Let me make this immediate disclaimer: I don't like dogmatic diets, don't give them to clients and strongly believe they won't work long-term. There, I said it.
First, Don't Crush Dreams
You know how many nasty looks you get as a coach when you have to tell some they can't do a quality squat to depth but they have been banging out ugly half reps day after day for 6 months? You ask them to do one with good form and they can't even hit the position with no added load. Now, you know that this crushed them, their world is falling down around them and they are mad at YOU because you revealed their weakness when they have actually been working hard and thought they were doing everything right. You have a choice then. A choice to make them feel like it's their fault or a choice to let them know you understand and have a plan for them that will get them even stronger, more mobile and pain free than they ever were before.
But they'll only do it if:
A. You force them (which rarely works) or
B. Let them know you totally understand, have their best interests at heart and promise to do everything to make them successful. In other words, not crushing their dreams.
Now the question is, was it really their fault? Were they just not listening and too stubborn or did they somehow not get proper education and coaching along the way? Honestly, it doesn't really matter and for a client, telling them it's their fault rarely helps.
From here you can throw some complex, talk-to-Jesus, on-their-back in-a-puddle-of-sweat, holy-crap-I-hate-you program that will make them work hard but never get actually better. Or you could start them in an appropriate place in your coaching system and adjust their program based on their needs, results and feedback.
In the end, if you do it right, the client won't be mad it took a little bit longer because when they have a better squat, stronger muscles and no pain it will ALL be worth going through the system.
But the system needs to start the client in an appropriate place and the coach needs to maintain their trust to keep them going.
Now think of this in terms of a diet. What if a diet throws the kitchen sink at you with no determinant of skill level or ability? What if a diet assumes every client starts and ends in the same place? What if a diet skips the education, habit building and goal setting? What if a diet tells you "our way is THE only way"?
Well.....almost all of them do that.
What if a system actually met you at your current skill set, educated you and built habits and skills so you could be successful long-term?
There Should Always Be A System
I am a huge fan of systems. Systems allow us to have a flexible framework to gauge progress by and enough structure to provide us some guidance. Diets don't do this nor do really vague suggestions. Systems also don't promise everyone gets the same results or in the same amount of time. Diets do.
-Low Carb Paleo is an example of a diet. It's very strict, it misses the forest for the trees and it doesn't account for different situations or people. The diet "assumes" something about you and that's it. Usually the more dogmatic something like this is, the more likely it is to be an all or nothing approach. Diets like this also often demonize certain foods and as soon as you categorize things into good/bad, its a downward spiral from there.
-Just eat less. This (actually) is good advice if you want to lean out but its so vague! Less of what? Are all calories equal? How many meals a day? Is fruit a carb? Help!!!
What Systems Do
Systems allow us to say, "OK, here's the basics of the things you need to do. Keep in mind as we go along we need to adust it based on your feedback and results, but we need a place to start. Here's some healthy and sensible suggestions". How strict or flexible it becomes is really based on someone's personal response. It doesn't assume anything.
Often when clients come to me they bring all the baggage of past dieting experiences. So they expect all nutrition coaches to give them a rigid plan that gaurantees "X" amount of fat loss every week blah blah. But you dig deeper and find that these people sometimes don't know what protein is (!) or skip breakfast, don't exercise, won't use free weights and only do cardio, are on beta blockers, refuse to eat vegetables and the list goes on.
So I am supposed to throw some plan at you and hope it sticks?
And if this person doesn't have a lot of nutrtion knowledge or skill in the kitchen it leaves them hanging high and dry.
The One Word That Says It All
Believe me, I love when people just trust me and do the plan. But often times we are our own worst enemy and need some guidance back to what matters. A light usually goes off in my head when I ask someone what diets they have tried in the past and they say,
All The Tools in the World, No Idea How To Use Them
It's kind of like the guy you know who gets fired from every job and it's always the co-worker or boss or some special situation, each time is different and not like the last time. I mean, he's only lasted 4 weeks at any one job but each time he is so convinced its a different reason or it's the other person to blame.
The diet, like the job, really isn't the problem. Maybe this guy (or woman) simply doesn't have the tools to make a diet work. A diet is too strict, there's no education, no level of entrance based on knowledge or experience. I often see people who view everything as failure if they don't achieve their ultimate goal in two weeks. The expectations of what success means are always high but so is the assumption of failure because it's happened so many times. But then it's the diet's fault and not the client. So every situation is structured so that all blame falls on a diet or plan because the responsibility of being your own determinant of success is too much pressure. You can almost hear people thinking "All I know how to use is a hammer and this job requires a wrench but gosh darn it I am going to hammer everything until someone stops me".
The Good News? You're Probably Only Missing a (super) Basic Skill
Maybe this guy/woman who loses every job really just needs a brush up on people skills. Believe me, I worked as a social worker for 5 years; you'd be shocked that people don't know not to handle all personal matters at work. So this person goes around and around making the same mistakes all the time and truly, deeply believes it isn't their fault.
My job as a social worker was to help people find work or go back to school. Often it wasn't about a technical or manual skill. Plenty of people knew how to use computers, fix cars, drive 18 wheelers, speak 3 languages. But they didn't know how to just exist in a social situation.
So maybe I'd sit down with this person and say, "OK, lets try a sample of how you'd interact with your boss".
Me: How's it going Dave?
Dave: Sucks, I am almost out of medication. Can you give me a ride to see my doctor?
Me: Ok....lets not say any of that.
Dave needed to work on not revealing he was taking meds, didn't have transportation and not getting his boss involved in his personal life. Dave just needed to learn how to respond about his work, not his ENTIRE LIFE.
And if you struggle with starting a new complex program, its like Dave trying to tackle his entire life in every conversation. Maybe for a month we just get Dave to save "fine" every time someone asks him how he's doing.
In the same vein we need the client struggling with a complex diet to just eat breakfast regularly. It's so common to encounter people who want a complete nutritional overhaul and don't even realize they don't have the tools or skills to be successful with that approach.
A NEW DIET IS NOT THE ANSWER LIKE A NEW JOB (for Dave) IS NOT THE ANSWER
The reason people are successful, long term on a nutrition plan is because it builds skills, habits and educates them on the process. It has to start simple and straightforward for most people because that's the only way to make a permanent change.
Imagine if you never squatted and I had you come in twice a week for a month and just squat until you couldn't walk and then after that month never have you squat again. Yep, you worked hard and probably got better, short term. But what did you learn besides "Oh my goooood that was sooooo haaaaard and it suuuuucked"? Instead, what if we had you do a more reasonable amount of work, building technique, discussing cueing, learning how to progress and when to back off, creating independence and did that twice a week for the next 5 years? Do you think that would work better than an all-out blitz?
Listen, at the start of my career I am guilty of throwing the most perfect, detailed plan at clients and watched it burn up in front of me. Until I realized that "OH! This person doesn't even know how to cook! Of course telling them to cook 4 different proteins every week didn't work!".
Lesson Plans That Don't Suck
A system is like a lesson plan. It has a structure that builds upon each lesson, skill or habit learned, getting more detailed and complex as it goes. And of course, it is adjusted and configured based on each student's personal experience since we do not all learn the same or at the same rate.
Did you walk into French class day one of high school and declare "If I don't speak fluent French within two weeks this class is a failure!"? Instead maybe all you knew about France was that they love baguettes. (wait, are baguettes a carb?) so your French teacher knew slamming you over the head with complex conversation would have 0% change of success. Like me you probably just learned the French word for "seal" and had a laugh.
If you feel like I am describing your situation or you have fallen victim to this cycle in the past and seems like nothing ever "sticks", this whole post is for you.
And so we come back to the title of this post and Why Your Diet Failed. It failed because first, it's a diet. By nature these are usually narrow in view and broad in outcome. They assume you have all the skills and knowledge necessary or that they can teach you everything you need to know in a short E-book. They also can't talk back to you, respond to questions and give feedback. You either do it, or you don't.
Your Diet Failed because it was too many changes at once. Most people can handle a whopping ONE change at a time. Oh, they'll argue they can do more, most certainly they will but odds are more than one variable will be like having a chainsaw in each hand. One is good but two? A tragedy for all involved. (yes that is my version of melodrama).
Your Diet Failed because you had no support system. Remember, you'll be asking yourself all these burning questions. You'll Google them, you'll ask your dog, you'll scratch them into the wall! We ALL do better with accountability and having someone to keep us sane and on track. We also need someone to just say "don't worry about that right now, it's not important". Phew, what a relief!
Your Diet Failed because when it's over, you go right back to what you did before the diet. No habits or skills built. Oh I know, we ALL lost 10lbs when we first tried Atkins. After that we all gained it back. Just ask anyone that's done Atkins.
So where does that leave you? Huddling in your kitchen afraid of all the choices? No - it just means you need to simplify! Slide the scale of complexity way back until you hit something you can totally do day in and day out and are confident in that. Just eat breakfast? Heck yeah I can do that! Just drink 16oz of water with each meal? Sure I can do that! They're all pieces of a larger whole and if you don't have those habits built, nothing will last that you pile on.
In our Strong Kitchen Coaching Group, we are working on building habits and skills. We're working on eliminating all the nonsense and confusion from dieting. We're getting in touch with what real nutrition and heathy eating means and can be. I know a lot of people out there aren't even sure when they're hungry or when they're full! How can you possibly make a real nutrition change if you don't even know when you're truly hungry?
Our current coaching group is under way and will be opening a second soon - for all those looking to break free of this up and down cycle of dieting and feeling like failure is the only option, we can help! For all of those reading this article saying "that sounds like me", then we want to help.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on the waiting list for our next coaching group and find out more. You can also go our Coaching Group details page to read more ->
Until then, ask yourself, "What skill do I think I am missing in my current nutrition?" From there, work on ONE change you can make to build that skill and do it every. single. day.