Tips to Improve Bad Eating Habits
As a personal trainer, you know just how important good habits are to achieving health and fitness goals. Whether your client has a weight loss goal or just needs to shape up their diet, the getting in the habit of consuming nutritious food will go a long way. But what about how or why they eat? How much can that affect their progress? Read on to learn about eating habits that can get in the way of a client’s goals and how you can help them overcome these challenges for better health and well-being.
Avoid Limiting Factors
We all have things that keep us from reaching our goals—time, money, motivation, and a host of other options collectively known as limiting factors. Pinpointing these factors can help you and your client develop a plan to overcome them. Here, we’ll breakdown some of the most common limiting factors for eating behaviors so you can help your client improve their bad eating habits.
As always, be sure to stay within your scope of practice as a personal trainer. Get to know the rules surrounding nutrition advice for your state or even for your gym. When in doubt, refer a client to a medical or dietary professional.
Eating Too Fast
The faster you do something, the more likely you are to make mistakes. And the same is true for your client’s eating speed. Slow it down. Whether they’re rushing between activities or trying to multitask, eating too fast can isn’t helpful to their health goals. It can cause as upset stomach, their body won’t be able to accurately register when they’re full, and they may eat more calories than they intended.
Encourage clients to set aside time for meals and focus on what they’re eating:
- Pause between bites – take a deep breath, set down utensils, take a sip of water
- Savor each bite – focus on the smells, flavors, and texture as though tasting fine wine
- Pace yourself – set a meal timer or pace yourself with the slowest eater at the table
This is similar to eating to fast. Whether you’re eating meals while you drive, watch TV, or work, you’re not truly focused on what you’re eating. You’ll miss hunger and fullness cues, eat more calories than intended, and potentially put yourself in danger as a distracted driver. Ask your client to set aside time for meals. Even if it’s just one meal a day, it’s a great way to start building healthier eating habits.
Not Recognizing Hunger Cues
While many of us may miss these cues because we’re distracted or don’t have time to answer them, some simply don’t understand what their body is trying to tell them. As much as we wish it were true, noon is not actually the cue for eating lunch.
Social norms have taken over biological hunger cues:
- Time of day
- Diet rules
Help your client recognize what their body is telling them rather than society:
- Growling stomach
- Sense of abdominal emptiness
A food diary can help clients become more aware of what triggers them to eat. They’ll not only track foods and portion sizes but also how they felt before eating and afterward. Mindful eating is the first step to building better habits.
Occasionally skipping breakfast, ditching your meal plan for fast food, or only making time for a healthy dinner once in a while doesn't support a balanced diet. Irregular habits can be just as detrimental as bad habits.
A planned cheat meal or an occasional ice cream is fine. You’re not going to undo everything with one deviation. But if you’re doing that several times a week or only following your meal plan when you feel like it, that’s what affects long-term goals. Be consistent with your healthy habits to stay on track and hit your goals faster!
Using food to manage your feelings is an unhealthy way to deal with feelings and food. Potential problems include:
- Feeling out of control
- Losing touch with other ways to manage feelings or feel comfort
- Unable or unwilling to stop when satisfied
- Feeling compelled to do it
Again, a food diary is a great tool to use here. Have your client track their feelings whenever they eat. How did they feel before consuming any food and how did they feel after? What were their thoughts at the time?
Noticing the association of feeling and food will be the first step. Next, ask them to wait a few minutes before opting to turn to food. Eventually, they can find strength in themselves to choose other ways to soothe their feelings.
Some alternatives to eating:
- Meditation/relaxation techniques
- Taking a walk
- Talking with a therapist or friend
No Cooking Skills
What if your client doesn’t know how to cook? Or how to shop for and pick out healthy food? If they’re just used to eat fast food and frozen dinners, it will be tough to get them to stick to a healthy eating plan. So, start with the basics:
- How to make a healthy kitchen – Review some of the essential cookware they might need and food choices they should include on their grocery list—vegetables, whole-grain foods, etc. Maybe even take them on a field trip to the grocery store they can see first-hand where to find the good food and which aisles they should avoid.
- Tips for meal prep success – Meal prep can make healthy eating a breeze, especially if they’re just starting out. Review some of the foods that store well and supply good nutrients and share some of your favorite recipes.
- Healthy eating on the go – Life isn’t perfect, so reassure your clients that is can still be okay to eat out now and then, even if it’s a quick meal on the go. Teach them what to looks for on a menu and substitutes they can ask for to help them stick to their goals.
Getting started is always the hardest part, especially if you’re breaking down bad habits. And this is true for healthy eating and physical activity, which is why they sought out you, a personal trainer with the skills to help them succeed.
Ready to learn more about nutrition and how you can help clients achieve their goals? ISSA’s online course in nutrition supplies the in-depth knowledge you need. Enroll today to boost your personal training business!