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Nutrition Strategies for Clients Who Don't Want to Weigh or Track Food

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Weighing and tracking food (in an app like MyFitnessPal or MyMacros) can be really useful for anyone trying to achieve health and body composition goals. 

Here are a few of the ways weighing and tracking can be helpful:

  • Can build awareness and understanding of true portion sizes 
  • Can create a deeper understanding of how your body responds to different levels of calories and macronutrients
  • When working with a coach, it allows the coach to see exactly what you’re eating each day

But—not everyone feels comfortable using these tools. 

In fact, not everyone should use these tools.

And this is okay! Weighing and tracking food aren’t the only ways to help clients make progress toward their goals.

With some creativity, you can come up with effective, individualized nutrition strategies that both you and your client will enjoy. 

Below, we’ll outline the type of clients who dislike weighing/tracking food as well as those who probably should avoid these practices. We’ll also outline different strategies for how to coach these clients. 

Some Clients Won’t Want to Weigh & Track Food—And That’s Okay

As mentioned above, food scales and tracking apps are excellent tools for making progress toward health and body composition goals.

But they’re just that—tools. They aren’t the “be-all, end-all”.

Each of your clients is unique, and sometimes they will straight-up tell you that they feel uncomfortable with, or resistant to, weighing and tracking food.

This doesn’t mean they are a ‘lost cause’ or that you cannot help them—you absolutely can! 

It’s also worth noting that some personality types naturally resist feeling restricted.

For example, check out the book The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. You can have your clients take a free quiz to determine which ‘tendency’ they fall under.

Oftentimes, “Rebel” clients will be particularly resistant to weighing and tracking their food. “Questioner” clients might question the usefulness of it.

This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with these clients. A skilled nutrition coach will work with this information rather than fighting against it.

Some Clients Aren’t Quite Ready for Weighing & Tracking

Some clients will tell you they don’t want to weigh or track food. And with some clients,
you will get a gut sense that they are not quite ready for it.

For example, perhaps you have a client who is brand new to any kind of nutritional information. They’ve never heard of the different macronutrients. They’ve never monitored their food intake in any way before.

Many of these clients absolutely can learn how to weigh and track food, given the right support and guidance.

But if you work with a client for a period of time and get the sense that weighing and tracking food is causing them a great deal of stress, frustration and discouragement, it’s worth having a conversation with them about trying different methods aside from weighing and tracking.

You want your clients to feel like they are having small victories each week.

So if your client seems defeated and disappointed each week due to struggles with weighing and tracking, it’s up to you to step in and come up with a creative alternative.

Weighing & Tracking Food Isn’t a Great Idea for Certain Clients

Some clients probably
shouldn’t weigh or track food. It’s up to you as the coach to closely monitor your client’s language and behavior around weighing and tracking to determine whether your client might be better off trying a different route.

Here are some ‘red flags’ to watch out for that may suggest weighing and tracking food could cause more harm than good:

  • Your client has a history of an eating disorder.
  • Your client seems extremely focused on hitting their macros perfectly. They may even insist on having exactly zero grams of each macro left at the end of each day.
  • Upon having an ‘off’ day with macros, your client exhibits a negative response that feels disproportionate to the mistake they made (in other words, they completely fall apart or beat themselves up after what appears to you as a small mistake).

It’s important to really get to know these clients. Listen to them deeply. Read between the lines of what they tell you. Your goal is to understand their relationship with food.

There is a risk that these clients will become very attached to their food scale and tracking app—to the point where they feel they cannot function without them.

Chances are they will be very attached to other numbers, too, including their scale weight. This type of client is frequently a perfectionist.

The best way to handle this kind of situation is to be transparent and honest with your client.

Gently let them know that you’ve noticed that weighing and tracking food seems to be causing them a lot of stress. Recommend working together to add a bit of flexibility into their routine.

For example, you may ask them to have one estimated meal per week (where they do not use their food scale).

Clients like this might initially be resistant to your recommendations. These reactions tend to be based in fear. Just continue to listen to them, validate their concerns, be compassionate, and take things slowly.

Alternative methods for monitoring intake without weighing or tracking

Now that you have determined your client will not be strictly weighing or tracking their food, the question becomes: how can you help them make progress
without the food scale or tracking app?

Below, we’ll outline several different options. The right choice will depend on your specific client’s preferences, goals and circumstances.

You can even combine two or more of the methods below to come up with the plan that best fits your client’s needs.

1. The balanced plate method

Rather than having them weigh and track their food, you can help clients learn how to build a balanced plate for each of their meals. 

This method is effective and useful because you can customize your instructions and recommendations for each individual client. 

For example, if your client is not very active, you might encourage them to minimize starchy carbs until after exercise so their body will use them most effectively. 

On the other hand, if your client is extremely active, you might recommend carbs in every meal throughout the day, especially before and after training. 

Some recommendations that tend to work for most clients when building balanced plates include: 

  • Devote the biggest section of your plate to nutrient-dense, high fiber, low-calorie vegetables. 
  • Make sure one-quarter of your plate is made up of protein. You can explain that protein helps with appetite control and maintaining lean mass.
  • Recommend that they include some healthy fats (perhaps ⅛ of their plate, or you can explain it using your client’s thumb for reference—more on that below). 
  • Encourage your client to select their plate size based on their body size (smaller plates if they are a smaller person and larger plates if they are a larger person).
  • Suggest putting down their fork when they are 80 percent full, not when the plate is empty.
  • Suggest choosing whole (less-processed) foods, with local and organic selections when possible.

You can even draw a picture of your recommended balanced plate that has been personalized for your client.

2. Using hands to measure portion sizes 

You can help your client become familiar with appropriate portion sizes for their body and their goals by using their hands. 

Your client may not always have access to a food scale, but they’ll always have their hands available, so this method is convenient and useful for the rest of their lives. 

Here how it works:

  • Your client’s palm determines their protein portions.
  • Your client’s fist determines their veggie portions.
  • Your client’s cupped hand determines their carb portions.
  • Your client’s thumb determines their fat portions.

You can customize the specific recommendations for your clients in terms of their portion sizes at each meal. 

For example: for most men, a sufficient protein portion size might be two palm-sized portions. (But if your client is very active with a lot of muscle mass, they might need more.) 

This is where you can use your coaching experience and expertise to set up the right plan for your client’s body type and goals.

3. Ask your client to take pictures of their meals to send to you 

This is a very useful method that can be combined with either (or both!) of the methods listed above.

When coaching clients using an online/remote format, seeing photos of their plates can be very helpful in ensuring you two are on the same page.

Ask your client to take photos of each of their meals (and snacks) for one full day. They can email or text them to you.

You can offer feedback, suggestions and tips based on their meal photos (and, of course, make sure to offer positive encouragement that they’re on the right track!).

4. Focus on other habits like drinking more water, getting more sleep, activity, managing stress

There are many important health habits that will help your clients feel better and live healthier lives. Weighing & tracking food is just one habit you can work on together.

Have a conversation with your client about other health habits they’d like to focus on.

For example, how much water are they drinking each day? Could you help them work up to drinking half their bodyweight in ounces of water daily?

How much sleep is your client getting? Do they have a consistent bedtime? What adjustments could you help them make to their nighttime routine?

Is your client stressed? Can you suggest some stress management techniques? For example, they could try a guided meditation app or sign up for a yoga class. 

You get the idea! There are many habits you and your client can focus on beyond weighing and tracking food.

5. Create your own customized guidelines

When it comes to weighing and tracking food, the choices don’t have to be ‘all or nothing’. You can work together with your client to come up with your own individualized guidelines and program.

For example, perhaps a client feels comfortable tracking their food but they don’t love using the food scale. You could give them tools for how to estimate their portion sizes and log those into their tracking app. 

Another idea: your client could weigh and track food on some days but not every day.

This can be a great strategy for clients who are getting burnt out on weighing and tracking food. You could encourage them to eat “as if” they were tracking on the non-tracked days.

Positives of Not Weighing & Tracking Food

As a coach, it’s worth acknowledging the reality that not having your client weigh and track their food has pros and cons.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to coach your clients—it’s all about using your experience (and intuition) to determine the best path for each individual client. 

Let’s lay out some of the pros for skipping the food scale and tracking app.

One positive: using the alternative methods above may help your client build more sustainable lifelong habits.

They may be inclined to place more focus on high-quality, nutrient-dense foods as opposed to simply trying to hit certain macro targets.

This may help your client adopt the mindset of building healthy habits vs. being totally focused on numbers.

Another positive of not weighing & tracking food: it may allow you and your client to look at their lifestyle from a ‘bigger picture perspective’.

You can work together to select habits to focus on each week rather than directing the majority of your time and attention in each check-in to macros and food logs.

In addition, it’s worth remembering that you and your client can shift the game plan at any time. 

If you and your client determine that it’s the right course of action, they can begin tracking their food.

That is the beauty of 1-on-1 personalized coaching—you’re never ‘tied down’ to a single approach. You can experiment and try new things!

Drawbacks of Not Weighing & Tracking Food

Now let’s outline some of the drawbacks around not weighing and tracking food.

One potential drawback: your clients may not see results as efficiently as they would if you could see their total daily intake and the macronutrient breakdown.

As a coach, it can be hard to know what is going on with your client’s body and progress if you don’t have data to work with.

Most clients have body composition goals like gaining muscle or losing body fat, and it’s very helpful to have data letting you know whether your client is in a caloric deficit, surplus or close to maintenance levels.

This slower rate of progress or lack of results may cause your clients to become frustrated. Most clients really hope to see some evidence of physical progress and change.

In conclusion, we encourage you to get creative with your clients and remember that one method of achieving results won’t work for everybody. Don’t be afraid to ‘think outside the box’ and experiment—you never know what might end up being the perfect solution for your client!

If you enjoyed these coaching tips, we know you will love the WAG Nutrition Coach Certification Program.

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Posted by Katie Holmes
Katie is a coach and the Content Coordinator for WAG. She was an attorney but realized her passion was in helping people transform their lives and become the happiest, healthiest versions of themselves.

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