Client Diet Struggles

Overcoming Client Diet Struggles: Breaking Down Barriers

Reading Time: 7 minutes 14 seconds


Date: 2019-02-25T00:00:00-05:00

We asked you, the real trainers and nutrition coaches, about the biggest barriers your clients face when trying to change nutrition and diet. We wanted to know what your clients say about why they struggle with eating well and making better food choices.

A lot of what we heard was the same. It turns out most people have the same issues. There are a handful of common struggles that your clients are likely to face when trying to change their diets.

Let's take a look at those challenges and barriers and figure out what we can do as trainers and coaches to help our clients. Here are some common complaints and excuses you may hear and suggestions for new approaches to take when you do.

I've Been on Enough Diets—I Can't Do it Anymore

This is a big barrier for so many people. Diets have long been considered the way to lose weight, but thankfully this is finally changing, although slowly. What trainers know, and have to teach their clients, is that weight loss, weight maintenance, and better health come with lifestyle changes, not diets.

Your clients who want help losing weight or just improving nutrition may have this initial barrier, this false idea that you are about to put them on yet another diet. Get it out of the way right away and talk about lifestyle, not dieting. Once your clients understand that this will be a process of real changes, help them make those changes, incrementally, one small shift at a time:

  • Tell your clients to ask two questions for each food decision they make: "What can I do that would be a little better?" and "What would be a little worse?"

  • Ask them to make each choice just a little better, like adding another half cup of broccoli to their dinner plate instead of reaching for another handful of grated cheese for the broccoli already there.

  • Track and reward a client's consistency, not perfection. An occasional poor choice is nothing to punish. Encouraging consistency is what will lead to real changes and shift their attitude toward healthy eating.

  • Discuss attitudes about food and self-compassion. Ask your clients to become more aware of negative self-talk and to replace that criticism with compassion.

Share this ISSA blog post to show your clients just how true it is that no single diet can help everyone lose weight.

I Have No Idea What to Eat

A lot of people have a general, vague idea of what healthy food choices look like. For instance, they can recognize that carrot sticks are a better choice than a bag of potato chips. But don't expect your clients to know how to make all the right choices, how to read food labels and grocery shop thoughtfully, or how to meal plan.

To educate and train your client to make better choices, start with simple, easy activities:

  • Have your clients list two processed foods they normally eat and replace each one with a whole food. For instance, replace juice with an apple.

  • Ask your clients to make a typical grocery shopping list. Read through it together and make some tweaks.

  • Ask your clients to add in just two servings of vegetables each day. Give examples of what a serving looks like.

  • Transition your clients away from juice and soda by replacing one per day with a glass of water.

I Don't Have Enough Time to Eat Well

Time is a major roadblock for so many people. Most of your clients work full time and many have families to manage as well. Personal health and fitness for them, especially the moms on your client list, usually come in last on their to-do lists, but this is why they came to you.

For time-crunched clients, planning and prepping is everything. Work with these clients to schedule and plan everything related to food so that making good choices is that much easier. Start with planning when and what to eat on a weekly basis. Then make a grocery list that will allow them to get everything for the week in one trip.

Finally, teach them how to prep ingredients and meals on Sundays. This prep work sets them up for success. During the week, when pressed for time and stressed out is when they will turn to whatever is easiest to grab and eat. After putting in the prep work, they'll be able to easily reach for the best choices and stick with their food plans.

I Can't Say No to My Cravings, Especially Sugar

Just saying no to salty, crunchy, processed, cheesy, and sweet junk foods is truly difficult. What your clients need to know is that the more times they say no, the easier it will get. Most of our surveyed trainers listed sugar as the biggest issue. Some clients just can't say no to it, while others are blissfully unaware of just how much of it is in the foods they eat.

For those who mostly struggle to not give into sugar cravings, it is important to stress making small changes, focusing on an overall lifestyle shift rather than denying all sugary urges, and insisting on self-compassion when they do give in and eat dessert.

Most clients can also benefit from an education in hidden sugars. Look at some real food products together and show your client how to find sugar on nutrition labels, but in the grams of sugar and the ingredient list. Talk about the difference between natural and added sugars and how to limit the latter by choosing more whole foods.

I'm Afraid to Eat Any Carbs

The biggest diet fads now, and for the past couple of decades, are generally low-, or even no-carb. From the Atkins diet to the keto and paleo diets, these fad diets discourage eating most carbs, and this trend has let some clients in mortal fear of consuming them at all. According to trainers and nutrition coaches, many clients think eating carbs is contrary to losing weight.

It's true that if you totally ditch carbs you'll drop weight fast. A lot of this has to do with the fact that carbs cause you to hold onto water. So when you stop eating them you mostly lose water weight. Not eating carbs is not sustainable for most people, though.

Teach your clients about choosing the right carbs, those that are unprocessed and high in fiber like brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes. Tell them to choose from these healthier carbs and to include a handful of one at each meal.

I Need That Glass of Wine to Unwind

Alcoholic drinks are truly empty calories. They provide no nutritional benefit but can easily sabotage healthy eating and weight loss or maintenance. Show your clients these facts about calories in typical drinks[1]:

  • Regular beer, 12 ounces - 153 calories

  • Craft or higher alcohol beer, 12 ounces - 170 to 350 calories

  • White wine, 5 ounces - 128 calories

  • Red wine, 5 ounces - 125 calories

  • Cosmopolitan, 2.75 ounces - 146 calories

  • Margarita, 4 ounces - 168 calories

Cutting back on drinking is an actionable change. It may not be easy, but it is simple to find a solution and to make a plan to eliminate some of these extra calories. Ask your clients to be honest about how much they drink per week and then replace one or two of those with something else: a cup of tea, a short walk to decompress, or a favorite show.

I Eat My Feelings, So What?

Emotional eating is extremely common. We all do it to some extent. Whether it's stress, anxiety, depression, or another feeling, eating emotionally is not healthy.

Stress and Anxiety

Stress is pervasive and anxiety is a typical reaction to it. When your clients are busy with work, family, and other responsibilities, stress can dominate and lead to poor food choices. Here are some strategies you can teach them to curb emotional eating:

  • Name the feeling. Mindfulness, a greater awareness in the present moment, can help manage emotions and resulting behaviors. Before eating mindlessly, stop and name your current mood. Are you stressed, scared, anxious, sad? It helps to take note of what moods lead to emotional eating, so keep a simple mood/food diary.

  • Take a timeout. When the urge to eat because of a particular mood or feeling strikes, take an automatic timeout of one to five minutes. Ride the storm and allow the negative feelings to wash over you like a wave. Chances are, at the end of the timeout, the strong urge to eat will have passed.

  • Substitute. If the urge is still there, make a substitution. Replace food with a healthier coping mechanism. Have a cup of hot tea or coffee, take a quick, five-minute walk, call a friend for a chat, or do a few pushups.

Learn more about how mindfulness can help anyone make better food choices in this ISSA blog post.


If you suspect your client is struggling with depression, recommend that they talk to their doctor about it. Diagnosing or trying to manage depression is out of your wheelhouse, but if your client knows they struggle with depression and that it impacts their food choices, there are ways you can help them tackle the issue.

Disordered Eating

This is another issue that needs to be addressed by a medical professional. If you see disordered eating patterns in your client, like binging, purging, or extreme calorie restriction, insist that they talk to their doctor. Eating disorders are real, psychological and medical illnesses that can cause severe harm, even death. It is not to be taken lightly.

Overcoming Client Diet Struggles - Lead by Example

One of the most important things you can do as a fitness and nutrition coach is to show your clients what healthy eating looks like. Be an example and be an inspiration. It's important to keep some professional distance with clients, but don't be afraid to share some of your personal experiences, how you make healthier choices, and how you have failed and overcome those mistakes. Your example is powerful.

If you want to learn more about nutrition and how to coach clients, check out the ISSA's comprehensive course on Fitness Nutrition.

Client Diet Struggles Handout

Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!

Sign Up & Stay Connected

Receive $50 off your purchase today!

I consent to being contacted by ISSA.
Learn More