Truly horrible fitness advice: “If I can do it, you can do it.”

“If I can do it, you can do it.”

You’ve heard that fitness advice. Maybe you’ve even said the words yourself.

(Sheepishly raises hand.)

And it’s time for this cliché to end.

Especially when it comes to fitness, nutrition, and health.

Because most of the time:

It’s not true. 

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean someone else can do it.

More importantly, this phrase backfires, making people feel worse than before.

Here’s why, and the fitness advice you might want to offer instead.


When we use this fitness advice, we usually have the best of intentions.

Maybe we’re trying to relate to a client: “Hey, I’ve been there!”

Or perhaps we’ve felt inspired by any number of news stories. Think: Blind man climbs Everest.

But there’s a problem.

No two people are exactly the same.

We might, as coaches, think we’re comparing apples (our life) to apples (our client’s life). But more likely, our client knows they’re an orange… and feels misunderstood and alienated—usually for one (or all) of the following reasons.

#1: Someone’s background impacts their health.

Things like where we’re born, how we grew up, and what we do for work shape how we eat, move, and live. They also affect our ability to change for the better.

Technically, these factors are called social determinants of health. And they can influence us positively or negatively.

Examples of social determinants include:

IncomeEducationJob stabilityWork conditionsFood access and securityHousing and environmentEarly childhood developmentSocial communityNeighborhood environmentAccess to affordable and high-quality health care

Social determinants can be more important than lifestyle choices in influencing health, according to the World Health Organization

Here’s how this can play out with clients.

You tell someone to hit the gym. If you can muster the effort to get to the gym on a busy schedule, so can your client, right?

Well no, not necessarily.

Especially if they work long hours and don’t have childcare.

Or maybe you suggest “more veggies” to a virtual client.

You don’t like veggies either, you say, but if you can find a way to eat them, your client can surely figure it out. Except, your client lives with their mother-in-law who cooks all of their main meals, which tend to include few veggies. In your client’s home, everyone thanks the cook, whether they like the food or not.

Does your client have some options? Sure—but not as many as someone who has more control over their dinner plate.

There are thousands of ways social determinants of health can make what’s possible for you (with some hard work) straight up impossible (or a whole lot harder) for someone else. Some social determinants of health are really hard to recognize—especially if you haven’t walked in that person’s shoes. So heed this universal rule of thumb: Don’t make assumptions.

#2: Every person’s body is unique.

Let’s assume you and your client have the same social circumstances.

Is it okay to say “if I can do it, you can do it?”

Spoiler alert: Nope.

Because genetics also play a role. 

Say you’re a person who puts on muscle easily. For you, maintaining a lean, athletic physique means working hard in the gym and keeping a close eye on your nutrition.

Of course, those two things require effort. Maybe a lot of effort.

But a person who has a harder time building muscle, and tends to store fat around their middle thanks to their genes?

They’re not going to get the same results as you—even if they eat and exercise exactly the same way. Those are the genetic cards they’ve been dealt.

So no—they can’t “do it” just because you can.

#3: Some people are luckier than others.

Most people who’ve worked hard to get where they are don’t want to admit that the universe might have helped them out a bit.

Imagine this: You’re an athlete competing at the CrossFit Games.

The final workout—the one that decides who’ll win—happens to be deadlift-focused, something you’re specifically great at. (If it’d been snatches, it’d be a totally different situation.)

When you win the CrossFit Games after that final workout, it doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard. But did you also benefit from the luck of the draw? Yup.

Perhaps a more relatable example: Maybe you met a coach or friend—just as you’re ready to make a change—who revolutionizes how you think about nutrition and fitness. And that sets you down the path to a healthier lifestyle.

In an alternate universe, where you didn’t meet that amazing coach at the right time, it might’ve taken you a whole longer to get where you are today.

The point: Don’t discount the “right place, right time” effect.

3 better ways to help your clients

Use all three together—or pick what works best in a given conversation.

1. Use limited relatability.

Say someone’s going through a divorce, and their coach has been through one, too. It could be tempting to offer advice like:

“I know this is a hard time for you. My divorce was brutal! But I managed to stay on top of my nutrition while going through mine, so I know you can do it.”


There’s a better way to use the experiences you have in common with a client, without making assumptions about their situation.

It’s called limited relatability, which helps you relate, while also allowing your client to feel heard and understand.

To master the technique, use this simple two-step formula.

Share your experience:“I know what [fill in the blank] looks like for me.”Get curious about your client’s experience by asking an open-ended question:What does it look like for you?”

Translated to a real-life coaching conversation, you might say something like:

“That sounds tough. When I was struggling with binge eating, I felt so powerless and frustrated. What are you feeling in this moment?”

2. Notice and name the bright spot.

This strategy is all about taking a moment to appreciate and applaud what your client has just shared.

You might say:

“You know what? It actually takes pretty amazing self-awareness to identify and acknowledge that this is a barrier for you right now. What does it feel like to have such a firm grasp on your situation?”

Or maybe:

“We can talk problem-solving in a second, but before we do that, I want to pause and tell you that it’s amazing you’ve pinpointed this as an issue. I don’t know if you’d have been able to do that six months ago!”

This can be really effective because the client isn’t expecting to pause. They’re expecting ways to move forward. You’re giving them a moment to stop, take stock, and reflect on their awesomeness before taking action.

3. Inspire them with their own accomplishments.

Let’s say your client’s apprehensive about the idea of shutting down earlier to get more sleep.

Instead of that old “if I can do it, you can do it” advice, try highlighting their past accomplishments. That could sound like:

“You know what? You actually told me this exact same thing a couple of months ago about going to the gym. And now you’re going regularly! We can talk about specific strategies to make going to bed earlier more doable, but also, remember how far you’ve come.”

Basically, instead of saying “if I can do it, you can do it,” you’re saying, “if you can do this one thing, you can do this other thing!”

You’re showing them that you see their hard work.

And most importantly, because of that hard work, you believe in them.

When you use the above strategies with your clients, you’ll accomplish something that the phrase “If I can do it, so can you” just can’t:

You’ll help them feel heard, seen, and valued.

That’ll go a long way towards strengthening your relationship—and ultimately help your clients get better results.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.


If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.


The post Truly horrible fitness advice: “If I can do it, you can do it.” appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

Did you miss our previous article…

So you made a mistake with a client—now what?

The moment Dr. Karin Nordin exited the Zoom call, she knew she’d made a crucial mistake.

It was her first coaching session with a brand-new client, and from the get-go, things felt a little off.

The client (let’s call her Dierdre) was feeling emotional. Within minutes, tears were shed.

And when Dr. Nordin offered advice, Dierdre swiftly rejected it.

That’s when Nordin, a mild-mannered person and seasoned professional, did something out of character:

She got mad.

Instead of applying her coaching expertise, she found herself ranting at Deirdre, challenging her excuses, and trying to force her to change.

Naturally, the more insistent Nordin got, the more obstinate Deirdre became.

By the time she closed her laptop, Dr. Nordin knew without a doubt… that client wasn’t coming back.

What do you do when you screw up?

Turns out, you can learn from Dr. Nordin’s experience. 

Nordin’s a PN Certified coach, a curriculum advisor to Precision Nutrition, and has a PhD in Health Communication.

She also considers herself a pro at making mistakes. Well, not just making mistakes, but growing from them.

Her academic and professional expertise is in something called growth mindset, which views mistakes and failures as springboards for improvement.

(And yes, the term “growth mindset” is almost a cliché these days, but it’s an actual research-based psychological discipline, and something we can all benefit from.)

Here’s how Dr. Nordin bounced-back from her mistake—and how you can do the same.

(For even more helpful coaching advice, sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter, The Smartest Coach in the Room.)

Step 1. If you feel compelled to fix it right now… wait.

You know that almost barfy feeling you get when you mess up?

Dr. Nordin feels it too. After her conversation with Dierdre, “I felt vomity and gross for a while. I kept thinking, ‘I handled that so poorly, this is the worst’.”

While her natural impulse was to try to fix her mistake, she chose to wait a full 24 hours before taking action.

“We want to be able to react in a neutral state, or as neutral as possible,” she explains. “And that can take a bit of time.”

In other words, the classic ‘sleep on it’ advice still applies. Of course, that can take a bit of discipline (especially if your tendency is to fix things right away.)

“I knew I’d be thinking about it while I lay in bed at night,” says Nordin, “but with a bit of distance I was able to respond to the situation much better.”

The takeaway: Your inclination might be to try to make things right, immediately. But don’t rush. You’ll likely respond from a calmer, more rational headspace the following day.

Step 2. Practice radical responsibility.

A big part of coaching is helping clients recognize the autonomy and control they have over their choices and actions.

This is empowering: Clients begin to realize they have what it takes to change their habits, and achieve their goals.

That same principle applies to coaches, too. Especially after we’ve goofed up.

“I find it very useful to take a ‘radical responsibility’ perspective,” says Nordin.

“No matter the situation, I say to myself: Let’s just pretend for a moment that 100 percent of this is my fault. Then, on that basis, I ask myself: What can I do about it?”

Depending on your mistake, the answer might be obvious.

For example, if you gave a client information that turned out to be wrong, simply own up to the mistake and provide them with the correct details.

But even if the mistake was more cringe-worthy, Nordin says acknowledgment is still a good way to go.

In the case with Dierdre, Nordin waited 24 hours—and then penned an email that went something like this:

Hey Dierdre, 

I know our conversation got really heated, and I apologize for that. What you do in your life is 100 percent your choice—not mine.

I totally understand that you don’t want to move forward with coaching, and I’ve refunded your deposit. 

Thank you for your time. I wish you the best in all your future endeavors.

The takeaway: Resist the temptation to blame the client, deny the mistake, justify it, or sweep it under the rug. Take ownership for your actions, and do your best to right the wrong. This approach is not only more professional—it’s also more empowering.

Step 3. Look for the growth opportunity.

Once you’ve done the right thing on behalf of the client, consider what you can learn from the experience.

“My mistake taught me a lot about my coaching practice and how to market myself as a behavior change coach,” says Nordin.

Her biggest realization?

That she hadn’t properly communicated to Dierdre what to expect in their coaching session. “I think she expected someone who would just listen to her and help her sort through her emotional issues, whereas my coaching is more about habit change.”

And yes, client resistance is a normal part of change. But if Nordin had given Dierdre a better idea of what her behavior coaching typically entails, they might have avoided the conflict.

“It wasn’t Deirdre’s fault. Many people don’t know what behavior change coaching is all about,” adds Nordin. “I need to do a better job helping people understand what to expect when they work with me.”

The takeaway: Don’t beat yourself up for your mistake. Instead, focus on how you can use it as a learning experience. Aim to come up with at least one thing you’ll work on improving or do differently next time.

Step 4. Get curious with yourself.

In addition to professional growth, mistakes can be an opportunity to understand ourselves better.

Sure, sometimes mistakes are just mistakes—caused by inexperience or lack of knowledge. But they often point to areas where we can dig deeper.

“This is especially the case if it becomes a pattern,” says Nordin. “For example, if you find yourself repeatedly getting aggravated or tense, you might be projecting your issues onto the client.”

After the situation with Dierdre, Dr. Nordin asked herself, “Why did I get so mad about that?”

Ultimately, she decided that her emotional outburst had been triggered by some personal issues that she’d been neglecting.

So, being the growth-minded person she is, she decided to explore them with a therapist.

The takeaway: Do some honest self-reflection. Sure, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” (That’s a Sigmund Freud quote, in case you’ve never seen it.)

On the other hand, some blunders (especially repeated ones) could serve as a wake-up call, or even a personal breakthrough.

Yes, mistakes might suck in the moment. But if you can approach them with curiosity, an open mind, and a dose of compassion, they just might make you a better coach—and a happier person.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.


If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.


The post So you made a mistake with a client—now what? appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

Level 1: “I’ll be happier when I lose weight” is a recipe for regret. Here’s the counterintuitive solution.

“I’ll be happy when I fit into my old Levi’s.”

(They really did make your butt look good.)

Have you ever said something like that?

Or how about:

“I’ll be happy when I earn a six-figure income.”

“I’ll be happy when my kid gets into a good college.”

“I’ll be happy when I meet my person.”

Truth is, most of us have a belief like these floating around in our psyche.

If you’re a coach, you’ve probably seen this too:

Clients who believe they’ll only be happy when they reach a certain weight, body fat percentage, or athletic achievement.

“Enjoy the journey? Pfft. It’s all about the destination,” they say.

Of course, some eagerness to cross the finish line is normal, and totally okay.

And hey, having goals is awesome. 

Goals give you a sense of purpose and direction, and encourage you to grow beyond your previous capacities into a wiser, better version of yourself.  Plus, research shows that goal-setting is a sign of confidence, commitment, autonomy, and motivation.1,2

The problem is, some people perpetually delay their happiness thinking a better life is always just on the horizon.

But in this article, we’ll discuss this counterintuitive fact:

Reaching a goal won’t always make you happy.

In fact, focusing too much on the outcome of your goals can make you miss the potential you have for happiness RIGHT NOW.

If you think that might be you (or a client), check out the quick three-step process below.

This quick exercise will benefit anyone who feels:

Like their life is on hold until they’ve reached their goalLike their goal is making them miserableWorried their goal may not be sustainable, or even possible

Sound familiar? Read on.

Enjoy your goals (and life) more, in 3 steps.

These steps are a mix of “thinky” work—to bring awareness to your beliefs and behaviors—and “doing” work. (Tip: It’s the doing that will actually change those limiting beliefs and behaviors.)

Thinky-brain and doing-body, activate!

Step 1: Find out what your “I’ll be happy when…” beliefs are.

Grab a scrap of paper and brainstorm all your “I’ll be happy when…” beliefs.

You might have many.

For example:

“I’ll be happy when…

… I have visible abs.”… I move into a bigger house.”… I finish top five in my next triathlon.”

Anything goes.

Once you’ve done a proper brain dump, pick one from the list to focus on—preferably the one that feels most important and urgent.

(If you’re enjoying this article and want more helpful nutrition, health, and coaching advice—delivered straight to your inbox—sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter, The Smartest Coach in the Room.)

Step 2: Uncover how you’ve been holding yourself back.

Now it’s time to do a little digging.


What are all the things you’re waiting to do or feel until you achieve your goal?

These aren’t only the things you’re excited for, but ones you’re not “allowing” yourself to have just yet.

For example: “Once I’m 20 pounds lighter, I’ll…

… let myself wear the clothes I like.”… start dating again.”

Or: “Once I’m making six figures, I’ll…

… feel like a success.”… start taking weekends off.”

Or: “Once I meet my soulmate, I’ll…

… finally feel confident.”… go on a Mediterranean cruise.”

Chances are, you’ll come up with a range of things—some trivial and some very meaningful—that you’re not allowing yourself to experience. Likely because of a belief you don’t deserve to do or feel those things until you’re “better.”

Well, we’ve got a surprise for you…

Step 3: Stop waiting, and live.

Once you realize you’ve been holding yourself back from feeling good about yourself, and doing all these cool, meaningful things, it may explain why you’ve been so impatient to just get there already.

It may also explain why you perhaps haven’t been enjoying the process of getting to your goal.

Somewhere inside, there’s a part of you that believes your life can’t really start until you achieve your goal. And that you’re not “supposed” to have good things happen to you until you’re leaner, faster, stronger, or more successful.

This might be an uncomfortable realization. Uncovering that belief might make you feel sad, relieved, angry, or any combination of emotions.

You may want to take some time to unpack those feelings. However, nothing creates significant change more than action.

So, pick the easiest, lowest-hanging next tangible step to start living and feeling the way you want.

For example:

Create a dating profile, using pictures of what you look like right now.Buy a pair of shorts, a muscle tank, a sundress, or whatever item of clothing you’ve been waiting to wear—in your size—and wear it proudlyConsider how you’re already successful: Feel excited to show up to work? That’s success!Stand tall, and say nice things to yourself about your worthiness as a person.Book a solo fun weekend trip for yourself. (It’s not a Mediterranean cruise, but it’s a start.)

Bottom line: Allow yourself to feel and do the things you would if you’d achieved your goal, even if you haven’t achieved it yet.

This might feel uncomfortable. But with some practice, you’ll discover…

Happiness isn’t the effect of achieving goals. It’s the cause.

Once you stop holding yourself back, you might find your goal becomes less important. (Maybe your happiness doesn’t hinge on fitting into those jeans, after all.)

Or perhaps the goal is still important, but you enjoy the steps you need to take to get there more now that you’re no longer putting your life on hold.

Either way, you’ll likely find that whether or not you’ve achieved your goal, you’re starting to behave, live, and feel like the kind of person who would achieve it.

Because even though accomplishing a goal feels good, people usually don’t want the outcome of the goal so much as they want to become the kind of person who gets that outcome.

You’re not just able to bench X weight. You’re a fit person.

Your kid didn’t just make it into an Ivy League. You’re a good parent.

You don’t just make six figures. You’re a smart and capable professional.

You didn’t just win the race. You’re a winner.

This is the secret to why the process above works. Because whether or not you’ve made it to your own personal finish line, your identity starts to shift towards the kind of person you’ve always wanted to be.


You’re doing the things that kind of person would do.

The best part?

You’re not waiting anymore.

You’re just living.



Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

1. Eckhoff DO, Weiss J. Goal setting: A concept analysis. Nurs Forum. 2020 Apr;55(2):275–81.

2. Locke EA, Latham GP. New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2006 Oct 1;15(5):265–8.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.


If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.


The post Level 1: “I’ll be happier when I lose weight” is a recipe for regret. Here’s the counterintuitive solution. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

Precision Nutrition Certified Coach Spotlight: Nicolas Gunn

It started with Arnold.

Growing up in Argentina, Nicolas Gunn watched loads of American movies and, like many teenagers in the 1990s, became inspired by the Terminator himself.

Gunn hung posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger on his wall and started hitting the gym with his friends, talking supplements and training techniques.

He dove into learning everything he could about “all the bro science,” as Gunn puts it.

The passion endured, becoming Gunn’s focus at university. He finished “Licentiate en Nutritión” (roughly the same as a Registered Dietitian in the United States) and, after a brief stint as a personal trainer, worked as Chief of Food Service at several hospitals for many years. “But I was always more interested in body composition than clinical work,” he explains.

Meanwhile, he and his wife explored their passion for adventure and travel. And when Gunn was 35, they decided to move to New Zealand, a warm-weather, English speaking country they loved.

There was just one problem: The Nutrition Society of New Zealand—the organization where Gunn would like to be registered as a dietitian, doesn’t accept overseas experience. He’d have to start from scratch, and it’d likely take years to gain his credentials back.

Gunn preferred to start an online coaching practice anyway, so he registered with a governing body with fewer requirements and turned his passion for muscle into a marketable niche.

Today, Gunn’s coaching business, Stamina Holistic Nutrition, focuses on serving women and men between the ages of 35 and 50, helping them build muscle for both aesthetics and better health.

In just two years, he’s gone from one-on-one consults with clients to coaching dozens online. He recently hired two new staffers and sees the company growing exponentially from here.

“I’m helping not only my clients, but also other nutritionists and coaches with what I’ve learned about scaling this business,” Gunn says.

Want to know all the details? Here’s how he made it happen.

Precision Nutrition Certified Coach Nicolas Gunn

Why did you decide to get Precision Nutrition Certified?

New Zealand’s accreditation system for nutrition differs from Argentina’s. But that’s only part of the story.

Gunn had taken a few years off to travel before embarking on a coaching business in his new country. So he decided to give his nutrition (and coaching) knowledge a refresh.

“I knew I needed a course to strip off the rust. In my research, I found the Precision Nutrition Certification. It was science-based, available online, and had great reviews—including from other dietitians and nutritionists.”

Expecting a simple refresher, Gunn was surprised by how much of the information in the course was new to him.

“Once I got into it, I realized there was a lot that I didn’t know. Especially the stuff about body composition—I didn’t learn that stuff at uni.”

Another new element: change psychology.

“In the Cert, I learned about the psychology of change. Again, I’d taken a course or two at uni but never went that deep. And it’s really the most important part of coaching.”

(Want health, nutrition, and coaching insights delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter, The Smartest Coach in the Room.)

Other than your own interests, why specialize in muscle gain?

Sure, back when he had Arnold posters taped to his wall, Gunn was interested in gaining muscle because of how it looked.

But today, he’s an advocate of muscle for reasons that go way beyond aesthetics.

“Muscle, as well as overall strength, isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s also about health,” he says. “I used to think that performance, aesthetics, and health were all separate things, but really, they all overlap.”

As Gunn’s clients build muscle, he says they not only look better and train better, they also feel better, sleep better, and become more productive at work.

“Clients will say to me, ‘Before, I couldn’t lift anything that was slightly heavy, and now I can rearrange the furniture in my house by myself.’ Things that were hard or impossible before are now doable. That’s really life-changing.”

And yes, the aesthetics matter too.

“Changing their body composition does give clients a confidence boost,” Gunn notes. “Some of my clients have started dating again and found partners after years of having very little self-confidence.”

What are the typical challenges for clients 30-50 who want to gain muscle?

“Compared to a younger population, people in the age bracket of 30 to 50 are more likely to have other health conditions or pre-existing injuries to work around,” says Gunn.

“With this population, there may also be some lingering misconceptions about nutrition.”

Like protein intake.

“I’ve noticed that protein intake is very low in this population in general. They worry that a high-protein diet will harm their health, damage their kidneys, and so on. Younger people might know more about the value of protein, but someone in their late 30s or 40s might still be skeptical.”

Despite these differences, Gunn says the basic principles of nutrition—like eating whole foods, lean protein, healthy fats, smart carbs and vegetables—still apply.

And that’s, of course, where coaching comes in.

re more women interested in gaining muscle these days?

“Definitely,” says Gunn.

He admits the common belief that lifting heavy will automatically make you “bulky” is still around, but he thinks that’s changing a lot.

“The women I talk to know the importance of lifting weights. They know that lifting won’t make them bulky if they don’t want that. And sure, maybe they want to look better—but mainly, they want to get stronger.”

In the latter half of his age demographic (40s to 50s) the emphasis on health increases.

Gunn observes that women who are perimenopausal or menopausal want to maintain muscle mass as they age, keep up their overall energy levels, prevent osteoporosis, and protect their overall health.

What would you say to a coach who is thinking about focusing their business on a niche market?

“It’s definitely worth doing,” Gunn says. “For one thing, I’ve found that having a niche really helps when it comes to marketing yourself and setting yourself apart.”

Gunn says his business is consistently growing as a result.

“It’s also given me more confidence in my expertise,” he says. “When I took the PN Cert, I realized that some of the things I’d learned had become outdated. Now, every time I give advice or write a blog post, I feel good about what I have to say. I can confidently say I know my stuff.”

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.


If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.


The post Precision Nutrition Certified Coach Spotlight: Nicolas Gunn appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

How I stopped tracking macros with my clients—and started seeing better results.

Here’s an unpopular opinion…

Macro-style food logging and tracking (think: MyFitnessPal) is NOT the best way to coach your clients on nutrition.

There, I said it. Now hear me out…

I’ve been a nutrition coach for over 10 years and have worked with more than 1,000 clients. I now use my knowledge and skills to help gym owners and coaches grow and systemize their own businesses, so I get to see how coaching methods work on a large scale.

I’ve tried many different nutrition coaching styles over the last decade: entirely macro-based, habit coaching with food tracking, and entirely habit-based with no macros at all.

What if I told you that when I stopped having clients count macros, they experienced:

Better resultsHigher complianceA happier journeyLess stressBetter eating intuitionA longer coach/client relationship

Well, that’s exactly what happened.

Make no mistake: I don’t hate macros. They definitely have their place.

(Related: The complete guide to using—and coaching—macros.)

But for 99 percent of clients, I just think there’s a better way.

So what is it?

Photos, people. Photos.

I have clients track what they eat by taking a picture of their meal.

It’s simple, easy, and effective—and as a result, you get high compliance.

But the best part? It provides way more information and coaching opportunities than conventional tracking.

I know what some of you are saying:

“You can’t determine calories or macros with only photos!”

It doesn’t matter.

When it comes to food, there are more important details to address than WHAT clients are eating.

And photos help you see what macro-tracking can’t: the full picture.

To get the most out of them, though, you’ll need to know what to look for.

I have a method for that.

I call this method The 5 Ws.

Who, when, where, why, and what.

Let me explain each, along with the coaching opportunities they present.

(And for more nutrition, health, and coaching advice, sign up for PN’s FREE weekly newsletter, The Smartest Coach in The Room.)

1. Who are they eating with?

Who someone eats with can impact the food choices they make, as well as the amount of food they consume.

Have you ever had a friend who eats super healthy? Ever find yourself making healthier choices while eating with this person?

The inverse is also true. It’s more tempting to go wild on a Friday night when your friend, partner, or coworker is indulging, too.

Sometimes, simply helping your client gain awareness that they tend to overeat around a certain person can be a game-changer. (And no, I’m not suggesting they end the relationship.)

2. When are they eating?

Did your client  (unintentionally) wait until 3 pm for lunch because they got busy or didn’t plan properly?

Here’s an example of when this kind of info can be super useful. If you uncover a pattern of missed meals, you can look at why that’s happening and either:

Option 1: Help your client build more structure into their day to prevent missing mealsOption 2: Come up with “if-then” scenarios for when it does happen. Example: “IF I miss my lunch, THEN I will get XYZ meal/snack”

3. Where are they eating?

You can learn a lot from looking at your client’s eating environment.

➤ Are they sitting at their desk in front of their keyboard, working through lunch? They might not be taking the time to chew their food thoroughly, which could lead to overeating.

Here, you might work on eating to 80 percent full as a next step.

(Learn more: How to eat until 80% full)

➤ Are they sitting on the couch watching TV? They might be chowing down mindlessly, another reason folks overeat.

In this case, you might focus on learning to eat slowly.

(See: The 30-day slow eating challenge.)

➤ Are they eating at a dinner table? That’s great! They appear to set time aside for meals and are developing great habits here. (Can you say bright spots?)

➤ Does their food appear to come from their own kitchen, or is it in takeout containers? If your client logs chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato on a traditional food tracking log, you don’t know if that’s homemade or picked up from a local fast-casual restaurant, potentially laden with hidden oils and lots of sodium.

This could be an opportunity to educate them on different food preparation techniques, and explain why a home-cooked meal could be a better choice for their goals.

4. Why are they eating?

As coaches, we’d really benefit from asking this question more often.

Do people always eat out of hunger? Hardly.

People eat for a plethora of reasons, and hunger is often not the driving force. For example, people frequently eat because they’re happy, sad, stressed, tired, thirsty, or bored, or it could be due to environment, habit, culture, or tradition.

If you find that a client’s stress eating, you could help them find ways to better manage their stress, such as meditation and exercise.

Or perhaps they’re a social butterfly, and for them, eating is part of the social experience.

You can collaborate with your client on ways to make the best choices possible while celebrating with their friends and family—rather than feeling like they have to stay home.

Ignoring the many reasons why your client eats can make them feel like there’s something wrong with them. Instead, help them develop the tools to lean into their WHY in a positive way.

5. What are they eating?

To me, this is the least important question. Because in my opinion, there’s not a great coaching opportunity here.

If your client isn’t making great choices, more than likely, one of the other 5 Ws is at play.

How does it work, exactly?

Here are some practical tips for putting this strategy into practice.

➤ Use photo logging when onboarding clients. For the first two weeks working together, I have clients take daily photos of their meals.

Then, they upload the photos into folders organized by meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks, for example.

After the first two weeks, I let the client choose if they want to continue taking photos.

➤ Look for patterns. You might notice your client is frequently skipping breakfast or snacks while feeling hungry throughout the day.

These patterns provide a great starting point for your coaching.

(You can encourage your client to look for patterns as they eat by using resources like Precision Nutrition’s Eating Behaviors Journal and How Food Feels Journal.)

➤ Make it collaborative. I don’t typically do official “reviews” of client photo logs.

You never want your client to feel like they’re being graded.

Instead, try asking questions about their photos rather than making statements about what you see.

For instance, you might ask: How did this breakfast work for you? How did you feel a few hours later?

➤ Let your client suggest next steps. Once you’ve worked together to identify some areas for improvement, ask your client what they feel like they could change with confidence.

This is where they decide on a new action to practice.

My goal isn’t to persuade you to abandon macros.

(Especially if that approach is working great for you.)

Rather, I want to share an alternative tool that’s profoundly affected the way I coach.

Give it a try.

I know it can be scary, but in my experience with over a thousand people, you’ll get better results and much happier, more balanced clients in the end.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.


If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.


The post How I stopped tracking macros with my clients—and started seeing better results. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

Social connections: Could they be even more important than cholesterol?

Reviewed by Karin Nordin, PhD

“More hugs.”

Ever seen a health professional write that on a prescription note?

Probably not.

Though we’re often told to improve our health by eating right, moving regularly, sleeping well, and taking the recommended meds, it’s less common to be told to focus on our relationships.

That might be a mistake.

Because here’s what we’re discovering:

Social health is vital—and in some cases, it’s a bigger priority than exercise or nutrition.

The impact of poor relationships is so severe that some experts have argued physicians should screen for social isolation just as they screen for heart disease or diabetes.1

One study even found that satisfaction with relationships at midlife is a better predictor of long-term health than cholesterol levels.2 (Not to exaggerate the findings of one study, but it does illustrate the importance of social wellbeing.)

If you’re a health coach, relationships may impact your clients’ progress as much as how friendly they are with salad, or the daily steps they average.

The good news: We don’t need hundreds of new friends to improve social health. (And actually, a few quality relationships may be better than lots of weak connections.3)

In this article, we’ll provide three strategies you can use to help clients (and yourself) leverage quality social health—and health overall.

Read on, friend.

What does “social health” mean anyway?

Hope this doesn’t offend anyone but…

We aren’t that different from monkeys.

Okay, maybe you don’t pick through your mate’s back hair for snacks.

But much like our genetic cousins, we humans are social animals. So much so that it’s impossible to separate our physical health from our social health.

As the graphic shows below, the two are that intertwined. 4,5

Graphical depiction of the importance of social health. The title says

What if your social group doesn’t encourage health?

Your nacho-loving beer buddies.

Your “just one more helping” family member.

The cast of Arrested Development that keeps you glued to the couch.

You’ve probably heard the advice: “If you want to be healthy, hang out with healthy people.”

The advice is well-meaning, based on results from the Framingham Heart Study that revealed just how impactful our social context is. (One finding: You’re more likely to be happy, depressed, or obese if your closest friend is happy, depressed, or obese.6)

Despite this, we love our beer buddies, sloppy and loud as they are. And Grandma’s pie-pushing comes from love. And no one wants to live in a world where dysfunctional family sitcoms don’t exist.

Our social circles often define our identities; we’re very attached to our familiar groups. This remains true even if the friend, family, or professional group we belong to isn’t necessarily good for us.2

For many, the idea of leaving a stressful or unhelpful social base is up there with being asked to live on a desert island… naked and alone… with snakes.

If someone suggests you swap an unhealthy social group for a healthy one, you’ll almost surely dig in and resist. (And your clients will do the same.)

That’s why when addressing clients’ social groups, coaches should listen more than they advise, and draw out a client’s own wisdom.

Try asking:

“Is this relationship still benefiting you?How does this relationship relate to your current goals, priorities, and values?”

After reflecting on those questions, a few clients might decide they need to find new friends or roomies.

But not usually.

And that’s okay—because as a coach, you still have three powerful strategies to help clients strengthen their existing social bonds, so they can improve their overall health.

Strategy #1: Amplify the coach-client relationship

You’re part of your client’s social network.

In fact, there’s a fancy-pants name for the coach-client bond: the therapeutic alliance. It refers to the level of trust and rapport between a practitioner and the person they’re helping.

A strong therapeutic alliance can help a person feel supported and understood while surfing the tides of change.

And get this:

Client results are up to 85 percent dependent on the therapeutic alliance.

The stronger that relationship, the better the results.

How do you strengthen this bond?

Highlight your clients’ awesomeness. Point out their strengths and what they’re doing right. As much as possible, try to see your client from a compassionate, non-judgemental, and positive perspective.

Embrace client-led coaching. Help clients identify their own limiting factors and propose their own solutions. You’re a knowledgeable guide, but only a client knows what’s best for themselves.

Listen and validate. When a client is suffering, they probably don’t need you to search PubMed for more evidence. More than facts, your clients often need understanding, support, and creativity to get them through the tough stuff.

(Want to build trust and connection with clients? Read: “I’m a coach, not a therapist!” 9 ways to help people change while staying within your scope)

Strategy #2: Create intentionally welcoming spaces

Take a critical look at the virtual and/or in person gathering spots you oversee as a part of your coaching practice.

Are they places where members feel welcome, championed, and safe?

Do clients want to hang out in these spaces?

If you decide your coaching community needs some work, consider this advice from Precision Nutrition super coach Jon Mills, PN2, who’s been building and maintaining successful coaching communities for years.

Know who you’re welcoming—and who you’re not.

Many coaches see themselves as the coach for everyone. That’s a mistake, says Mills. “When you welcome everybody, you by default welcome nobody,” he says.

Think deeply about the type of clients you want to attract and retain. Then consider what they might want from a community—and what might repel them.

For inspiration, consider what Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly, the gym Mills runs in Vancouver, British Columbia did to cater to the queer community:

Posted a pronouns policyOffered non-gendered restroomsHung a pride flag in the front window

Those details helped clients know immediately whether the space was for them, Mills says.

Communicate your values and expectations.

Post a code of conduct. This helps clients know the rules that help keep your community safe and welcoming.

As an example, in our Precision Nutrition Facebook communities, our first rule is this:

Be respectful.

And we explain what we mean by that.

Everyone wins: Members know what to expect, and how to behave.

Uphold your group rules.

Don’t just pay lip service to values like helpfulness and respect.

You must actively reinforce them, Mills says. “It’s worse to have a code of conduct and not enforce it than to have no code of conduct at all,” he says.

Rule reinforcement is especially important if, like Mills, you coach clients who often feel unwelcome in typical spaces. When done right, you can create an atmosphere like the (now online) Valkyrie martial arts studio did pre-pandemic:

Valkyrie invited people to register for couch time—just as you’d register for sweating it out in a class. On any given day, you could find people chatting, laughing, and bonding.

For them, the studio was more than a gym. It was home.

Small group coaching: Where individualized attention and supportive group dynamics meet

For more than 21 years, Alwyn Cosgrove has gathered and stored data for every single training session with clients at Results Fitness, the gym he owns in Santa Clarita, California. That information—from roughly 40,000 yearly sessions—functions like an ongoing research study.

And it‘s led to a counterintuitive finding:

Clients do better when they train in small groups than when they work one-on-one with a coach or trainer.

This remains true even when clients are following different programs, Cosgrove says.

“You’d assume people would get better results when working only with a trainer because they’re getting more individualized attention,” says Cosgrove. “But the less individualized attention in a group setting seems to be offset by group dynamics.”

That might be because fellow clients “get” each other, allowing them to cheer one another on in ways friends and family may not be able to.

Strategy #3: Rally the support of family and friends

In coaching more than 100,000 clients, we’ve noticed something:

Most people focus on their shortcomings rather than their successes.

This negative focus tends to discourage and demotivate people.

That’s why, “at some point in virtually all of my clients’ journeys, we’ll have a conversation about building a cheer squad,” says Mills.

When friends and family support a client’s goals, values, and priorities, that client tends to be successful. There’s a sense of “we’re in this together,” says Precision Nutrition super coach Toni Bauer, PN2.

(Want to help clients get clear on the kind of support they need, and who to get it from? Use this FREE worksheet: Social Support Form)

But friends and family usually need a few pointers.

Because they can sometimes also be the people who (often unintentionally) sabotage a client’s progress by…

… Asking, “Hey, want some ice cream?” while scooping out two big bowls.

… Making comments like, “Wow, you’re eating less than usual. Are you okay?”

… Guilt-tripping, saying, “Oh come on, drink with us!” or “I made this cake just for you! Don’t hurt my feelings, now.”

As much as possible, try to allow the client to lead this solution-finding mission, says Bauer.

If you jump in with too many suggestions, your client will likely continually tell you, “No, that won’t work. You just don’t understand my friends/family.”

When brainstorming ways to overcome sticky issues with family and friends, Bauer suggests you ask questions like:

Has there been a time in your life when trying something new has worked smoothly in your household? If so, what was that like?

Could you tell me how you’ve communicated with your friends or family in the past? Let’s discuss what worked and what didn’t.

What’s the easiest, low-hanging-fruit change you can make that’s minimally disruptive to your friends’/family’s habits?

After contemplation, clients might come up with their own ideas.

If they get stuck, however, ask:

Do you need help with this? Are you interested in hearing some ideas that have worked for other clients?

If they say yes, you might tell them about that client with a nut allergy who asked her wife to only buy ice cream with nuts. The client knew she wouldn’t be tempted by nut-loaded ice cream, and it allowed her wife to keep a sweet treat in the house.

(For help navigating resistance from friends and family, read: 3 counterintuitive strategies for getting loved ones to support your healthy lifestyle.)

Our social circles don’t have to be perfect to benefit us.

It’s nice when goals align with with loved ones:

Your household sits down and EVERYONE wants to try your new kale loaf.

But really, whose life is that??!

In reality, just like us, our friends and family are a mishmash of virtues and vices.

But that’s not what defines us.

Instead, it’s our willingness to accept and support each other wherever we’re at, that makes relationships so life-giving.

Social groups may never be ideal, but they can usually be improved by building on what’s already working, and adding on as needed.

With this mindset, your beer buddies may continue to love their brews, but cheers to you even if you decide to opt for seltzer.

(And who knows, maybe seltzer pong could be a thing.)



Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

1. Larrabee Sonderlund A, Thilsing T, Sondergaard J. Should social disconnectedness be included in primary-care screening for cardiometabolic disease? A systematic review of the relationship between everyday stress, social connectedness, and allostatic load. PLoS One. 2019 Dec 19;14(12):e0226717.

2. Malone JC, Cohen S, Liu SR, Vaillant GE, Waldinger RJ. Adaptive midlife defense mechanisms and late-life health. Pers Individ Dif. 2013 Jul 1;55(2):85–9.

3. Umberson D, Montez JK. Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51 Suppl:S54–66.

4. House JS, Landis KR, Umberson D. Social relationships and health. Science. 1988 Jul 29;241(4865):540–5.

5. Eisenberger NI, Lieberman MD, Williams KD. Does rejection hurt? An FMRI study of social exclusion. Science. 2003 Oct 10;302(5643):290–2.

6. Bzdok D, Dunbar RIM. The Neurobiology of Social Distance. Trends Cogn Sci. 2020 Sep;24(9):717–33.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.


If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.


The post Social connections: Could they be even more important than cholesterol? appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

4 ways to find your niche as a nutrition coach

Liz Durant was unstoppable.

She packed 25 marathons into eight years before advancing to ultra-marathons—all while juggling a demanding career in accounting and finance, raising three kids, moving frequently, and squeezing in some competitive tennis, too.

At 45, Durant was offered a job as a personal trainer at a local gym. She decided to take it, jumping at the chance to share her love of running in a meaningful and purposeful way.

She dove headfirst into her new hustle, working to gain expertise in nutrition (through the PN Level 1 and Level 2 Certifications), endurance, and women-specific coaching.

Any given week, she’d teach 10 group fitness classes; spend 20-30 hours training in-person and online clients; train for her next race; chip away at certifications and other continuing ed; and of course be there for her family and friends too.

By her early 50s, Durant noticed it was getting harder to meet the demands. Hot flashes kept her awake at night. Injuries became commonplace. Durant felt burned out, struggling to keep up with her schedule.

She came to accept that she was entering a new phase of life. With help from a coach, Durant made adjustments to her lifestyle and nutrition habits.

“I had to really assess what was essential, and let go of some things that were not,” Durant says. “I practiced balancing my clients with my own training needs, and prioritizing my ‘big rocks’—sleep, stress, movement, and food.”

Before too long, Durant was back to feeling good and crushing her schedule.

And that’s how it hit her.

She would focus her coaching business, Affinity Fitness, on women just like her: 50-somethings who want to maintain an active, busy, healthy life, even while dealing with the realities of aging.

And that’s how she ended up finding her niche as a nutrition coach. Here are four illuminating lessons Durant learned from her experience—plus tips for you to try, too.

Precision Nutrition Certified Coach Liz Durant.

Lesson #1: Make it personal.

The more intimately you understand what your clients are up against, the more effectively you can support them.

Durant knew: “The 50s are a perfect storm of physical and lifestyle changes.”

Here are her clients’ top challenges, plus how she targets them.

It’s been a while since they prioritized themselves.

Many women in their 50s have spent years or decades caring for others, losing touch with their own bodies and needs in the process. (Durant has also found preliminary research on disordered eating and empty nest women, which aligns with anecdotal evidence from her coaching practice.)

Durant helps clients practice listening to their bodies, so they can relearn signals like hunger and fullness cues.

They’re experiencing hormone changes.

As a result, many clients notice decreased energy.

“Performance and training start to suffer,” Durant notes. “Then your sleep is disrupted because of hot flashes. Plus, you’re more prone to injury.”

To address this, Durant helps clients adapt training and recovery to their bodies’ evolved needs. She also focuses them on improving sleep and managing stress by shutting off screens and winding down earlier in the evening than they’re used to.

Day-to-day life suddenly looks different.

Women this age are often experiencing significant life adjustments (becoming an empty nester; retiring). This means disrupted eating and exercise patterns.

Durant helps clients get a balance of lean protein, smart carbs, healthy fats, and veggies—often portioned for a slowed metabolism. (Hint: She uses the PN Macro Calculator. “The report that comes out of that is gold.”)

And Durant coaches them on a big takeaway from her own experience: “Being nimble is key. Don’t beat yourself if you need to re-prioritize your life to fulfill your basic needs. Progress, not perfection.”

Lesson #2: Specialize even within your specialty.

The clients in a given market or niche will have things in common, but it’s important to leave room for personal preference.

For example, while some of Durant’s clients love training online, “others have looked forward to getting back into the gym.”

To accommodate both groups, Durant offers online, limited in-person, and hybrid coaching models.

“I have several clients who travel south in the winter. We train in the gym when we can, and when we can’t, we use Zoom. My clients love the consistency and flexibility,” she says.

Meanwhile, Durant offers three different packages:

Sprint: Program design with just a bit of supportMarathon: Program design with individualized nutrition supportUltra: Program design, customized nutrition recommendations, and a weekly Zoom training session

“It’s all about finding what works best for individual clients.”

Lesson #3: Listen to your audience—not everybody else.

When Durant was getting her coaching business off the ground, she tried Facebook ads to get visibility. It’s standard marketing, but it didn’t work.

So, she thought more carefully about the women she wanted to coach. What are they interested in? How do they spend their time? What would be of real value to them?

It hit her like a sack of potatoes: Just like Durant, her clients were huge fans of the Instant Pot. She’d been running free workshops at the local library, plus paid sessions in clients’ homes. Why not take it to Facebook Live to get more folks interested in what she had to offer?

Liz started doing free sessions on meal planning and prep, plus recipe demos right from her kitchen. Immediately, she had an influx of new clients.

“It’s been awesome!” Durant says. “So much so, I am considering developing an online course on the Instant Pot for runners. Simplify their lives and give them more time to run!”

This kind of approach can take some experimentation, Durant warns—but it helps to keep an open mind. “Throw something at the wall and see if it sticks. Try something for a month and see what happens,” she suggests.

Lesson #4: Think about the change YOU want to make.

Durant says specializing has helped her get clients, especially by word-of-mouth. But much more than that, it’s brought a clear sense of purpose and meaning to her work.

“I love helping women take care of themselves after they’ve spent so long taking care of others,” she reflects.

And for Durant, this mission has opened the door to a more large-scale vision: “I feel like there’s a notion in my generation that a big part of our purpose is to care for other people, even at the expense of our own health,” she says. “I want to change that.”

Durant—who’s now 59— believes we’re on the verge of a societal shift, where women of all ages are becoming more willing to prioritize themselves, and topics like menopause are becoming less taboo.

“Women are starting to understand that self-care isn’t selfish. And besides, when we take the time to prioritize our own wellbeing, we are more effective at taking care of others anyway!”

Clients pick up on this sense of purpose. They begin to envision a new future for themselves, too. They get results. They tell their friends.

“When we’re north of 50, we have an opportunity to create a new blueprint for ourselves,” says Durant. A new vision we can choose to think of as me, 2.0.”

With this new vision in mind, Durant is leading the way.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.


If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.


The post 4 ways to find your niche as a nutrition coach appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

Food addiction: Why it happens, and 3 ways to help (or get help).

“I can’t stop thinking about food.”

Ever felt that way?

It’s normal to think about food a fair bit, and occasionally overeat.

But what about when thoughts of food crowd out almost everything else? When you feel an anxiety that’s only relieved by eating?

Or when it seems like you don’t have any control over what, when, and how much you eat?

It might make you wonder…

“Do I have an addiction?”

Many of us throw the word “addiction” around lightly when we talk about our relationship with food.

But some people—including, perhaps, some of your clients—are truly suffering.

In this article, we’ll explore:

What food addiction is.How it’s different from overeating.Why certain foods have more “addictive” qualities than others.Who’s most vulnerable.

(Quick heads up: As a coach you can’t diagnose food addiction, but you can support and be an ally to your clients dealing with it. You’ll also want to refer out to a qualified practitioner. Learn more about that here).

Let’s get into it.

What is food addiction?

Food addiction means having emotionally-driven, persistent, and uncontrollable urges to eat—even when you’re not physically hungry.

It affects 2-11 percent of people in Western countries. (The rates are highest in the US, with some research showing as much as 11.4 percent of the population could be affected.)1

With rates so high, you likely know someone with food addiction. Or maybe you’re the one struggling.

How do you know?

Here are some signs of food addiction:

Craving increasingly large amounts of (usually) high-calorie processed foods in order to feel pleasure, energy, or excitement, or to relieve negative emotions, physical pain, or fatigue.Spending so much time thinking about and getting food, and recovering from overeating, that it crowds out recreational activities, professional obligations, and relationships.Continuing to overeat despite negative effects like digestive problems, unwanted weight gain, or mobility issues.Experiencing withdrawal-like effects—irritability, low mood, headaches or fatigue1,2—when you’re not eating.

How is food addiction different from other forms of overeating?

If you overeat at most of your meals, or have the occasional out-of-control binge eating episode, are you addicted to food?

Not necessarily.

Pretty much everyone experiences periods of overeating, and/or instances of binge eating.

As the following continuum shows, it’s only when urges and compulsive behavior around food become severe, frequent, and chronic that a person can be diagnosed with an eating disorder or food addiction.3,4,5

A table showing the continuum of eating. From green to red, it includes the spectrum of balanced eating to food addiction. Balanced eating means you generally eat to match energy expenditure. (Although you may have occasional—often unintentional—episodes of both overeating and undereating.) Passive overeating means yu often eat more than you need, but you don’t use food to alter or numb your emotions, and you’re not distressed over your habits. Loss-of-control eating means that occasionally, eating feels compulsive, excessive, and out-of-control (e.g. “Whoa, I really overdid it at the Crab Festival this year.”) Binge eating disorder (BED) is when you binge eat at least once a week for at least three months. Bingeing means eating a large amount—often quickly and in secret—to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. When you eat, you feel out of control, and often feel guilt or shame afterward. Food addiction is similar to BED, but you may also compulsively “graze”—eating smaller amounts of food almost constantly, often with a feeling that you can’t stop. When you do stop, you may feel withdrawal-like symptoms, creating a hard-to-escape cycle.

As you may notice, binge eating disorder and food addiction share several major similarities.

But food addiction—which more closely resembles a substance use disorder—is more severe than BED because it causes even more life disruption.

How food addiction happens

Food addiction isn’t caused by one single thing.

For example, you can’t just blame it on genetics.

Factors like the amount of stress in someone’s life, how they respond to that stress, how lonely they feel, where they live, and who they spend time with also make an impact.

In other words, like most health issues, food addiction arises out of a jumble of biological, psychological, and social factors. (This multi-dimensional approach to understanding illness and health is called the biopsychosocial perspective.)

A Venn diagram showing how the biopsychosocial model works, and what areas of life are included in the three areas: biology, psychology, and social context.

Let’s go into those categories now.

Biological factors: How does your body work?

In early human history, food scarcity happened on the regular.

To survive, humans evolved to overeat when food was abundant, especially when that food was tasty and calorie-rich.6,7,8 (Jackpot: avocado tree.)

But now, the instinct that once helped us survive makes it hard to stop eating.9

Highly-processed foods—especially those with a combination of sugar, fat, and salt—are the most difficult to resist.

Much like drugs and alcohol, these foods trigger a range of rewarding, feel-good neurochemicals, including dopamine. Highly-processed foods have this effect even when you’re not hungry.10,11,12

(In contrast, whole, unprocessed foods aren’t very rewarding when you’re not hungry, and it’s usually easier to moderate your intake of them.5,13)

These days, highly-processed foods are so accessible that you have to rely on your ability to self-regulate, or control your behavior, in order to resist them.

But people who deal with compulsive overeating (including those with food addiction) often have a hard time self-regulating.

Here’s why:

People with compulsive overeating may…

Struggle with impulse control, possibly because the planning, strategizing center of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) is impaired. This might be a hallmark of all addictions, and can contribute to poor recovery outcomes.14,15

React more easily and intensely to stressors. They have a higher level of cortisol release than others.16 And because stress can trigger addictive behaviors, people who are more physically sensitive to stress may be more likely to use food (or drugs or alcohol) as a way to cope.

Get more pleasure from food (at first).17,18 They may have a bigger dopamine response to highly-processed foods, more motivation to seek out that response again, and stronger cravings.19

Get less pleasure from food over time. When you often overeat highly-processed foods, dopamine receptors become less responsive to those foods.20 This means that a bigger “hit” of food is required to achieve the same pleasurable effect.21,22,23

Dopamine: Why we like it, and how it hooks us.

Dopamine release happens in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region famous for its role in registering pleasure and reinforcing learning.5

Lots of things give you little dopamine boosts…  eating a tasty meal when you’re hungry, connecting with friends and loved ones, and achieving goals. However, certain activities and substances—like drugs, gambling, and (yes) highly-processed foods—can produce unnaturally high surges of dopamine.

Here’s why that can become a problem:

The greater the dopamine response, the more pleasure you experience. The more pleasure you feel, the more motivated you are to repeat it.

When you experience a dopamine surge, you learn to associate pleasure with the specific activity or substance that caused it.

As that learning continues, your prefrontal cortex and your reward system get hijacked. You become focused on getting more of the thing. And you have trouble experiencing pleasure from anything else.

Over time, your brain adapts to these floods of dopamine.

This is called tolerance. Tolerance drives you to chase more of the pleasurable thing, yet you rarely feel satisfied.

This is the addiction cycle.

(Want to know more about what food characteristics people find irresistible—and even addictive? Read: Manufactured deliciousness: Why you can’t stop overeating.)

Psychological factors: What’s your mindset?

When we ask clients, most of them say they’re more likely to overeat when they’re feeling stressed, tired, or sad.

Research supports this observation: Stress, depressed mood, anger, boredom, and irritability are common triggers of binge eating16,24

Binge eating often further triggers feelings of guilt and shame, and these feelings may promote more addictive behaviors.25

Because binge eating and food addiction are associated with challenges regulating emotions,26,27 food can be used as a way to self-medicate and temporarily feel better. (Foods with sweet tastes are especially effective at elevating mood and suppressing pain.28)

Food addiction is also associated with a history of trauma and abuse, and is found alongside a number of other mental health disorders like depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychosis,29 and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).30

(Want to support clients with trauma while staying in your scope? Read: How trauma affects health and fitness—and prevents client progress)

Although many people think of addictive eating as a form of “self-sabotage,” here’s a more compassionate, useful way to think about it:

For the person struggling, food is simply a safe place, a comfort to turn to when life feels overwhelming.

Social factors: What’s around you?

In animal research, addictive eating behaviors only happen when they’re given highly-processed foods.5

This isn’t to say that processed foods cause addictive eating. It’s just that their presence, combined with other biological and psychological vulnerabilities, makes food addiction more likely.

And due to social factors, some people are exposed to highly-processed foods more often than others.

Imagine you live in a “food desert”—an area that has poor access to affordable, fresh, and minimally-processed food. If all you can get at your local grocery store is packaged snack foods, white bread, and maybe some canned fruit, your nutrition and appetite will be harder to manage.

Similarly, not having enough money to buy healthy foods on a regular basis can make an impact. Naturally, you might do like our ancestors and “stock up” when calories are available. Some research supports this: Higher rates of food insecurity are associated with disordered eating behaviors like binge eating.31

You can also pick up on social cues around food.

If you’ve grown up with friends and family that regularly overeat, or use food to soothe, comfort, or entertain, they might encourage you (explicitly or implicitly) to do the same.

Even when you want to change, swimming against the current can be hard.

The irony of diet culture

Despite some progress through movements like body positivity and “Health at Every Size,” modern culture still prizes thinness.

In order to achieve that thinness, many people diet incessantly.

Here’s how that backfires:

When you think you can’t have access to something (in this case, food you find delicious), you end up wanting more of it.

This is called the limited access paradigm, and it explains why very restrictive diets not only often fail, but may even make people more likely to overeat and binge eat.32


That’s why recovery from compulsive overeating and food addiction often focuses on body awareness, mindful eating, and developing a positive relationship with food—not dieting.

Interested in checking your bias towards thinness as a coach? Read: Are you body-shaming clients? How well-meaning coaches can be guilty of “size-bias.”

Help with food addiction: 3 ways to support clients (or yourself)

Health and nutrition coaches can’t diagnose or treat a food addiction, or any kind of eating disorder. But you can start the conversation, and be an essential part of a client’s recovery team.

If you’re reading this article because you’re struggling, we’ll suggest some ways to support yourself too.

1. Create a safe, compassionate, and encouraging environment.

If a client comes to you with some deep stuff, don’t feel like you have to figure out their childhood or fix their biology.

Instead, focus on understanding their current situation, helping them feel safe, and developing a trusting relationship.

The best ways to do that? Practice empathy and active listening.

(Read more about empathy and listening skills: “I’m a coach, not a therapist!” 9 ways to help people while staying within your scope.)

Because people with food addiction and binge eating disorder may be more sensitive to reward,33,34,35 coaches can also help “reward” clients in more affirming ways.

Meaning: Give them lots of praise. Celebrate every “win” you see.

And if a client comes to you feeling shame over a certain behavior or feeling, reassure them that this isn’t evidence of their inadequacy. Missteps and imperfections are human. Feeling sensitive to them is just a sign that they want to do better for themselves.

If you’re struggling with food addiction:

You’ll benefit from self-compassion and non-judgement too. Try not to blame or criticize yourself for “causing” this or “being too weak” to pull yourself out of it.

Be your own buddy: People are much better at changing when they come from a place of love and support.

For more practical, self-compassionate ways to feel better, read: “How can I cope RIGHT NOW?” These self-care strategies might help you feel better.

2. Drop the nutrition lecture.

Yes, maybe you’re a health or nutrition coach.

But in this case, focusing too much on nutrition (especially calories and energy intake) can backfire.

Clients struggling with food addiction are usually already overly concerned with what and how much they’re eating—and they probably feel tremendous shame around that.

➤ Instead of nutritional value, focus on how foods make clients feel.

You can ask (with kindness and genuine curiosity): “When you eat [insert trigger food], how do you feel in your body? And what thoughts come up?”

Although sometimes uncomfortable, this exercise can help clients identify foods that do feel good in their bodies, and align with their values. Over time, this can build a more positive, practical relationship with food.

➤ Help clients develop awareness around their triggers.

Ask gently: “What was going on before you started to feel the urge to eat? Where were you, who were you with, and how were you feeling?”

When you’re aware of your patterns and habits, it’s easier to find opportunities to re-route them.

(Here’s a worksheet that helps clients identify and disrupt unproductive eating habits: Break the Chain worksheet)

➤ Collaborate to come up with eating-replacement activities.

Stress is a common trigger for overeating, so ask your client to make a list of activities that calm them down, and bring them joy.

Note that overeating isn’t “forbidden.” Clients always have the option to use this coping mechanism.

But they can also slowly develop alternative behaviors to eating—which they may learn to prefer over time.

If you’re struggling with food addiction:

Here are three small actions you can take to start helping yourself feel better:

Focus on how foods make you feel rather than their caloric value.Use the Break the Chain worksheet to develop awareness of your triggers.Create your own personal list of replacement activities.

3. Refer out.

If you suspect your client has food addiction, you may want to start with this worksheet: The Yale Food Addiction Scale. While you can’t diagnose your client (unless you’re also a qualified mental health or medical health professional), you can use this tool to begin a conversation.

Most importantly, empower your client to seek help outside of your coaching. Remind them that seeking professional help takes courage and wisdom, and that you’ll be with them along the ride.

For most people, a family doctor is a good place to start. Family doctors can perform a formal assessment, then refer to appropriate help, whether that’s a licensed therapist, a psychiatrist, or another health professional.

If your client wants help finding a therapist, find one that’s trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been shown to be effective in managing and treating addictions and disordered eating.

You might be the first (and only) person your client has confided in.

Take your role seriously, display acceptance and compassion, and help your client get the care they deserve.

If you’re struggling with food addiction:

You’re not supposed to do really hard things by yourself. It often takes a team of support, so reach out.

Talk to a trusted loved one for moral support, and consult your family doctor or a licensed psychotherapist to get professional help.

Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It means you have your own back.



Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

1. Imperatori, Claudio, Mariantonietta Fabbricatore, Viviana Vumbaca, Marco Innamorati, Anna Contardi, and Benedetto Farina. 2016. “Food Addiction: Definition, Measurement and Prevalence in Healthy Subjects and in Patients with Eating Disorders.” Rivista Di Psichiatria 51 (2): 60–65.

2. Schulte, Erica M., Julia K. Smeal, Jessi Lewis, and Ashley N. Gearhardt. 2018. “Development of the Highly Processed Food Withdrawal Scale.” Appetite 131 (December): 148–54.

3. Berkman, Nancy D., Kimberly A. Brownley, Christine M. Peat, Kathleen N. Lohr, Katherine E. Cullen, Laura C. Morgan, Carla M. Bann, Ina F. Wallace, and Cynthia M. Bulik. 2015. Table 1, DSM-IV and DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Binge-Eating Disorder. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US).

4. Bonder, Revi, Caroline Davis, Jennifer L. Kuk, and Natalie J. Loxton. 2018. “Compulsive ‘Grazing’ and Addictive Tendencies towards Food.” European Eating Disorders Review: The Journal of the Eating Disorders Association 26 (6): 569–73.

5. Davis, Caroline. 2013. “From Passive Overeating to ‘Food Addiction’: A Spectrum of Compulsion and Severity.” ISRN Obesity 2013 (May): 435027.

6. Brown, Elizabeth A. 2012. “Genetic Explorations of Recent Human Metabolic Adaptations: Hypotheses and Evidence.” Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 87 (4): 838–55.

7. Neel, James V. 2009. “The ‘thrifty Genotype’ in 19981.” Nutrition Reviews 57 (5): 2–9.

8. Wiss, David A., Nicole Avena, and Pedro Rada. 2018. “Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution.” Frontiers in Psychiatry / Frontiers Research Foundation 9 (November): 545.

9. Davis, Caroline. 2014. “Evolutionary and Neuropsychological Perspectives on Addictive Behaviors and Addictive Substances: Relevance to the ‘Food Addiction’ Construct.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation 5 (December): 129–37.

10. Lutter, Michael, and Eric J. Nestler. 2009. “Homeostatic and Hedonic Signals Interact in the Regulation of Food Intake.” The Journal of Nutrition 139 (3): 629–32.

11. Small, Dana M., Marilyn Jones-Gotman, and Alain Dagher. 2003. “Feeding-Induced Dopamine Release in Dorsal Striatum Correlates with Meal Pleasantness Ratings in Healthy Human Volunteers.” NeuroImage 19 (4): 1709–15.

12. Kelley, Ann E., Brian A. Baldo, and Wayne E. Pratt. 2005. “A Proposed Hypothalamic-Thalamic-Striatal Axis for the Integration of Energy Balance, Arousal, and Food Reward.” The Journal of Comparative Neurology 493 (1): 72–85.

13. Monteleone, Palmiero, Fabiana Piscitelli, Pasquale Scognamiglio, Alessio Maria Monteleone, Benedetta Canestrelli, Vincenzo Di Marzo, and Mario Maj. 2012. “Hedonic Eating Is Associated with Increased Peripheral Levels of Ghrelin and the Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoyl-Glycerol in Healthy Humans: A Pilot Study.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 97 (6): E917–24.

14. Garavan, Hugh, and Karen Weierstall. 2012. “The Neurobiology of Reward and Cognitive Control Systems and Their Role in Incentivizing Health Behavior.” Preventive Medicine 55 Suppl (November): S17–23.

15. Volkow, Nora D., Gene-Jack Wang, Dardo Tomasi, and Ruben D. Baler. 2013. “The Addictive Dimensionality of Obesity.” Biological Psychiatry 73 (9): 811–18.

16. Gluck, Marci E. 2006. “Stress Response and Binge Eating Disorder.” Appetite 46 (1): 26–30.

17. Davis, C. 2009. “Psychobiological Traits in the Risk Profile for Overeating and Weight Gain.” International Journal of Obesity 33 Suppl 2 (June): S49–53.

18. Moreno-López, Laura, Carles Soriano-Mas, Elena Delgado-Rico, Jacqueline S. Rio-Valle, and Antonio Verdejo-García. 2012. “Brain Structural Correlates of Reward Sensitivity and Impulsivity in Adolescents with Normal and Excess Weight.” PloS One 7 (11): e49185.

19. Wang, Gene-Jack, Allan Geliebter, Nora D. Volkow, Frank W. Telang, Jean Logan, Millard C. Jayne, Kochavi Galanti, et al. 2011. “Enhanced Striatal Dopamine Release during Food Stimulation in Binge Eating Disorder.” Obesity 19 (8): 1601–8.

20. Wang, Gene-Jack, Nora D. Volkow, Panayotis K. Thanos, and Joanna S. Fowler. 2009. “Imaging of Brain Dopamine Pathways: Implications for Understanding Obesity.” Journal of Addiction Medicine 3 (1): 8–18.

21. Bello, Nicholas T., and Andras Hajnal. 2010. “Dopamine and Binge Eating Behaviors.” Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior 97 (1): 25–33.

22. Davis, Caroline, Robert D. Levitan, Zeynep Yilmaz, Allan S. Kaplan, Jacqueline C. Carter, and James L. Kennedy. 2012. “Binge Eating Disorder and the Dopamine D2 Receptor: Genotypes and Sub-Phenotypes.” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry 38 (2): 328–35.

23. Davis, Caroline A., Robert D. Levitan, Caroline Reid, Jacqueline C. Carter, Allan S. Kaplan, Karen A. Patte, Nicole King, Claire Curtis, and James L. Kennedy. 2009. “Dopamine for ‘Wanting’ and Opioids for ‘Liking’: A Comparison of Obese Adults with and without Binge Eating.” Obesity 17 (6): 1220–25.

24. Frayn, Mallory, Christopher R. Sears, and Kristin M. von Ranson. 2016. “A Sad Mood Increases Attention to Unhealthy Food Images in Women with Food Addiction.” Appetite 100 (May): 55–63.

25. Craven, Michael P., and Erin M. Fekete. 2019. “Weight-Related Shame and Guilt, Intuitive Eating, and Binge Eating in Female College Students.” Eating Behaviors 33 (April): 44–48.

26. Tatsi, Eirini, Atiya Kamal, Alistair Turvill, and Regina Holler. 2019. “Emotion Dysregulation and Loneliness as Predictors of Food Addiction.” Journal of Health and Social Sciences 4 (1): 43–58.

27. Cassin, Stephanie E., and Kristin M. von Ranson. 2005. “Personality and Eating Disorders: A Decade in Review.” Clinical Psychology Review 25 (7): 895–916.

28. Gibson, E. Leigh. 2012. “The Psychobiology of Comfort Eating: Implications for Neuropharmacological Interventions.” Behavioural Pharmacology 23 (5-6): 442–60.

29. Stunkard, Albert J. 2011. “Eating Disorders and Obesity.” The Psychiatric Clinics of North America 34 (4): 765–71.

30. Hardy, Raven, Negar Fani, Tanja Jovanovic, and Vasiliki Michopoulos. 2018. “Food Addiction and Substance Addiction in Women: Common Clinical Characteristics.” Appetite 120 (January): 367–73.

31. Hazzard, Vivienne M., Katie A. Loth, Laura Hooper, and Carolyn Black Becker. 2020. “Food Insecurity and Eating Disorders: A Review of Emerging Evidence.” Current Psychiatry Reports 22 (12): 74.

32. Babbs, R. K., F. H. E. Wojnicki, and R. L. W. Corwin. 2012. “Assessing Binge Eating. An Analysis of Data Previously Collected in Bingeing Rats.” Appetite 59 (2): 478–82.

33. Loxton, Natalie J., and Renée J. Tipman. 2017. “Reward Sensitivity and Food Addiction in Women.” Appetite 115 (August): 28–35.

34. Loxton, Natalie J. 2018. “The Role of Reward Sensitivity and Impulsivity in Overeating and Food Addiction.” Current Addiction Reports 5 (2): 212–22.

35. Eneva, Kalina T., Susan Murray, Jared O’Garro-Moore, Angelina Yiu, Lauren B. Alloy, Nicole M. Avena, and Eunice Y. Chen. 2017. “Reward and Punishment Sensitivity and Disordered Eating Behaviors in Men and Women.” Journal of Eating Disorders 5 (February): 6.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.


If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.


The post Food addiction: Why it happens, and 3 ways to help (or get help). appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

These 6 Charts Show Why Recovery Isn’t “Soft” Fitness Advice—It’s a Health Game-Changer

Rest and recovery are just as important as sweaty grueling workouts.

There, we said it.

But does anyone believe it?

Gentle yoga sessions and extra time in bed can feel like the opposite of what you need to see results. It’s as if they’re more of an indulgence than a necessity—nice for when you have extra time. (And who has extra time?)

Only that’s just not true. Here are six charts that’ll show you why rest and recovery should be at the top of your to-do list.


There’s a right amount of stress.

It might be amazing to have a completely stress-free life for a few days.

But after that? Without any challenges, adversity, or obstacles, you’d eventually get bored.

A line graph showing the stress sweet spot—where you don’t have too much stress, but you also don’t have too little. The graph shows a curve that goes from less stress to more stress (x-axis) and low performance to high performance (y-axis). When there’s hardly any stress, the sentiment is “I’m bored.” When there’s a little more stress the sentiment is “Starting to get my attention.” When there’s a medium amount of stress the sentiment is “I’m rockin’ it.” From that point, as stress increases, performance starts to decline. Add a bit more stress, and the sentiment is “starting to freak out.” And when there’s way too much stress, the sentiment is “crash and burn.”

Of course, there’s absolutely such a thing as too much stress, too.

And aside from the obvious stuff, lots of things count as stressors that many people might not even realize: your fitness efforts, eating in a calorie deficit, the construction noise from next door…

(For more unexpected sources of stress, read: Invisible stressors: Are they sucking the life out of your health?)

So how do you stay in that “sweet spot” where you’re thriving?

That’s where rest and recovery come in.

When you recover, you regain, restore, or recuperate what you’ve lost. And you return to your baseline state of wellbeing, health, and performance.

For example, recovery could involve:

Replacing the fluids you sweated out during exercise, or the glucose that you used up to power your muscles.Getting your immune system back to full strength after you’ve been sick. (And rest is definitely a key factor in that!)Something intangible, such as feeling mentally or spiritually restored after a vacation.

Stress and recovery go together like shoes and socks, Batman and Robin, and rocks and hard places. That’s because recovery is part of the process that helps you get stronger, faster, better, and more resilient, as this chart shows.

A line graph showing the stress response. On the x-axis the graph shows time, and on the y-axis it shows performance. There are four stages shown on the graph. We start in homeostasis, or the baseline level of performance. From there, we enter an alarm phase when a stressor is introduced. Performance declines, and we enter a recovery phase. During the recovery phase, performance rises again until it reaches the fourth stage: new homeostasis. This is the new, improved baseline.

Let’s take a closer look at the chart above, using an intense workout as an example of a stressor.

You start in homeostasis, or your baseline. This is your body’s status quo.

Then, you encounter a stressor that disrupts your homeostasis. In this case, it’s that intense workout. Your breathing rate, heart rate, energy needs, and body temperature all increase.

Next, you enter an alarm phase where you deal with the disruption. During this phase, your performance temporarily gets worse. (This is the part where that barbell/those dumbbells/your legs start to feel reeeeally heavy.)

Now you enter the recovery phase. As long as you replenish fluids and nutrients and don’t keep adding additional stressors your body can’t handle, you’ll recover and rebuild any damaged tissues over the next several days. During this process, you get stronger and more resilient.

Lastly, you enter a new homeostasis or baseline. Now, you’re slightly better than before.

Thus, if you take time to recover, you adapt and get better. 

So, what happens when you skip the recovery part, and just do the stress part?

It’s not great.

Let’s take sleep as an example. Sleep is a recovery rockstar. Getting enough good-quality sleep:

improves your mood and the ability to manage your emotionsimproves cognition, concentration, and attentionhelps you lose fat and build valuable lean tissue like muscle and boneregulates your hunger, appetite, and satiety (which helps you make wise food choices, eat the right amount for your body, and eliminate cravings)helps clean up and get rid of your body’s waste products

Not getting enough sleep, on the other hand, really tanks your recovery, and can have far-reaching effects, as you can see below.

A flow chart showing the many effects of poor sleep. The first layer of the chart is poor sleep. Arrows connect it to the next layer: physical, emotional, and mental effects of poor sleep. The physical effects are: Risk of cancer, drowsiness, cardiovascular disease, metabolic problems, and reduced immunity. The emotional effects are: HPA dysfunction (chronic stress), frustration and anger, increased risk-taking and impulsivity, irritability, depressed mood, and exhaustion. The mental effects are: reduced working memory, difficulty multitasking, less creativity and productivity, difficulty staying alert, indecision, and poor concentration.

The point? Not getting enough rest can make you feel very crappy and make it much harder to see results.

After all, it’s pretty hard to make smart food choices and give your workouts your all when you’re cranky, tired, and wired.

Plus, all these negative effects can interact with each other and create vicious, self-perpetuating cycles. Here’s just one example of how some of those factors build on each other and make it harder to stop the cycle:

Illustration showing how the vicious cycle of poor sleep can work. Four illustrations are arranged in a circle, connected by arrows. The first one shows poor sleep, with a woman with her head on a pillow, struggling to sleep. The second shows the same woman experiencing drowsiness. The third shows the same woman sitting in front of her computer with less productivity. The fourth illustration shows the woman experiencing chronic stress, which then connects back to poor sleep.

But there’s a bright spot here:

Recovery is so much more than sleeping and taking rest days.

And that’s actually pretty exciting. Because it means there are dozens of ways to promote and enhance your (or your client’s) progress.

In the table below, you’ll see examples of stressors, and ways you can recover in each of them.

A chart that shows deep stress vs. deep recovery in the physical, emotional, environmental, mental, existential, and social dimensions of health. Physical stress includes: Injury; illness; overtraining; poor sleep; toxic substances in the body. Physical recovery includes: Good nutrition; varied movement; enough good-quality sleep. Emotional stress includes: Grief; anger; shame; fear; disgust; poor self-regulation and coping; emotional labor. Emotional recovery includes: Recognizing, expressing, and sharing emotions appropriately; taking time away from difficult emotions; purposely evoking positive and/or calm states. Environmental stress includes: Noise; light; pollution; temperature; discrimination and “isms”; lack of safety; violence; inaccessibility; distractions. Environmental recovery includes: Creating a literal and metaphoric recovery space; creating safety and security; eliminating distractions; accessing health care. Mental stress includes: Decision fatigue; information overload; perfectionism; neurodivergence without enough support; cognitive impairment; switching languages, codes, and tasks. Mental recovery includes: Interspersing periods of focus with periods of mental recovery; “mental play” and creativity; building thinking and problem-solving skills; engaging in a wide variety of mental tasks. Existential stress includes: Hopelessness; despair, lack of meaning; inability to cope with life transitions and mortality. Existential recovery includes: Being of service; participating in meaningful activities; time devoted to introspection and reflection. Social stress includes: Stress in relationships; loneliness; interpersonal conflict; rejection; lack of community; social exclusion and inequality. Social recovery includes: Healthy, affirming communication and conflict resolution; inclusive and welcoming community; safety and security in relationships.

As you can see, for every stressor, there’s a way to recover.

Recovery doesn’t have to be complicated.

Making it part of your routine can be quite simple.

Think about the balance of stress and recovery as a tank that can be simultaneously filled by a faucet (recovery), and drained (stress).

To add more water to the tank, plug the leak by decreasing stressIf that’s not possible, you can also turn up the faucet by adding recoveryOr, do both: Lower stress while increasing rest and recovery

A graphic showing how to keep your recovery tank full. The illustration shows a water tank with a tap pouring water in, and a tap on the tank itself that lets water out. The tap that fills the tank is recovery, which includes elements like: good nutrition, regular sleep, gentle movement, fulfilling activity, social connections, positive emotions, time in nature, and mindfulness. The tap that empties the tank is stress, which includes elements like poor nutrition, low energy intake, intense exercise, work stress, relationship stress, caregiving, financial stress, loneliness, negative emotions, environmental stress, alcohol and drug use, illness, and injury.

When you think about it, many recovery practices deliver maximum impact for relatively minimal effort.

Sure, good nutrition and restorative sleep absolutely take some work to achieve. (You can learn more about what to eat here and how to get better sleep here.)

But laughing at your favorite TV show, spending time with friends, and sitting in the sunshine count as recovery, too.

So go ahead and enjoy them—guilt free. They might be exactly what you need to slay that next workout.

If you’re a health and fitness coach…

Learning how to help clients manage stress, build resilience, and optimize sleep and recovery can be deeply transformative—for both of you.

It helps clients get “unstuck” and makes everything else easier—whether they want to eat better, move more, lose weight, or reclaim their health.

And for coaches: It gives you a rarified skill that will set you apart as an elite change maker.

The brand-new PN Level 1 Sleep, Stress Management, and Recovery Coaching Certification will show you how.

Want to know more?

The post These 6 Charts Show Why Recovery Isn’t “Soft” Fitness Advice—It’s a Health Game-Changer appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

Take clients from “I’m overwhelmed” to “I’ve got this.”

People often don’t think straight when they’re stressed out.

That includes clients.

It’s as if an evil scientist has inserted a microchip into their brains—one that forces them to do things they swore they wouldn’t do ever again, like watching two seasons of Shameless without even so much as a potty break.

Then they show up for a coaching session looking or sounding irritated, ashamed, and/or even more stressed. They say things like:

“I don’t have time for this!”

Or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”

Or “I ate a whole gallon of ice cream AGAIN! I suck and I will always suck and I will never not suck so why am I bothering?”

If the above sounds hauntingly familiar, you’re going to love the six conversational techniques outlined in this article.

These strategies work like a verbal weighted blanket.

Use them to help clients…

See their way out of that dark stress tunnel.Finally break free from those annoying old habits.Go from “I can’t do this” to “I’ve got this.”

Before we get to those techniques, however, let’s explore why people get so hopelessly mired in old patterns to begin with.

Thank evolution for relentless old habits.

Noticing potential threats—like the faint snap of a twig from hundreds of yards away—is what stopped ancient humans from getting eaten by big scary creatures with sharp fangs.

Now, hundreds of generations later, this attentional threat bias—focusing more on danger than opportunities and benefits—is wired in.

While it’s quite handy during those rare times you stumble across an angry mama bear in your backyard, this threat bias doesn’t work so great in non-life-threatening situations.

Let’s say your father quips:

“Honey, the color of your shirt doesn’t do your face any justice.”

Now your threat bias is pointing all your thoughts precisely where you don’t need them (‘Why did I get stuck with this person for a parent?!’) and away from where you do need them (‘Hey self, don’t forget to buy asparagus for dinner and pack a gym bag for tomorrow’).

And if those relatively small threats pile up, your brain will regress into rigid, self-protective, and self-soothing behaviors.

Now your “must empty whole bottle of whipped cream straight into mouth” or “have a toddler tantrum” autoscript can take over.

This evolutionary mechanism makes it difficult for you—as well as your stressed out clients—to change.

With thoughts and attention consumed by stressors, you don’t have the bandwidth for planning healthy meals, finding time for workouts, or even chopping veggies.

Stress management techniques can help.

Building the ability to self-regulate in difficult moments is like a muscle: You can train that ability and make it stronger (and help clients do it as well).

We’ll show you how.

Technique #1: Take a deep breath.

When your clients feel threatened, anxious, or distressed, their heart rate goes up and they breathe more shallowly.

And, thanks to the actions of the vagus nerve pathways that run between their brain and much of their upper body, they won’t be able to see or hear reason.

Luckily, as a coach, you can help your clients calm down a little by using your body to send signals that they’ll mirror.

Take a deep breath or two, audibly if you can. Slow your pace of speaking and moving. With luck, clients will subconsciously catch your calming body signals, and mimic them.

What to say: “Let’s just pause for a deep breath here as we consider some different options.”

Technique #2: Anoint them the boss.

Remind clients that they’re in charge of their own change and growth. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do, so that threat system can power down.

What to say: “Remember that this is your journey; I’m just here to facilitate. I can offer advice and give you my opinion, but ultimately this is your decision. You’re the boss of what comes next.”

Technique #3: Tell clients they’re not alone.

Aloneness freaks most humans out. That’s why clients feel calmer when they know they’re supported and guided by a trusted person who has their back.

What to say: “This will be a lot of change, but you’re not alone. As your coach, I’m here with you. I’d like you to be in charge of your own journey, but I will happily provide all the navigation, suggestions, and support you need. I know it’s hard to go through this. Whatever path you take is okay. I’m here to support you no matter what. I’m open to hearing whatever you have to say.”

Technique #4: Paint a picture of what clients can expect.

To help clients manage uncertainty, explain processes clearly beforehand, as well as what to expect at each step.

What to say: “At first, when you try to work on changing X, you may find out that Y happens. And you may have more questions about it. That’s normal. Just so you know what to anticipate, we might have to explore many practices before we find one that really suits you.”

Technique #5: Take change off the table.

Paradoxically, when you “allow” your client not to change, it tends to make them more willing to change.

What to say: “Do you want a new task for next week, or would you like to just stay here and practice for a while? It’s perfectly okay if you don’t feel ready to change Behavior X right now. If it’s working for you, great!”

Technique #6: Zero in on what’s under clients’ control.

When clients fixate on stuff that’s out of their control (such as noisy neighbors, age-related sleep changes, or being a new parent) they get nowhere.

On the other hand, if they focus on small daily actions they can do (such as adjusting their sleep environment, cutting down on caffeine, or being compassionate with themselves), they make progress.

How to do it: Using our Spheres of Control worksheet, work with clients to identify stressors in each category. Talk about one action that your client can control that will help them feel calmer, happier, and more in charge of their life.

Sphere of Control: Graphic that depicts three overlapping circles with the labels “total control,” “some control,” and “no control.” People can use the image to focus their attention on what they can control—and therefore lower their stress.

Change really is possible.

These coaching techniques (among others that we teach) can help shift your client’s attention away from threats and over to solutions.

Because yeah, staying up all night playing Candy Crush due to work stress does send you into imminent-threat, red alert-mode, but it’s not exactly the same as getting chased by a bear.

As a coach, you have an opportunity to introduce some calm, cool, collected energy into your stressed-out clients’ lives.

And it might just help them go from a place of “everything sucks” to a place of “I’m actually pretty okay.”

If you’re a health and fitness coach…

Learning how to help clients manage stress, build resilience, and optimize sleep and recovery can be deeply transformative—for both of you.

It helps clients get “unstuck” and makes everything else easier—whether they want to eat better, move more, lose weight, or reclaim their health.

And for coaches: It gives you a rarified skill that will set you apart as an elite change maker.

The brand-new PN Level 1 Sleep, Stress Management, and Recovery Coaching Certification will show you how.

Want to know more?

The post Take clients from “I’m overwhelmed” to “I’ve got this.” appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

Did you miss our previous article…