motivational interviewing" ProSource article.