Improving Your Client’s Dietary Adherence, According to Science

In today’s episode of Nutrition for Your Business, we are talking about dietary adherence, how to achieve it with your clients and why it can be a huge game-changer for your nutrition business. Let’s start by talking about what dietary adherence is. Dietary adherence is the extent to

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Abigail Keeso, RN Abigail Keeso, RN
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In today’s episode of Nutrition for Your Business, we are talking about dietary adherence, how to achieve it with your clients and why it can be a huge game-changer for your nutrition business.

Let’s start by talking about what dietary adherence is.

Dietary adherence is the extent to which your client’s diet corresponds with your agreed-upon recommendations.

Achieving dietary adherence is actually one of the biggest challenges faced by nutrition professionals. We have all experienced clients who struggle to implement our suggestions when it comes to their nutrition. As a result, they don’t achieve their goals which isn’t ideal for them, their health or for us as practitioners and our businesses.

This is why the concept of dietary adherence is so important. In order for our clients to thrive, we must focus on making them successful, and dietary adherence plays a massive role in their success.

When clients don’t follow our nutrition advice, often our first instinct is to blame them. This is very common, but we know from research that dietary adherence depends on many factors, including our actions as practitioners.

Whether our clients follow our nutrition advice depends just as much on our actions as theirs. It’s so important that we recognize this and do what we can to support them.

No one wants their clients to fail. We all want successful, happy clients. In order to make this happen, we need to get serious about dietary adherence. This is why we’ve spent hours upon hours combing through the research on dietary adherence and we’ve summarized the most important ways that we as health professionals can help our clients be more successful when it comes to following our nutrition recommendations.

The evidence-based tips on dietary adherence that we’re about to share with you have the power to help your clients achieve their goals, grow your nutrition business and make the world a healthier place.

Our work as nutrition professionals can have such a positive impact on the world but only if clients are actually following our advice, so let’s go over how to make that happen, shall we?

Tip #1. Build Self-Efficacy

The first step in helping our clients achieve dietary adherence is to build their self-efficacy, which is essentially a fancy term for confidence. Self-efficacy is your client’s belief in his or her ability to act according to plan and achieve their goals.

Research has shown that self-efficacy plays a big role in food choices and dietary adherence, making it a really important thing to build with our clients. We need to constantly be helping our clients believe in their ability to follow the plan and achieve their goals, and there are a few ways to do this.

The first is goal setting. Work with your clients to set attainable goals, and then help them achieve them. Every time your client achieves a goal, their confidence will grow.

Next, address your client's failures and challenges head-on. Your clients will face failures when working towards their nutrition goals. It is inevitable and part of the process. But how you help them deal with these challenges can determine whether they get back on track or completely give up.

Check-in with your clients frequently so you can identify when they are struggling. The sooner you can see they are struggling, the sooner you can help them overcome it before it gets out of control and damages their confidence.

Finally, educate. Education has a big impact on dietary adherence and research has shown that nutrition knowledge leads to higher self-efficacy. The more your clients understand the why behind your recommendations, the more likely they are to follow them.

The more you build self-efficacy, the more your clients will believe in themselves and follow your nutrition advice.

Tip #2. Provide Supporting Resources

The next thing we can do to help our clients adhere to their diets is to provide them with great supporting resources.

For most clients, it’s not enough to give verbal nutrition advice or a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid, and then expect them to figure out the rest on their own.

Giving clients things that will help them implement your advice will remove the guesswork and can greatly improve their adherence and success.

So what kind of resources are effective?

Research has shown that meal plans can greatly impact adherence. They have also been associated with better food variety and a healthier weight.

Meal plans provide clients with a roadmap to follow and help them overcome the most common barriers to healthy eating like preparing meals, finding recipes, keeping food costs down, grocery shopping and making healthy food still taste good.

With this being said, generic, one-size-fits-all meal plans will not help clients be more compliant.

Research has also shown that clients are much more adherent when they receive a plan that is customized to their unique needs. Creating personalized plans allow you to cater to things like your client's culture, any financial constraints, and food preferences.

If you give a client a plan that doesn’t take into consideration their unique needs, they are very unlikely to follow it. But when you create a nutrition plan that includes culturally appropriate, accessible, delicious foods, dietary adherence improves and so does your client’s health.

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It’s also important to note that research has shown that dietary adherence decreases when the plan is too complex. So when creating meal plans, keep them simple. It is up to you as the nutrition professional to take a complex treatment plan and make it easy to follow, and a meal plan can really help you achieve this.

If you aren’t into creating meal plans, offering recipe books can also help with dietary adherence as a big obstacle to eating healthy is simply a lack of recipes to follow. We as health practitioners can easily help with that by providing healthy, delicious recipes that meet our client’s needs.

Tip #3. Stress Management

Next, we found that helping to manage your client’s stress will positively impact their dietary adherence.

As nutrition professionals, we often get caught up in food choices, but there is so much we can do to help them manage the stress in their lives as well, like teaching them about the importance of breathing and meditation.

With that being said, there are a lot of great stress management techniques that are beyond our scope of practice, and this is when having a strong referral network comes in-handy. Never be afraid to refer your clients to other health care professionals that can help them manage stress like a social worker, therapist or yoga teacher.

Your clients trust your recommendations, so a simple referral will mean a lot to them.

Remember: stress has a big impact on dietary adherence, so don’t underestimate its impact. Recognizing your client’s stress and helping them manage it is super important.

Tip #4: Foster Social Support

The next major impact on dietary adherence is social support. There is so much evidence proving that strong social support results in high adherence. In other words, better social support = better health.

As health professionals, there are a number of ways we can foster social support for our clients. For example, we can offer group sessions where our clients can connect with one another or we can connect our clients to each other through things like buddy programs. Facebook groups are also a great way to bring your clients together to connect over a common health challenge and are a great way to build a community.

Having the support of friends and family is also super important when it comes to dietary adherence. So talk to your clients about their relationships, and if their friends and family are supportive of their dietary changes. You can also play a part in helping your client understand how to address challenging social situations, like unhealthy snacks in the home.

If your client is up to it, you can even offer to have one of their loved ones sit in on a session so they can better understand what they are going through in terms of their dietary changes.

Weight loss studies have shown those who attended the program with family or friends were more likely to maintain weight loss after program completion than those who attended alone, which really shows the importance of having strong support systems in place.

Tip #5: Stay in Close Contact

You need to stay in touch with your clients between appointments. You can do this via phone calls, text messages or email - all methods of communication have been shown to be effective, so it really depends on how your clients prefers to communicate.

When checking in, ask them about their goal progress, provide positive feedback, help them problem-solve and celebrate their successes. This will help you problem solve challenges and also provide positive reinforcement, which goes a long way in keeping your clients on track.

Tip #6: Self-Monitoring

Self-monitoring means having your client observe and record their behaviour, like food intake and has been shown to improve their diet.

What you encourage your client to self-monitor will totally depend on their goals. For example, if your client’s goal is better digestion, you may want to have them self-monitor their food intake and symptoms through a journal.

In order for self-monitoring to result in better health outcomes, your clients must do it consistently. So encourage them to record regularly and make it easy for them to do so. For example, if your client spends a lot of time on their phone, you may want to suggest a mobile app that makes it fun to track their progress.

At the end of the day, if you want to achieve dietary adherence with your clients, you are going to get the best results by using a combination of these strategies. No single intervention has been shown to be effective for all clients or all conditions, so you have to use a variety of approaches and tailor them to your clients unique situation.

There is no denying that adherence is a major challenge we face as health care professionals, but we hope you are as fired up as we are about tackling it head on. It will have such a big impact on your clients, your business and the health of our world as a whole.