Behaviour Change and Nutrition Counselling


Behaviour Change and Nutrition Counselling

Most people know that healthy eating is important. When people think of nutrition counselling, they often only think about what their nutrition coach will tell them to eat (or not eat) or what kind of meal plan they will be ‘placed’ on. More focus is often put on the ‘what’ to eat as opposed to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to eat. A good nutrition coach doesn’t just talk about the ‘what’ and place everyone on the same plan. In fact, a good coach will mainly focus on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of eating and work to understand the psychology behind an individual’s current behaviour.  This is what helps drive long-term behaviour change. In addition to this, understanding the principles of good communication and being able to connect with clients on a human level is extremely important to develop a trusting relationship and to keep clients motivated. In Elevated Learning Academy’s (ELA) Applied Nutrition Science (ANS) Diploma program, developing good coaching skills is just as important as understanding the science behind nutrition. Students are not only taught the ‘what’ but are also immersed in learning experiences that help them develop good communication skills and apply the principles of behaviour change and goal setting with clients. This is accomplished through three core learning modules: 1) Coaching, Listening, and Feedback, 2) Habits and Behaviour Change, and 3) Goal Setting.

Firstly, in our Coaching, Listening, and Feedback module students learn the importance of communicating with clients and getting to know the ‘why’ behind their current behaviours. This involves active listening, asking questions, and providing appropriate feedback. When a coach takes the time to understand a client’s current lifestyle, preferences, barriers, and challenges, they are better equipped to structure a plan that suits the client. It also helps builds rapport and fosters a more productive working relationship.

Secondly, in our Habits and Behaviour Change module, students learn about ‘The Stages of Change’ model and how to gauge the readiness of a client to make changes to their lifestyle. Understanding where a client is in terms of their readiness to change can help the nutrition coach meet them where they are at and plan the next steps according to individual needs. After assessing readiness to change, students then learn about habit change theory and how to apply it. They say it takes 21 days to change a habit, however research shows it’s more like 66 days, and maybe more! Consistent effort and focusing on 1-3 habits at a time is key to long-term success. This is part of the ‘how’ behind nutrition coaching.

Lastly, learning how to formulate goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timebound (SMART) are key objectives of our Goal Setting module. Goal setting is important when trying to improve any aspect of your life, and nutrition is no different. When goals meet all SMART components, it improves the likelihood of clients achieving them! In this module, students practice creating SMART goals that align with a client’s readiness level and individual needs. This is also part of the ‘how’ behind nutrition coaching.

Once students learn the basics of these modules, they are engaged in an intensive Coaching Workshop to tie everything together. Our students always love putting things into practice and we love to see how much they grow as coaches during this time! Long-term behaviour change is challenging, but when a nutrition professional can appropriately apply the right mix of coaching skills and knowledge to each unique situation, clients are more likely to be successful in achieving their goals and sustaining them for life!

by Erin Hanley, RD