#53: My Favorite Coaching Tool & How To Use It

Want a peek into how Michelle works with her health coaching clients? In this episode she teaches you the fine art of the food diary review. It goes way beyond talking about food! Michelle’s even got a free food diary template for you to download.

Download Michelle’s free food diary template: HealthCoachPower.com/diary

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Hey health coaches, how are you doing? Happy Tuesday! We record these every week on Tuesday at 3:00 PM eastern time inside the Health Coach Power Community Facebook group. But I just want to remind you, you can listen elsewhere. You can listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Google, play, all the places you can also watch on YouTube. So however you got here, great.

Today I want to talk about something that I’ve been noticing. Sometimes I get the sense, tell me if I’m correct, that you guys want a little peek into how I work with my clients like, yeah, yeah, yeah. We talk about marketing a lot. We talk about running the business, but what about the actual work that we’re doing with our Private and group coaching clients? So if you’re here online and you’re watching, give me a thumbs up if that’s true. Do you want to know more about how I actually work with my clients and the process of coaching to help you out today?

I’m going to share my very, very favorite coaching tool and teach you how to use it most effectively with your clients. If we haven’t met, by the way, my name is Michelle Phennighaus. I have been a certified health coach with my own private practice for 10 years now and running and I’m a mentor for my fellow health coaches and part of the curriculum at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I’m seeing all sorts of thumbs up, start rolling in because everybody wants to know about what do I actually do when I get in the room with my client or when I get on the phone with my client. It can be terrifying. All right, glad that we’re all on the same page. Now. If you have any other questions that you want me to cover today and you are watching live, put those in the comments now and that we’ll get to you in just a few minutes.

But first, so what kind of brought this to my attention was that inside of our Facebook group, I noticed a couple of questions recently about using a food diary. I have to say that when I started my practice I had no clue what I was supposed to be doing with the food diary. It was something I think that IIN gave us. You know, I, I graduated from IIN and there was all sorts of materials they gave us and I believe a food diary was one of them. And I thought, all right, I’ll do that. But then I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do after somebody completed the food diary. But no worries. After many years of practice, it has definitely turned into my favorite absolute favorite tool for addressing a client’s nutritional status, obviously cause you see what they’re eating and what they’re not eating, but also their personality style.

And it gives me a lot of hints into how I should work with them around all issues. It’s like a window into their life and it’s so very valuable. So Kimberly posted in our group and she said that she had listened to and thoroughly enjoyed episode 39 so if any of you want to go back and relisten to episode 39, it’s called best questions to ask your clients a little more on this whole idea of how do you coach your clients. Um, but in that episode I did mention a food diary. So Kimberly asked, Michelle, do you have a download of the food diary that you spoke about? I think this is a genius way to kick off the sessions. Well Kimberly, guess what? I thought you had a great idea. So I actually created one for you and you guys can grab it at healthcoachpower.com/diary and it’s a free download.

You can use it as-is with your clients. Of course you could modify it to create your own, but what you’re getting is the exact same food diary that I use with every single health coaching client that I have. And again, you can grab that at healthcoachpower.com/diary and of course I’m going to be talking about how to use it in just a moment.

But first there was another question that came from Esther and she asked for those who do the classic six month, one on one health coaching program, how long do you have your clients keep a food journal that you reviewed together?

So as far as you’re going to see in my food diary template, I ask my clients to complete three to five days. And that’s regardless of whether I’m doing a private program, a group program, if it’s a six months, three months, whatever it’s going to be regardless of the length.

It’s the first thing that I asked them to do after they complete an intake form. And the only time I’m going to ask them to do it again, and this is rare, is if I feel that there’s been a change in our trajectory. So let’s say that we’re working together and this person’s making progress and things are moving in a particular direction and then there’s a change, there’s a hiccup in their lives, something happens and things got disrupted. So sometimes we will kind of start over and I’ll ask them to do the food diary again. Or if I’ve been working with a client for a very long time, occasionally I’ll have a client that I work with for longer than a year or they come back after taking a break. So, in that case, we might redo the food diary. But for most of my clients, they only do one food diary and it’s only three to five days.

So here’s why; cause I know other people do it differently and do whatever works for you. But in my practice, a lot of my clients have been chronic dieters. So for them, you know, completing a food diary can, can trigger them. It can make them feel like, oh no, I’m on a diet again, or oh no, like it’s like a Weight Watchers flashback and they are going to go into like a place of shame and it’s just not going to be helpful. Um, so there are some, there are occasions where I will say, let’s not do the food diary. That’s rare. But I will often say, listen, I just want to get a snapshot of Your Life. So I just want three days. You do not have to measure anything. You don’t have to count the calories up. You don’t have to use like measuring spoons and measuring cups or anything like that.

So it’s a lot more free form. And the goal really is to not trigger somebody’s past experiences with recording their food, which as we know can be so helpful, but it can also not be helpful. It can also go into a place of obsession. So that’s the first reason that I keep it kind of to a minimum. I like it to be three average days in their life, just long enough to get a sense of their habits. And I’ll say, you know, if you start your food diary and then you come down with the flu or then there’s an emergency in your home or whatever, like extend the diary for a few more days. You know, I don’t, I don’t need the aberrations. I need three average days. So that’s how long I do it for. Esther, to answer your question, I’m going to read a couple of comments that you guys are putting in here.

Kimberly says, thank you so much, Michelle. You’re so thoughtful to share so much with us. Kimberly, it was your idea – thank you. I think a lot of folks will benefit. Um, Leslie has a question. I will get to that in a little while cause it’s on a different topic. But thank you Leslie.

Let’s pretend that you’re working with your client. Okay. And you give your client a blank food diary to fill in. By the way, you can do this on paper. You can send a pdf. That’s what I was always doing. And then I would tell the client, you know, you can print it out and write on it, scan it back to me or just take a picture of it and send it to me. Um, whatever they wanted to do. Sometimes they would just type it out into an email and you know, maybe they recorded it on their phone.

So however they wanted to get the information to me, I really don’t care. Um, these days I use Practice Better, so it’s a form in the online portal and they can just fill it out in there, which I have to say is a lot easier for me than decipher in somebody’s handwriting. But whatever works. So the first thing that I do and I get a food diary is I look it over and noticed any patterns. It’s really interesting what will come up. You don’t have to really carefully look at somebody’s food diary or again add up calories or anything like that. It’s just, it’s like a pattern will appear pretty obviously. Like a recent client of mine, I look at a food diary and I wasn’t expecting this cause she’s quite overweight and doesn’t exercise, you know, it seemed like some bad habits going on in her life, but all of her meals and her food diary home cooked like this woman shopping for fresh food and she’s clearly making her own meals.

And I was like, wow, gosh. I mean, where are we going to you know, where do I start it if she’s already that far along? I’m like, this is going to be a toughie. But I noticed that every morning she puts that fake, I forget what the brand is because obviously I haven’t touched the stuff in probably 20 years, but you know that fake coffee creamer stuff, international something or other, it’s like flavored. She puts that in her coffee every morning. So that was a pattern that I noticed and I really stuck out to me because the rest of her food was all, you know, real food. And that was a signal to me that, okay, she’s still using processed foods. She’s probably not reading labels. Um, even though it looks like she likes to cook, we may have some work to do here. Like it kind of, you know, I’m not going to make assumptions, but I thought, okay, this might be a place to ask some questions.

Like what does her pantry look like if someone’s using that fake creamer? And if you guys know what that stuff is called, tell me so I can start using the name. I’m assuming if someone’s using that, then if I opened up their pantry, I would probably find like Heinz Ketchup, Hershey’s syrup, you know, other stuff made with artificial flavors, artificial colors, corn syrup, stuff like that. So I would expect to see a whole bunch of condiments and ingredients with those questionable ingredients that are somehow finding their way into her diet here and there, regardless of whether or not she wrote them on the food diary. So that’s just an example of how you can spot like, oh that’s odd. Oh that’s a little strange. Sometimes you’ll see that somebody eats like um, bread, like just a ton of bread or you know, they eat the same thing for breakfast every morning or anyway, so you just want to kind of look for patterns.

Another one that I usually will purposely look for is their vegetable intake. Like on average, just real quick count up like how many vegetables do they have on any given day? And again, they’re not measuring but if they wrote it down, you know, they had carrot sticks or they had, you know, whatever, some salad with dinner counted up. And it’s pretty remarkable because as health coaches, I’m assuming that we eat more vegetables than the average person does. And sometimes I’m really surprised at the, at the difference cause I’m like, oh why wouldn’t a person eat like three different vegetables with their dinner? But you’ll notice with most of your clients there may be eating one vegetable with dinner. So just kind of notice the overall vegetable intake, take notice of their snacking habits. So is there a time of day that they’re always having a snack? Is it a vending machine snack? Is it something that they’re, you know, pulling out of their freezer, Ben and Jerry’s style at the end of the night?

People tend to have these routines and rituals that they do when it comes to snacking. So if you can kind of identify those key areas, you’ll know what part of their day you might need to talk about. Look at their beverages. Are they drinking enough water? Are they drinking anything at all? Are they drinking a whole lot? But it’s all wine and you know, that’s something to pay attention to. And then the other patterns you might look at have to do with the timing of their meals. Like are they consistently skipping breakfast or eating late? At night after dinner, you know right before they go to bed. So all sorts of different things will kind of appear for you once you get comfortable reading through these food diaries.

Heather says, she thinks it’s called international delight. Boy, I really don’t know. International something or other. So funny. It’s like from a different world that I remember vaguely. So I will look through the food diary and I will see these patterns emerge and write some notes for myself. But when I have my session with my client, I don’t actually say any of this stuff to her. I’m not like, Hey, I noticed that you’re using this gross creamer every morning. Like Ah, I’m not going to bring it up. Instead what you can do is you can use a food diary as sort of a jumping off point for conversation and a and see where she or he is going to lead you. This is really the beauty of coaching. So I might ask, what was it like for you to complete the food diary? Open ended question.

Pause, take a breath, take a sip of water. They’re not going to know what to say. Chances are some of them are going to say, I hated it. Some of the am I going to say, oh, it was no problem. But if you just wait and kind of keep your mouth closed, chances are they will say more about it. Or I might say, what did you notice when you were filling out your food diary? So that kind of taps into their brain to say, hmm, what did I notice? What patterns emerged for me? What feelings came up for me? And this is all part of empowering your client and not playing the role of like a doctor or one who would prescribe anything, but a coach who is helping somebody come to their own conclusions. Um, so we’ll kind of go through what the person, what my client has to say for themselves, and then when they’ve run out of ideas, I might say, so listen, you know, you’re a really smart woman.

I know you know a lot about food. Assuming this is true. And I’ll say, just take a look at your food diary and tell me if you were your own health coach, what would you say? Like be your own nutritionist to be your own health coach, whatever. What advice would you give yourself? And they’re like, Ooh, yeah, they didn’t think I was going to ask that. But that is usually enough to get them to identify for themselves. A couple of different problem areas. Like they’ll say, well I don’t usually breakfast, I’ll say okay. And they’ll kind of allow, you know, they’ll say things, oh, I should probably try to eat breakfast and all I have to do is nod my head. Okay. And then I might ask, you know, well why, what do you notice about your mornings? Giving them a chance to reflect on how the lack of breakfast makes them feel.

So in this way, again, I’m not prescribing anything, I’m not inserting my ideas, I’m helping her identify for herself what needs to change. And again, that’s coaching. Like that is what makes us different than seeing a registered Dietitian, she leaves the session and she has this feeling of being empowered and able to make better decisions and think for herself. She didn’t just like, come to me for the answers. Came to me to learn how to think. And that’s what I think we want our clients to do, right? Teach a man to fish.

Let’s see here. Lots of questions coming in. I don’t see any about food diary, so I’m going to get to those in just a second. So I want to address the idea that sometimes a client won’t know what to say of course. So if you’re like, how was it filling out your food diary or what did you learn? Sometimes you’re just going to get like a tight lipped, “I don’t know, it was fine.” So if that’s the case, if you have somebody like that, you might ask questions that are a little bit more leading. Like, what did you notice about your vegetable intake or your sugar intake to get them talking about those areas that you’ve already pinpointed and that you have in mind but do not just stick to food. What I really want to impress upon you guys is that a good food diary review includes a review of their whole day.

So, you might say, “Hey, I notice that you’re eating dinner every night at nine o’clock 10 o’clock what’s going on there?” That’s going to get them into a conversation about how they get home late at night and the impact that has on their health and how their job is a real problem and the commute is a problem and all kinds of things that you can help them with that are tangential to nutrition, but no other practitioners going to talk to them about that, which is why it’s so important. Maybe you notice that she has a glass or two or three of wine at night every single night. So that’s worth talking about too. Not because the wine has to necessarily change. I mean, I think we would hope that it might change, but it really becomes an invitation to talk about how she’s feeling stressed or how she needs a way to relax or again, all life issues, all the primary foods that are going on in her life.

So even though it feels like an exercise about food, and I know not all health coaches practice in the area of food and nutrition, it really isn’t an exercise about food is an exercise about like stepping into a person’s shoes and understanding their whole life. And it can be a jumping off point for your entire first session. Really, it might even bleed into sessions two and three where the client leads the way they’re identifying their needs and you as a coach, you’re helping them verbalize it and create action items to address. Right? So you would say, oh, okay, well the wine, what I hear is that the wine is helping you relax at night. Is that right? She’s just going to say yes and then you could say, cool, what else might help you unwind? And suddenly you’ve got a client who’s booking her next yoga class and doing the first exercise she’s done in the last six years, right? Very, very powerful.

Another aspect to the exercise is that you can read into this person’s personality. This is kind of funny by how he or she completes the food diary. Like I have had all different types in my practice. Some people will measure everything perfectly, even though I said they didn’t have to and they’re going to give like a ton of detail that tells you something about them or maybe other people will just scribble down the basics. Like I’ve had a client who just scrawls on the paper sandwich. I’m like, great. But it really did tell me a lot about that person and how I needed to communicate with her. Uh, other people will transfer the whole thing like into their own Google spreadsheet and like color code the heck out of it and give me editing access to the document. So again, I really get a sense of what she’s all about.

And then some people are going to drag their feet and they’re not going to complete it at all. And I seek coaches all the time saying, oh my goodness, like what should I do? What should I do if my client doesn’t complete the form or complete the exercise? And it’s like, again, that is fodder for conversation. It’s not like, oh, you have to do it. Why didn’t you do it? You bad girl, or whatever. That’s not, that’s not what we would want to say as a coach. And just say, Oh, I noticed that you didn’t complete your food diary. What’s going on with that? Or tell me more about that. And they can perhaps give you some insight as to what’s going on in their mind and their life, which could be a perfectly valid coaching session even if no food diary was ever completed. So again, if you want to take a look at the exact food diary that I use, printed out, recreate it in a different format, whatever you want to do for your own clients, go to health coach, power.com/diary and you can grab it there.

Let’s see. Marilyn says this, diet – should I focus on helping clients that are looking to eat plant based or be open to all diets? I was thinking a niche would be a good idea since I love plant-based eating so much. I would love to know your thoughts. Thank you.

Yeah, Marilyn, that’s a really interesting question. So right, so it feels that their food diary and the rate and hamburgers and chicken and salmon, are you going to come in there and be like, you really should be eating more plant based food? You know, coaches range. Some coaches really specialize in a particular dietary style. I don’t know that that’s all that useful. Um, it’s Kind of like saying I’m a, I’m a stylist and I specialize in the color blue. Do people go to a stylist because they want to wear more blue? Like no, they go to a stylist because they have a problem.

Like, oh, I have like a trip I’m going on, I want to look good or I have this new job and I need suits for it. You know, like they usually don’t have the answer in mind. If they did, they probably wouldn’t need your help. Um, people who have a bigger problem are generally the ones you want to work with. So if someone’s like, I want to reverse a prediabetes or I want to lose weight, or whatever their big problem is that they want to solve and they come to you, you know, maybe that’s achieved through eating more plant based, maybe they’re eating so much processed food that you’re just going to start there. And you know, typically that’s what I see with clients. I could give a rat’s, you know, what if they’re eating chicken or beef or if it’s antibiotic free or whatever.

Cause we are like, we’re not even there yet. We’re just at the point where it’s like, let’s talk about the fake coffee creamer or let’s talk about, you know, the Doritos or the, the chocolate or the constant candy throughout the day. You know, sometimes that’s much more important. And if you’re getting a client who’s beyond all of that and all they want to do is transition to plant based eating, that’s fine. But that by itself isn’t really that big of a problem. And chances are they’re not going to spend that much money to hire someone to help them with it. That’s the kind of person who’s going to go online and get like a free eBook or go to some websites and figure out how to eat more plant based, but it’s unlikely they’re going to pay you like a couple thousand dollars for that unless they have a bigger problem. I hope that makes sense.

All right. What else do we have going on here? Um, Tonya said, brand new coach here. Hey Tanya, she says I’m having trouble with post consultation summaries. Should I do one as a follow-up to our session? I wrote one out for a client yesterday and it was a two page word doc. I feel like it’s overkill. What’s the best way to follow up after consults?

Okay. A lot of coaches do this again, everybody has a different style. For a long time I didn’t do any notes after my sessions with my clients because I really wanted to put them in a role where they are taking care of themselves, right? Like in all ways. Not just by like eating differently, but like, Oh, if I’m on the phone with my coach, I should probably take notes. I should probably, you know, be responsible for myself versus me kind of babying them with like, here’s the transcript of everything we said and I highlighted the most important parts, you know, so, so that was made for a long time.

Um, again, now that I use Practice Better, I find it like way easier to do notes and I think that my clients might actually use them because they’re all stored inside the platform instead of just getting lost in their inbox. So I’m, I still keep them really brief. I’m just like, here’s the main topic of what we talked about today. Here are the action items that we agreed on and if there’s any links, like if I promised him a link to a book or a link to whatever, you know, where they can buy coconut oil online or something like that, I’ll include the links and that’s it. But if you’re writing up like a two page word document, I would definitely, definitely pair that back. It shouldn’t take you any longer than like 15 minutes, because remember, the more time you spend with each client, the less you’re making per hour, the less efficiently you’re working. So you really want to consolidate your efforts. Good question though.

I got another question here from um, Casia or maybe it’s Cassia, I don’t know how to pronounce your name and I’m sorry, but she said, I just got an opportunity to organize a workshop at a local organic supermarket. Any suggestions on the topic?

That would be good. Yeah. So anytime you’re wondering what kind of workshop to run or we’re kind of freebie to create or what kind of anything to do, that means that you need to define your target market. Did anybody say it before me? That means you need to define your target market because if you know who your target market is, then you know who you’re marketing to, then you couldn’t create a presentation for them. And if you simply show up at the organic supermarket and you’re like, I’m going to do a workshop on healthy eating, then you’re going to get a smattering of all different random people and it’s very unlikely that they are going to be the right people for you to work with.

You know, you’ll get like the old man who just does everything that the store does for free cause he likes to sit in the corner and drink coffee. You get like some college age girls that show up because they want to be skinnier. You know it was just going to, it’s just not going to make sense. Do you want to create a workshop that appeals to a very specific person and market it towards that person so that you get the right people in front of you and your, it makes everything so much easier. I promise. If you know who you are actually marketing for marketing towards I should say.

Okay, I’ve got so many good questions today. I’m sorry if I don’t get to everyone but I did have a few promised so let me answer this one from Christine. She said, what famous, and I put that in quotes, what famous highly known health coaches are you all following and loving?

So, and I read that Christine. And I’m like, oh, that’s a good question. But you know what? I don’t follow any famous health coaches. I just don’t. A long time ago I realized that it was um, it was inspiring me to either copy them – you know, you see somebody doing something and you’re like, oh, I should be doing that or compare myself to them and play that whole comparison game. It just felt toxic all around. And I unsubscribed from everything. And I always say, I encourage you, if you guys are following me like as a health coach and you’re seeing what I put out there for my health coaching clients and my health coaching audience, and it’s not serving you well, please unsubscribe.

I never want you to fall into that comparison game. And PS, you never know what’s going on behind the curtain. I can’t tell you how many times I have met a coach and found out that even though they looked huge on Facebook, so many followers on Instagram, they have a cookbook, all this stuff just to find out they haven’t made a cent in their business in years. So you never know what you’re looking at. It might look really good. Doesn’t mean it’s working. Doesn’t mean it’s something that you should be learning from or comparing yourself to or anything at all. Even with me, sometimes I do things as experiments, tests most, testing different things in my business. If that’s what you see me do and you assume it works, you very well could be assuming wrong. So listen to the podcast show up in the Facebook group.

This is where I tell you what actually works. What is out there for the public in my health coaching business. You just won’t know. You just won’t know by, by following me. So I don’t follow any famous health coaches who I do follow. Are you guys. So here, obviously in the Facebook group, I’m always talking with all of you. I’m on Instagram as Health Coach Power Community and literally following you guys because it’s very inspiring to see coaches starting their businesses, trying things, putting out content. I love seeing the work that you guys are doing and so I follow you.

But Christina, I’m going to answer your question a little more straight. If you guys want to be inspired by some solid health coaches who do important work in the world, I’m going to tell you about three. Friends of mine, people I know well, so I, I don’t care what their marketing looks like. I don’t even know what it looks like. You might think, oh, you know, their website isn’t shiny enough. Who Cares? First, Andrea Beaman look her up if you don’t already know her. Second, Jill Grunewald, HealthfulElements.com, third Dylan DiGiovanni, it’s Dylan-digiovanni.com. They’re all actually graduates from IIN and all personal friends of mine. Hope that helps. Hope that helps and finding people to follow who aren’t just a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

All right, let’s see. I’m going to do another question or two. What was that early one? Leslie said, if you have a product line that you love and would like to suggest to your client, how do you work that in? Just in a list of suggested products?

I do this all the time, Leslie. In fact, we have an episode all about passive income. If you go back in the podcast, I forget what number it is, but it’s about passive income where I really talk about affiliate marketing and I’m an affiliate for any brand that will let me be an affiliate for them.

If it’s something that I find, I’m always referring to my clients. So a big one for me is skincare because as soon as you start talking about somebody’s personal care products, you know, my clients will say, ah, I tried some stuff from whole foods. I didn’t like it. What do you use Michelle? So if you find that somebody is asking you for a recommendation or something you’re going to naturally be recommending to your client, like that is a perfect time in your notes like we just discussed a second ago or just in an email to them to send a link and make it your affiliate link. Um, so I would usually recommend Anne Marie skin care to anybody who asks me about skincare because that’s the brand that I use. If somebody asks me about water filters, and this happens all the time, clients even just out of the blue, they’ll be like, hey, I was reading about water and I think I should get a filter. Do you have one? And I’ll say, yes I do, and I’ll give them a link.

So I let it kind of work its way in there very organically. And it truly does. I mean it’s part of coaching, right? People are always going to be asking us for recommendations like that. So if you can be making 30% 20% even 10% 5% any percent that helps your bottom line. So I highly recommend.

It’s 3:30 you guys, so we got to go, but this has been a pleasure. I will be back next Tuesday, but before we get out of here, I want to give a shout out to everybody who has been leaving a five star review and rating on iTunes. Thank you so much. If you haven’t, please head over to iTunes. I put out all this free content every week for you guys, and in order to keep doing that, I need your ratings. What can I say? Help me reach more coaches. I’ll be back next week. So keep asking all your great questions and I will keep answering them. Take care of you guys.