One of my first clients, Alberto, wanted to clean up his diet and get back to a more active lifestyle.
Night 1: We started by going through his food supplies. I sorted each and any food he had in his apartment into one of three categories: 1 Ok to eat – can stay. 2 Not terrible but not ideal either – these foods were placed in a box to be phased out / not restocked once eaten up. 3 Not even food – nobody should actually eat this, ever. Items in this category were thrown out.
The process took about 2 hours. We communicated closely throughout the process, and I explained my recommendation for every item. He always had the last say – this isn’t about forcing anyone onto anything. For example when I took a box of bread crumbs from the shelf, he said: “That’s ok – it is just bread”. Once I turned the box around, though, it revealed this was a highly processed food with a long list of about 30 chemical ingredients. I explained that bread is a perishable food that wouldn’t last on the shelf without those chemicals. I then suggested to toss the box, and he agreed.
The first lesson learned is in this example already. I sometimes get asked: “Why would people need your help? Can’t they do this on their own?” The interesting thing is that of course Alberto technically knows that bread is a perishable food. Yet those breadcrumbs somehow didn’t trigger a sense of there being something wrong with them. As long as the product somewhat looks and tastes like bread (and to ensure that, the manufacturers will go to great lengths of course), neither our brains nor taste buds sound any alarm unless we consciously train them, and for this it’s very helpful to have someone coach the process.
In the end I was very happy with the outcome – we had agreed pretty much on all items. The two that sparked the most emotions (as far as I recall) were pasta (“You can’t take pasta away from me. I’m Italian!”) and Nutella. That’s of course fine – my advice was simply to eat pasta just when he craves it and not as a regular go-to food. And Nutella is totally fine as well if it’s basically the only such item in his diet. The goal, again, is not to force, starve, or otherwise inconvenience oneself, but rather just do the things that are no-brainers. For example if those bread crumbs that we tossed are replaced with real bread, there will be no withdrawal symptoms whatsoever from the change.
In order for Alberto to be able to get started on a clean diet right away I brought dinner with me that night (I knew we would be busy with the kitchen clean-up). I also ensured he had some leftovers for lunch and healthy snacks to take to work the next day.
Night 2: We went food shopping. This was in Santa Cruz, CA, and our store of choice was Staff of Life, a natural foods market independently owned for over 40 years. We discussed the local food shopping choices just as we had discussed the individual foods in Alberto’s home. Again, the goal was to not superimpose any choice on him. The existence of this fantastic store (of which he was well aware and to which he had been before) made this one easy for us.
At the store I explained the things to watch for, in front of the shelf, for every ingredient he wanted to get. We found a desirable choice for all items on his list.
I didn’t bring dinner that second night, but will in future, because realistically the actual making of food will only start on night 3 (at least with a schedule like Alberto’s with very long work hours/commute).
Night 3: Many years ago Alberto actually worked as a chef, so once he had the right ingredients in his home he could take it from there. For any other clients, learning how to make simple, delicious, healthy dishes from the ingredients would start here and take 1-3 nights.
Exercise: In order to come up with exercise options that would work for Alberto, we talked about which forms of exercise he enjoys, had done, or would like to try. Challenges were that he doesn’t like to work out alone, that he hadn’t really worked out in a long time, and that he needed to plan exercise around a demanding work schedule with long hours.
We narrowed the list down to volleyball, hiking, weights, stand-up paddling, and golf. Years ago he had been on a professional volleyball team, so I tried first to find a local volleyball team (or beach volleyball team or meetup – it’s Santa Cruz after all!). When that didn’t work out I moved on to stand-up paddling, which he’d never done but liked to try. I booked a beginner’s class, and joined the class as well so he wouldn’t be alone. Stand-up paddling looks easy, but there is actually lot of balance needed for it. It turned out not to be as enjoyable for him as it had looked.
Next was hiking. I could sense some resistance from him, and eventually he told me he couldn’t hike because it’d cause a certain kind of leg pain for him. He threw a medical term of the condition at me. At first I took his word for it, however, after a few days it occurred to me to ask about the specifics. It turned out that, over 10 years ago, someone had made him hike, in totally untrained condition, from Marin across Mount Tam down to Stinson Beach – and back!! That’s about a 20-mile-hike across one of the highest mountains in the Bay Area. Since then the trauma of that event had stuck with him. I said we’d try hiking just a little, to see how it goes, and he agreed, however he still tried to back out twice. I researched an easy, beautiful trail in the woods that would be convenient for him to get to from his home and take about half an hour to complete. I tested it out myself before we went there. Then, on a Sunday morning, the magic of a thick forest on a sunny morning didn’t fail us, and Alberto is back to hiking since. This is another example of external help making something possible where one would think people could as well do it on their own, but they really can’t (or won’t).
For Golf Alberto already had plans with a buddy in the works, and weights was also something he had done extensively earlier in his life and knew how to do. So his fitness routine went from zero to light regular hiking, weights, and occasional golf.
We went to the Farmer’s Market afterwards that’s taking place in Santa Cruz on Sunday afternoons. It is very enjoyable just to be there, and there was a lot of great fresh, local, organic food available. Alberto had been there before, and his shopping routine now regularly includes this market on Sunday afternoons.