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Managing Different Personality Types as a Nutrition Coach

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Working with a nutrition coach on your physical goals and relationship with food is a very intimate experience.

The success of this relationship will depend heavily on whether you’ve built trust and understanding with your clients.

The question becomes—how do you build this kind of relationship?

One important piece of the puzzle: understanding and working with your clients’ personal psychology.

No client will fit perfectly into any ‘box’, but a great coach should be on the lookout for certain traits that can help them communicate effectively and meet each client’s needs.

This will ensure your clients feel heard and understood, and it will set you up as a team to accomplish great things.

Here are five personality types you will likely encounter as a nutrition coach.


Personality #1: Clients who need to understand

This personality type is very common. These clients need to understand what you’re doing and why.

They want to know what road you’re taking them on and how long it’ll be before arrival at the destination.

These clients will ask many questions—and may even seem resistant to your suggestions.

It’s easy to feel defensive when a client asks lots of questions. You may worry that the client doesn’t trust you.

Or you may think, “Hang on a second, I am the coach. Shouldn’t I be the assumed authority? After all, they’re paying me!”

Be mindful of this kind of thinking. The client is paying you for your service and help—but that doesn’t mean they should blindly trust you. It also doesn’t mean they don’t trust you or that they’re challenging you by asking questions.

They simply want to understand.

How will you know you’re working with this type of client?

You will recognize this type of client quite quickly because they’ll be quick to respond to your communications and quick to ask questions.

How can you best support these clients?

In order for a client like this to buy into your recommended plan, they need to understand it. So, to give your client what they need (and, ultimately, make your work easier), make a note in your client file that this person wants to understand the process. 

Then, each time you correspond with them, you will remember to explain your thought process behind each adjustment.

Consider this type of client your “co-conspirator”. Include them in your thinking. Ask for their input and ideas. Ask how they’re feeling.

They will appreciate being part of the decision making process with you. These clients really want to feel heard.

One awesome benefit of these clients? They’ll keep you on your toes and drive you to do a little extra research. They keep your skills and knowledge sharp!


Personality #2: Clients who want to please the coach

Some of us are motivated by others. We seek their approval or praise, and that desire alone is enough to make us change our behavior.

How will you know you’re working with this type of client?

They will say things like: 

  • “I know you are disappointed that I messed up this weekend.”
  • “I didn’t want to tell you what I ate at the party, so I didn’t log it.”
  • “I was thinking about having another drink. But I thought about what you said last week, so I didn’t."
  • “Your response to my check-in last week made my day!”

How can you best support these clients?

These clients respond well to praise from you. When you are proud of their hard work during a particular week, make that abundantly clear.

Tell them they did a good job. Celebrate their victories with them.

This will help push them forward into the next week and encourage them to continue working hard.

Just be aware that there is a flip side to this tendency.

When this type of client has a challenging week, be careful to avoid breaking their spirit. They will already feel disappointed and ashamed.

After they’ve had a tough week, find something in the week that was positive. It could simply be the fact that they checked in with you. It could even be something completely unrelated to nutrition.

This type of client can easily get discouraged, so to avoid “disappointing you”, they may stop checking in. This client will also likely not respond well to “tough love.”

Be careful with word choice, keeping in mind that there’s a good chance they’re experiencing shame and embarrassment (maybe even on a frequent basis).

If this type of client misses a check-in with you, it’s important to reach out to them. It will be reassuring to them that you are still invested in them. 

And here is a pro tip: when you reach out to these clients, ensure that your sole focus isn’t nutrition (since their nutrition could be exactly what’s holding them back from checking in). Remind them that you support them no matter what kind of week they had.


Personality #3: Clients who want a friend

Some clients really want to be pals—and these clients can be a lot of fun!

How will you know you’re working with this type of client? 

They want to download and share their entire week with you. You’ll learn the names of their children, their favorite food and the time of day they typically take their first bowel movement.

Their check-ins will probably go into way too much detail (and may make you laugh)!

This type of client wants you to share pieces of yourself with them as well. They want to know about your week, your kids, and your pets. They will follow you on social media and ask questions about your life.

If you’re comfortable with it, you should share pieces of yourself with them. The bond you can form with these clients is strong, and it can make their successes very rewarding for you.

With that said, be mindful of how much you share with these clients.

When you form very real friendships with clients, it can end up requiring a lot of energy and time. When these clients struggle or face obstacles, it can have a significant impact on you.

It is important to maintain healthy boundaries with your clients to protect your own emotional and mental well-being. 


Personality #4: Clients who are elite athletes

Elite athletes are a breed of their own. They are training for (and focused on) very specific outcomes. They may have given up many things in their life with the dream of reaching the pinnacle of their sport.

Sometimes, as their nutrition coach, you will feel that stress and pressure coming down on you. That pressure may be something they are placing on you or something you are putting on yourself because you care so much. 

Elite athletes can be incredibly rewarding to work with—and they can also be challenging.

How can you best support these clients?

First and foremost, be mindful of the pressure the athlete is putting on themselves. When you notice their stress, do not take it on as your own. Remember, this is about them. 

These clients are probably feeling the pressure of their competitors and maybe even of the ticking clock to qualify for something or to win an event—or even just the awareness that they are aging and won’t be an athlete forever.

These types of clients need to know you’ve got their back.

They need to know that you’re thinking about game day, you’re thinking about the hard training days, and you’re thinking about their recovery. They need to know you have a handle on the whole picture.

Athletes have coaches so they can focus solely on their athletic performance. Make sure to keep that in mind at every check-in.

Many athletes enjoy when you present them with an overview of the game plan and your thought process. This can give them peace of mind as they prepare for a competition or just grind through training.

With elite athletes, it’s also important to make notes about big PRs, goals they’re pursuing and competition dates. You want the athlete to feel confident that you’re involved and fully engaged in what’s happening for them. 

It’s also important to remember their sport is likely one of the most important (if not the most important) things in their life. That should be at the center of the coaching you do with them. 

Similar to clients who want to forge close friendships with their coach, athletes can take a lot from you emotionally.

These relationships can become very close. When the athlete fails, you may really feel it. And when they succeed, you may really feel that, too. Be mindful of maintaining healthy boundaries.


Personality #5: Clients who are perfectionists

It may be tricky to determine whether your client fits into this category.

They may simply appear to be very compliant clients who follow their program as designed. They may see great results and tell you how happy they are in their check-ins.

You may be unaware, however, of the constant pressure these clients are putting on themselves. 

Even if they are getting great results, it is important that coaches consider the emotional and mental well-being of their clients. That’s why it’s critical to pinpoint these clients. 

How will you know you’re working with this type of client?

There are typically two ways: 

1. You come to find that this client rarely (or never) eats food they have not personally prepared. They may avoid meals at restaurants and/or social gatherings because they are uncomfortable not knowing exactly what’s in their food.

This is something to be mindful of because as much as you want your client practicing habits that will lead to success—you also want their habits to be sustainable (and certainly not socially isolating).

For this kind of client, it’s very important to make distinctions between times when going to great lengths to hit your macros is important (for example, in preparation for an event where they have to make weight), vs. times when they can give themselves grace. 

2. The second way to pick a perfectionist: your client is very consistent and compliant with their program most of the time—but when they make a mistake with nutrition, they’ll go completely overboard.

If their nutrition isn’t perfect, they may see this as a reason to eat absolutely everything they can get their hands on. This typically results in feelings of shame and regret and feelings. It may also be a pattern that repeats itself. 

How can you best support these clients?

Perfectionist clients may believe that, “If things aren’t perfect, there is no point in making an effort.

We want to help clients move away from that line of thinking because we know it’s not true (nobody is perfect!), and we know that line of thinking won’t set them up for long-term, sustainable success.

The stress and pressure that come with needing to have perfect nutrition 365 days per year can be crippling. It can also make eating a very difficult and unpleasurable task.

Coaching a client through this kind of mindset shift will take time and repetition. As their coach, it’s important to remind these clients that the goal is not ‘perfection’. The goal is simply to make consistently better choices each day.

It can help if you work with your client to define exactly what ‘better choices’ look like for them. A few examples might be:

  • Vegetables at most meals 
  • More water
  • Fewer processed foods
  • Changes in alcohol consumption 

If you find the client is very fixated on hitting their macros spot-on, it might be wise to steer them away from precise macro-tracking and instead toward overall better habits, awareness of hunger cues, and/or creating guidelines or boundaries around meals (for example, one guideline could be, “Have dessert or drinks, but not both”).

These are just a few of the common personality types you might encounter as a coach. This is not an exhaustive list nor is any one trait exclusive to the others. Your clients are multi-faceted, complex humans, and you should approach each of them as such.

Hopefully, however, these pointers will give you some guidance on where to start!

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Posted by Taylor Lumpp
Taylor is a coach and the Chief Operations Officer for WAG. She competes nationally in Olympic weightlifting and lives in a house full of dogs!

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