Nutritional coaching has been upwardly trending in recent months, with thousands of recreational athletes signing up for online nutrition coaching packages from start-ups like Renaissance Periodization and Working Against Gravity. For a reasonable monthly fee, you get unlimited access to the industry's most successful experts with regular e-mail tracking, distance coaching, and feedback. It’s a world away from print books and DVDs authored by charlatans and reality TV stars, and it's wonderful.


Many athletes now have solid individual coaching to help them navigate their nutrition.


But as more and more athletes sign up for expert dieting advice, there’s a few things I’ve noticed from the other side of the fence that need to be considered before jumping into personalised nutrition coaching of this kind. Because you can throw all of the money you like at hiring a great nutritional coach – and trust me, for the right one it’s worth the money – but there are a few things a nutritional coach won’t be able to do for you.

28 Day Meditation Challenge


1. Give You Purpose

No matter how refined or individualized your nutritional plan is, dieting can be extremely hard.


Your sister will have a baby, and you’ll have to say no to cake at the christening. You’ll get slammed at the office, but won’t be able to take the edge off with a beer on the sofa when you get home. At the end of a long diet, the amount of food you can eat to continue to lose weight will become very little, and you will be continually hungry. These situations will thoroughly test your mental and physical resilience. To bulletproof this resilience, you have to have a solid and convincing purpose for dieting.


Think long and hard on your purpose before you take the plunge into overhauling your diet. Your coach can help you identify your goals, negotiate timelines to meet them, and be mindful of key milestones, but he or she cannot give you the purpose that’s at the base of it all. That is deeply personal and unique to you. Ultimately it’s up to you to pin it down, write it down, and make sure whatever it is, your purpose is tough enough to carry you through the dieting wilderness.


2. Provide a Final Nutrition Solution

Optimal nutrition is a moving needle. If you’re looking for a way of eating that means you’ll never have to think about your diet again, no coach can give you that. A to-the-letter meal plan that will keep you lean, sexy, and crushing it in the gym for life does not exist. In any case, a static meal plan won’t tell you how to eat when you’re stranded in an airport, or round the in-laws for a birthday dinner you can’t say no to.


What your coach can give you is guidance in the trial and error process of finding out what works for your physiology and your lifestyle. They cannot give you immediate and final answers.


Taking the time to learn about food will develop your skill and finesse of handling disruption, and knowing why you’re eating what you’re eating will enable you to make food work for your goals in almost any situation. That’s why the best coaches advocate habit-based strategies with simple portion guidance, macronutrient splits, and preferred food lists, with some nutrient timing strategies thrown in if you’re an athlete. It’s an empowering method that teaches you to think on your feet and for yourself.


You won’t get a catch-all answer after your first consultation, so don’t expect one. Be prepared to try, fail, adjust, and learn with your nutrition coach.


3. Cure Your Psychological Issues With Food

The majority of dieters – fat, thin, muscled, scrawny– have some sort of mental block or issue with what they put in their mouth. Whether it’s eating too much, too little, or drinking alcohol, either sporadically or all the time, everyone has a weak link to one degree or another. And there’s usually a pretty dark reason to explain it. Childhood trauma, a broken heart or bereavement, a chronically shitty body image, or a powerful aversion to boredom.


Whatever it is, your coach can help you become aware of a psychological issue, but they can’t wave a magic wand and cure it. You are the one who needs to be proactive and seek out the resolutions to your psychological roadblocks. If you identify that your self-esteem is low, for example, seek the reason why. Enlist the services of a counsellor. Hash out some sensitive topics with your parents. Private message an old bully on Facebook and let them know their teasing really screwed you up back then. Search the popular psychology section on Amazon.


Whatever your strategy, delve into your deeper psychology and make steps to resolving your emotional short circuits at the earliest opportunity. Ultimately, you’re the one who needs to ask yourself the hard questions, and you don't want to be deep into a hard diet only to realise you're not ready to address your issues yet.


Coaches Are Allies, Not Miracle Workers

Review this list before your initial consultation with a nutrition coach, and keep your mind open as they guide you through what will likely be a long, hard, but ultimately very rewarding journey.


The shift away from printed books pedalling overly general meal plans that don’t provide ongoing support is an unbelievably positive one. But in a “1-Click” ordering world, we need reminding sometimes that some problems will always be too complex for an instant solution. Weight management is one of them. Your receipt for your online diet coaching will appear in your inbox right away, but your results will not.


Recognize your coach for what they are: a powerful ally, but not a miracle worker. A body that’s in line with your goals and your values isn’t all that you could get in return. You might just experience greater independence, self-awareness, and personal growth too.


More on how fitness isn't a "1-Click" trick:

There Are No Tricks in Fitness