What to look for and when to run the other way…
If you are looking for help with nutrition and health, take a hard look at what you are buying. The first step is to define your goals. Be careful here, because we are programmed to define that goal as weight loss. Weight loss can absolutely happen with a solid nutrition plan and it may be fine to have that as a goal, but the real goal is health. Does anyone remember the Hollywood Cookie Diet? I used to hear commercials for that all the time about a decade ago. That epitomizes dumb nutrition for weight loss.
Take the time to really think about your goal. Health–what does that mean for you? When I was so sick 13 years ago, some of my immediate goals were: get restful sleep, move without pain, stop my hair loss, have enough energy to enjoy my life, and to get my brain back. Those were very specific and motivating goals. Some of my recent clients’ goals have been to banish daily digestive distress, have the energy to enjoy their hobbies, feel confident about food choices, and get rid of arthritic pain. Really taking the time to define your goals allows you to better evaluate potential help.
As I approach 2 years working with clients, I have been reflecting on what I see that helps clients reach their goals and what does not. I believe many people who seek help with nutrition and health end up being poorly served with programs that aren’t comprehensive enough and/or not firmly based on good science.
What you should expect from a well-designed nutrition program:
- Built upon solid science. This may be the hardest facet to evaluate. The Hollywood Cookie Diet is pretty darn easy to see through, but most programs will show you some “science.” Anecdotes and stats can be found to prop up just about anything. My advice is to ask questions. Do a little research.
- Skill, tool, and resource-based. You are the one going home and doing all the work. It’s fine to be told what you need to do, but if you aren’t building the skills and being given the tools and resources that make it possible, what is the point?
- Whole food-based. ANY plan that has you gobbling large amounts of supplements, processed foods, and any other magic shakes and potions is a waste of your time. Nutrition magic is in real foods.
- Gives you an education. If you aren’t being taught the why, you are not building a foundation for a lifetime of health. Expect and demand substance.
- Helps you personalize an eating approach that works for YOU. One-size-fits-all is bull-crap.
- Invests time in you. Real transformation takes an investment–on your part and on the part of whomever you choose to work with. Find someone who is accessible and gets to know you.
- Ties health to food and farm quality. ANY approach that does not teach you about food quality is bankrupt. A really good program will also teach you about the realities of farming and food quality.
- Teaches you to shop smarter. Sourcing quality, nutrient-dense food is vital to improving your health. Find a program that really teaches you how to do that (and stay in a budget).
- Teaches you about NUTRIENTS. You don’t have to go into a program expecting to come out of it with a nutrition degree, but you should expect to be learning about nutrition, not just calories and macronutrient ratios.
- Recognizes your journey may be emotional. Mindset and complex feelings are usually a large part of the work. Make sure you are getting someone who can talk through that with you in a way that is respectful and productive.
- Is prepared to talk whole-body health. Make sure you are working with someone who can help you maneuver lifestyle as well as food.
Overall, demand substance. Hire someone you can have a real conversation with and that listens to you. Look for a teacher and a guide, not a dictator. I have had so many clients tell me they were part of a health/nutrition plan that taught them nothing about food.
There are some major RED FLAGS you should watch out for and are the hallmarks of a poorly designed program. Here’s what to be on the lookout for:
- Weight loss is their number one (or only) selling point.
- It’s a “camp,” “challenge,” “detox,” or some other plan that sells you a fix in a certain number of days, weeks, or months. Programs like that are super marketable but what happens when the challenge is over? The goal is building sustainable, lifelong habits.
- They represent a brand. The goal is selling you products, not health. Their intention might be wonderful, but nutrient density doesn’t come from branded products. Remember, nutrition comes from whole foods, not magical bars, shakes, and meals.
- They want to sell you a ton of supplements. Supplements can be important. I use them and I recommend them. But, nutrition comes from whole foods. If they represent a supplement brand, this is an even worse choice.
- Their program works for everyone. Not true. If there is no customization, you have a problem. If they say, I work with everyone and what I do is perfect for everyone, just say no.
- Sounds to be good to be true. Here’s the truth: it takes some work. You really do have to learn some new skills, get some new food smarts, and create new habits. Having a great guide makes a huge difference, but no one has an overnight solution.
- It’s short. Change takes time. Don’t hire someone who won’t invest some time in you. If you’ve been confused about food for decades, no one has a magic wand that is going to help you create lasting change overnight. You need someone who is accessible and in it with you.
I hope this has helped give you some insights about how to evaluate help when it comes to nutrition. Since this is the work I do, I am obviously quite biased, but I feel strongly that getting really good help when it comes to food can be a very transformative experience. It is a topic that most of us give quite a bit of thought, but often don’t invest the time into really tackling. A guide makes that much easier.