Sometimes, I cringe when I look back on my early days as a dietitian. I had so much enthusiasm. I was loaded up with information. I SO BADLY wanted to change my client’s lives, one bite at a time.

Every time a client didn’t lose a pound, or worse, had weight creep up, I took it as a personal defeat. A stab to the heart.

Every time a client had a bad day and reverted to the pint of ice cream, I took it as an assault on my ability.

When someone came in and told me they didn’t follow their meal plan perfectly, and could we try something else, I wondered if I failed them.

I soul searched. Tried new things. Wrote and re-wrote plans. I even waived my fee a few times. How could I be so trained and so inspired, but feel so defeated at my chosen profession?

It took me a long time to realize that good old experience didn’t come with my degree, skills and ability. It took time and trial and error to figure some of this nutrition counseling biz out. (Which is one reason I later created The Nutrition School.)

With practice, I learned that I couldn’t do all the work for my clients. I couldn’t will them to reach their goals. Aha! They needed m-o-t-i-v-a-t-i-o-n! Even the best of meal plans can’t possibly work if the client isn’t inspired to follow it.

I don’t take it as personally anymore when my clients aren’t succeeding. My years of practice and successes make me more confident that I do good work. I now get it that helping clients is a team effort, and I don’t have to do the most difficult part of the job.

Writing a meal plan is pretty easy, compared to following one. I now see that even the best, most thoughtful and well crafted meal plan is useless without a motivated to follow it client.

My job isn’t just to give them the plan and teach them how to bang out the work. I also need to speak to the wedding, vacation, heart disease or whatever is bringing them to me and the nutrition work right now!

If my client seems stuck, unmotivated or ugh, just not successful in the moment, I use my bag of tricks.

Here is how to motivate clients when they are unmotivated:

Ask why SHE thinks she isn’t feeling successful this week. How SHE is going to turn it around?

Pick one small goal that seems doable. Make one super attainable goal for the week.

Take the focus off of what is most stressful and difficult and agree to let it go for now.

Validate that your client doesn’t have to be “perfect” to do a good job.

Make a list of what has been working to show how many good behaviors have been established since he began working with you. Showing off how far they’ve come (“you now drink 64 oz water a day, always have your gym bag packed and bring your salad for lunch . . . “) and applaud them for it!

Read your notes to your client and tell her what has worked for her in the past (pull out old food journals from a time of great success).

Remind him that our goals can be attained and he is in good hands. If he needs more support or more accountability, he can email or come in more often.

Figuring out what motivates each client, and speaking to that motivation is the recipe for success.

My years at this trade have taught me to freak out less and be more patient. I’m more confident now and realize that even the most uncommitted client can knock it out of the park if I believe in my work, stick with it and focus on speaking to what motivates.

Embracing plateaus, setbacks and frustration as part of the process is as important as celebrating success, weight loss and better health.

New helpers out there, re-read this when you are feeling low. Uncommitted clients are worth the hard work. I know it because some of them are my best success stories.

Tell me about YOUR techniques! If you have a strategy for an uncommitted client, pay it forward with your advice. Please share!

About Nutritious Life Editors

The Nutritious Life Editors are a team of healthy lifestyle enthusiasts who not only subscribe to — and live! — the 8 Pillars of a Nutritious Life, but also have access to some of the savviest thought leaders in the health and wellness space — including our founder and resident dietitian, Keri Glassman. From the hottest trends in wellness to the latest medical science, we stay on top of it all in order to deliver the info YOU need to live your most nutritious life.

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