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It's Not the Eating... It's How We're Eating

Personal Trainer and tutor Amanda Phillips brings you a personal account of one of the most common yet overlooked nutritional issues holding PT clients back from great results today.

One of the most common things I hear new trainers talk about, is doing a course on nutrition. “If I just knew more” they say, “I could really make a difference to my clients’ nutrition”.

Personal Trainers, especially new ones, are usually super keen to up-skill, which is fantastic. Word of caution though – before shelling out your hard earned cash, read Steve’s earlier blog on the common ‘myth’ around knowledge and Personal Training: Personal Training Business Myth Exposed 

A course in nutrition would undoubtedly improve your own knowledge, and in turn you can educate your clients further about the finer details – the structure and function of proteins in the body, carbohydrate metabolism, digestion and catabolism of fats. You have to ask yourself though – will this increase in nutritional knowledge suddenly change their unhealthy behaviours? Is it that my client doesn’t know what they are doing is unhealthy, or is it that they don’t know how to change the behaviour?

Whilst for some, lack of knowledge may be an issue, during my career I have found this to be the ‘exception’ rather than the ‘rule’. The ‘rule’ is that people in general know where they are going wrong, but what they don’t know is how to address it. Who will support them? Where do they start? And why is changing the way we eat so hard?!

Two years ago I came back from Scotland, with at least 4kg of extra 'baggage' with me. It has taken two years, with a lot of slip ups on the way, but I am now 6kg lighter than when we returned. As a Personal Trainer, my knowledge of nutrition is pretty good, so why did I ‘let myself go’, and why has it taken me two years to rectify the situation?

I have the same the story as anybody else - the pub culture over there was hard to resist, I was (and still am) busy, it’s hard to eat right on the go, I exercise so I can get away with it... the list goes on. But I finally got to the point where I needed to do something, and I am now feeling better than ever. So I thought I would celebrate by sharing my approach with you, and it is the only approach I have found that consistently works with clients to achieve sustainable long term results.

First I had to identify what behaviours had helped put the weight on and keep it there! The 3 major problems I identified were:

  1. I was snacking on the wrong foods at morning and afternoon tea (damn biscuit tin at work!)
  2. I was having diet coke or sugar free V at lunch (sugar free means guilt free right..?). This was contributing to a massive crash after lunch meaning I was tired, grumpy and more likely to make poor food choices in the afternoon
  3. I was having an ‘occasional' drink most nights of the week, and the weekends (so not so occasional after all – definitely a hangover – excuse the pun – from my time in Scotland!)

Positive Goals

One of the things we are big on in personal training is setting positive goals: "I will run further, I will lift more" and so on. However when people set nutritional goals we suddenly take a turn for the negative "I must not eat chocolate, no takeaways". With such negative language, revolving around deprivation, it is little wonder we can't stick to it. Tell me no chocolate, and all I want is chocolate! So I had to turn the behaviours above into positive goals.

This is what I came up with:

  1. Eat 2 pieces of fruit minimum per day and make healthy muesli slice every Sunday to take for afternoon tea (I was in the habit of having less than ideal afternoon teas so I had to find something more exciting than fruit for this meal)
  2. Have green apple herbal tea instead of fizzy with lunch (it's delicious!)
  3. Drink soda water with lemon IN A WINE GLASS in the evening when I wanted a drink


The most amazing thing about this approach is that while I was so busy focusing on the 3 things I was supposed to be doing, a lot of other bad nutritional habits got cleaned up along the way! And the goals themselves were relatively easy to achieve, because I had identified the problem areas, and made alternative arrangements instead. I wasn't hungry. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything. My energy levels were better than ever.


Believe me – there were challenges. I had to recruit my hubby and work colleagues to support me in my journey. Hubby helped by not drinking alcohol during the week, and leaving me a piece of muesili slice every day (rather than down the batch once it was out of the oven which was his preferred approach!). My colleagues were not allowed to offer to get me something while they were out during breaks – I had my fruit and slice at the office, and I definitely didn’t need anything extra sneaking it’s way back into the office.

So here I am. 6kgs lighter, with a whole lot more empathy for my poor clients struggling to change their eating habits, and feeling motivated to continue my own good work for the summer. It is not the latest diet recommendations, facts and figures that I spend most of the time talking about now with my clients, but behavioural patterns that may be contributing to their poor nutritional choices.

So to use this: encourage your clients to identify two or three changes that they think will make the most difference to their health / body weight – and turn these into positive goals. Spend some time planning for what might challenge the behaviour and cause slip ups, and have an intervention in place.  Remember to rally the troops. Getting those at home and work to jump on board and support the behaviour change is hugely important, as it is tough to go it alone.

What's Next?

So what's next? I can't forget my first 3 goals, as the moment I'm unprepared it's all too easy to fall back into those patterns. But since I'm generally doing well in those areas, it's time to set some new goals and address the remaining problem areas. A big one has got to be social occasions, and with the silly season fast approaching I better move quickly!

Only a few weeks until we go on Christmas holidays, who wants to join me for the next (more toned, slimmer) leg?! 


Amanda Phillips

Personal Training Tutor, Personal Trainer, Product Developer

steve says:
Mar 28, 2015 09:13 AM

Great advice and insight. Thanks for sharing.