I’ve spoken with hundreds of professionals in the nutritional health industry over the past few months. From registered dietitians with decades of experience and huge practices to newly minted health coaches with a glint in their entrepreneurial eye and a desire to change the world. And yet, the similarities are striking. Once they’ve completed the intake, run the various tests and reviewed the client’s symptoms, a diagnosis is presented, the condition is given a name, the next stage seems to be the hardest. How do you motivate the client to carry out the protocol set out for them and achieve the results they want? The protocol is clear, but the execution is fraught with obstacles.
The client has come to the practitioner in need of help. But the help they seek is not to have their condition named, nor even to be given a solution. It’s to feel better. They are delegating this responsibility to someone else, because after a lot of internet searches and failed attempts at helping themselves they are ready to pay for help.
Most of the time, the treatment plan is a change to a diet, a change of lifestyle. Many practitioners correctly take all aspects of a client’s life into account (Functional Medicine professionals especially), but still there is the sticky problem that you can’t simply walk into their kitchen and make them the food yourself. It’s not scalable. Health coaches did not sign up to be personal chefs.
One answer is to provide a meal plan. But why do professionals unanimously detest meal planning?
2 main reasons:
- It’s time consuming and difficult, especially if you’re going to the trouble of creating a consolidated shopping list.
- Clients simply don’t follow the plan. A one-size-fits-all plan cannot possibly meet all the constraints present in every household.
These two hurdles can be overcome by signing up for meal planning software. Plug in the requirements and ‘hey presto’ out pops a meal plan. You hand it to the client and your job is done, right? Not quite.
Let’s roll back to the reason why health professionals do what they do. Many of them overcame some sort of personal health issue, or witnessed someone close to them in pain, then overcame it through some kind of path to recovery. Then brimming with health they start to see suffering all around them. Armed with new found knowledge they want to help others. I’ve spoken to ex-lawyers, general contractors and tax assessors who changed their career to help others. In most cases, that path was not linear. It was a heroic journey consisting of dead ends, false starts, frustration and self-doubt with an eventual arrival at a hard-won understanding about themselves and how their mind/bodies function.
This is where accountability comes in. In order for someone to engage a practitioner and willingly open their pocket book for sage advice on how to move forward, the client has set a standard for themselves. Their health is not OK. It has gone too far in the wrong direction. And now, they want to engage with someone they can look up to, someone they can respect. The role of the practitioner is not just to dole out a protocol, but to champion the client to the end of THEIR heroic path to health.
In order to clear that path, the practitioner needs to make a clear assessment and diagnosis that will resonate with the client. A common agreement is arrived at. Yes, we need to do something about this! From there on out, it’s about creating a pragmatic solution that can be carried out. The meal plan must be on point, include the right recipes based on the protocol, but will also cater to taste, culture and economic circumstances. Having reached an agreement that the meal plan is fit for purpose, the client then goes home and implements the plan.
At this point the practitioner must, like a theater director on a first night, sit in the auditorium and let the actors do their thing. A week passes and the client comes back for another appointment. Before they even open their mouth, you know they have not done a single thing towards helping themselves. Tears are shed and the practitioner now gets to find out the real problem. An abusive relationship, delusionary ideas of self, challenging economic or time constraints torturing already overloaded adrenals. All of these findings now open the door to the practitioner to give their medicine. To see the client at their worse, and to still encourage them to dust themselves off and try again.
The fault here no longer lies with the meal plan, often the fall guy for a failed treatment plan. Just one wrong recipe, “I told you I don’t like mushrooms!”, means the practitioner and client never get to the conversation that needed to be had in order to move forward.
We are a curious species. We default to presenting our social mask and show that ‘we have it all together’ even in circumstances where it would behoove us to be vulnerable and lay all the cards on the table. The practitioner’s role is to break through and get behind that mask in order to give their medicine. A gentle nudge, week after week, with a delicious, perfectly designed, personalized meal plan, is the ultimate tool. It helps reveal what is really going on as the client is accountable to their mentor, but also eventually, it relieves them of their symptoms and they start to reach the standard they set for themselves. The practitioner has healed one more patient and fulfilled the promise to themselves that they would help their community.
Knowing all of this, throwing a patient at a website full of recipes that will heal them, or giving them a generalized meal plan is missing the point. Accountability is everything.