Why Do Your Clients REALLY Eat?


If you’re a health coach or nutrition practitioner, you know how important it is to help your clients and patients understand not only WHAT to eat, but WHY they eat. To change behavior, we need to understand the motivations behind food choice; in an ideal world, we would eat because we need food. We are hungry, we need nutrition. But in the real world, tasty temptations are everywhere and healthy meals are often few and far between.

Here’s why people really eat… let’s help our clients recognize and change these habits. Eating mindfully and for the right reasons play a huge role in weight management and optimal health.

To get rid of it.

You know what I’m talking about. The 3 French fries the kids didn’t finish. The last gulp of OJ in the carton. The meh dessert at a restaurant. Stuff we wouldn’t eat or drink if it wasn’t screaming, “Finish me up!”

It’s hard to resist the temptation to “not waste” food, make room in the fridge, make it disappear, or risk offending someone because you left one cookie in the huge package. We need to honor our body’s needs, not make excuses. One message that has helped my clients: If food is not salvageable for later, don’t eat it as the alternative. Throw it away. Whether food you don’t need ends up in your stomach or in the garbage, it’s wasted food. Why waste it inside a body that doesn’t need it? Optimal health and successful weight management are worth more than that. If food gets wasted, we need to forgive ourselves and plan better for the future.


Because “My body needs it”

Do your clients eat ice cream because “my body needs calcium”? A burger because “I need extra protein”? Remind them that nutrients are found in hundreds of different foods. If we truly craved what our bodies actually need for real, we’d all be tearing through a bunch of kale for the calcium, and if protein were an issue, our mouths would water just thinking about lentils. Chocolate is a super good source of magnesium, but we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that M&M cravings are due to a magnesium deficiency.


Because it’s a “special occasion.”

Back in the old days, special eating occasions were, well, special. Nowadays everything seems to be a reason to eat. An office birthday, a baby shower, anniversary, a good report card, a promotion, a new iPhone, happy hour, or just because it’s Tuesday. Celebrations are about the people and the event, not the food. Unless the food is truly special (like Grandma’s once a year lasagna or the winning apple pie at the state fair), remind your clients: pass up the junk. Think about those “I-can-get-this-food-anywhere/anytime” foods, like packaged snacks and fast food--they’re just not worth the damage.


Because it’s there.

Don’t underestimate the power of the Seefood diet – see food and eat it. The opposite holds true as well: out of sight, out of mind. I’m talking about the dish of chocolate candies your clients walk by every time they visit the office restroom. The cookie jar on the counter by the sink while they’re doing dishes. The bag of chips they keep on the kitchen counter (because…. the bag doesn’t fit in the cupboard!). The out of sight/out of mind technique is simple yet powerful.

Recent behavioral studies show that people are more likely to take candy they pass by when it’s in a clear rather than opaque candy jar. Classic studies from the 1960s comparing the gobble rate of sandwiches wrapped in clear plastic versus foil reveal that people invariably eat more sandwiches that they are able to see.

The mere sight of foods gets us thinking about it, both consciously and subconsciously. Thinking about it is the first step towards eating it, whether we’re hungry or not. The solution is simple: help your clients learn to hide foods they don’t want to eat, and how to make it more convenient to munch on healthy stuff. For example, suggest that they get the junk out of sight and decorate their environment with a bowl of fruit or a plate of raw vegetable strips or a whole grain and fruit bar. These are the weapons against the more malicious mindless munching.


Because they’re stressed. Or sad. Or bored. Or tired.

No doubt about it, most of us eat for emotional reasons at some time or another. Whether it’s grazing on chips to procrastinate a dreaded project, head-first diving into that pint of ice cream late at night, or tearily popping Jelly Bellies by the handful after a breakup, deep down we all know that this habit of emotional eating piles on the pounds. And it’s no mystery why we do it, even though we know it’s not a good idea: Food is comfort. Food is associated with good feelings. Food is nurturing. But to combat emotional eating issues, we really do need to help our clients examine their relationship with food and have them ask themselves why they’re eating. It’s important to separate hunger from cravings, needs from urges. How can we help hem do that? Help them through these steps:

  • One, figure out if you’re hungry or not. You know what true hunger feels like: low blood sugar, growling tummy, and it’s been a while since your last meal. Chances are, you can comfortably go another hour or two before sitting down to your next meal or snack.

  • Second, identify exactly why you are considering eating even though you’re not hungry. Once you identify the emotion and its cause, think of ways you can solve the issue or get through it. Get help from a friend, attack the problem head-on, come up with a series of action steps or coping mechanisms that address the root cause.

  • Next, try the 5-D approach: Delay, Determine, Distract, Distance, Decide. The 5 D’s force us to really think about our actions beforehand, preventing unwanted binge eating.

  • Finally, forgive yourself if you overdo once in a while. We are all human after all, and we are always striving to learn from our mistakes and improve. Start over and be better each time!