How do I help my client stay motivated and on track with their meal plan? 

What methods can I teach my clients to get past self-sabotaging thoughts like, "I'll start my diet tomorrow" or, "What the heck." 

What do I do when my client says, "I'm so stressed out I can't start eating healthier today."  

Do these questions sound familiar? I’ve heard many dietitians and health care professionals ponder these questions over the past ten years.  At times, it can be so frustrating!  You want your client to succeed, you give them the right tools to do so and their efforts fall flat. Even more difficult is that you may only have a few minutes in an appointment to help. It can leave you scratching your head.

More often than not, after meeting with a person and digging deep into the reasons he/she is stuck, you find an emotional response or stubborn thought pattern that interferes with carrying out their goals. Sometimes it is fear (What will happen if I change?) or anger (It's not fair I have to change the way I eat).  Other times, it is stress (I'm too overwhelmed to change), cravings (I want it!), pressure from food pushers (I can't say no to my husband) or trauma (I'm hypersensitive to everything).

In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics* founds that 55% of participants listed temptation as their reason for unhealthy snacking and 26% indicated emotional eating (feeling fed up, bored or stressed).  So, getting a handle on cravings and emotion is key.

What can you do?  It's important to understand the influence of emotion on daily food decisions and how to channel your emotions in a way that help rather than hinder your efforts (I talk more extensively about this in EatQ). Here are some examples of using new psychological tips to influence food decisions.

Tip for Dietitians/Health Care Providers                            

1)  Catch Your Client/Patient Doing Something Right:  While there are many behaviors your client could tweak and are interfering with their progress, there are several actions they are doing right.  Be sure to point them out!  Reinforcing the positive habits builds confidence and is a stepping stone for other behaviors (ex. they eat breakfast every morning).

2)  Build Rather than Break Habits:  It takes on average 66 days to build a healthy new habit and 2-5 years to break an old habit.  New habits crowd out the old with less effort and struggle.  For some behaviors, rather than telling them to “stop” doing it, tell your client to “start” an action today!  (ex.  Rather than “stop” drinking soda, start drinking water).

3)  Creative, Confidence Building Exercises:  Build up your client’s confidence and skills without food first. Begin by pointing out that they do have the right skills and can apply them to eating situations. For example, it’s likely that your client does exhibit impulse control in other areas of their life (not smoking, limiting texting etc.). Then, practice.  For example, to boost impulse control try a version of “Simon Says."  Take a few steps and then intentionally say to yourself “stop.”  Or, take a drink of water and in the middle say, “stop.” Doing this builds up your ability to open up a bag of chips and tell yourself to “stop” because you have had practice doing it. (there are 25 more exercises in EatQ).

Best wishes in helping your clients continue on their journey to healthier, more mindful eating!  Your support and tools help people take one more step each day.

Sign up for the free 10 EatQ Challenge starting November 11th by emailing  Or, join the VIP EatQ group with exclusive content when you purchase the book and send your receipt to

Dr. Susan Albers is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of six books on mindful eating including Eat.Q: Unlock the Weight Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence. She has been quoted in the New York Times, Self, O Magazine, Shape, Fitness and on the Dr. Oz show.

*Celboury & Tapper (2013) Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.  Reasons for eating "unhealthy" snacks in overweight and obese males and females.

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