Diet Woes? Hire a Food Trainer

This new breed of nutritionists approaches weight loss and nutrition from the inside out.

6 min read

Say goodbye to the old-school nutritionist who sits behind a desk and shows you what a three-ounce serving of lean meat looks like (an audiocassette), and hello to a growing new breed of hands-on nutritionists also known as "food trainers."

Food trainers?

Offering user-friendly, take-home advice to both seasoned to virgin dieters, this new spin on dieting combines time management, psychology, and sound eating advice and supplies its disciples with an assortment of props to help redo diets from the inside out.

"The idea sprung out of classic nutrition and what wasn't working," says New York City-based nutritionist Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, founder and director of Foodtrainers. "We looked at what people were coming in with as far as complaints and experiences in the weight-loss world, and it seemed that people were looking for something individualized and something that accommodates their schedule," she tells WebMD.

"I say, 'tell me what hasn't worked,' and we go from there," she says. For example, she says, some hated to weigh and measure their food, and others didn't like a group setting.

Then they look at schedules, Slayton says.

"The time management part of nutrition often gets missed," she says. "We are constantly throwing advice out, and people yes you and yes you, but the more you give them resources such as highlighted take-out menus and information on how to have snacks delivered, the success ratio continues to rise," she says.

And Slayton and colleagues also have a few other tricks up their sleeves. Cheat sheets are available by subscription that list the nutritional makeup of anything and everything from Halloween candy and protein bars to fruit. The group is finalizing a "happy hour cheat sheet" for people who go for drinks and appetizers after work.

Instead of sitting behind a desk, Slayton actually goes to the supermarket with her clients to help them pick out healthy foods that fit into their lifestyle. Slayton also gives her local clients a copy of The Healthy Shopper, a guide to health food stores in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut along with their addresses, delivery policies, and web sites.

And that is the very essence of food training, she says.

Like most nutritionists, Slayton and her peers look at their clients' goals -- whether they're increased energy, weight loss, weight gain, cholesterol management, or pre- or postnatal counseling.

But "we also look at the trouble spots," she says. "Is it someone who picks off kids' plate or engages in late-night eating or workplace eating?" she says. "It's not really the food choices you make once in a blue moon, like that piece of birthday cake. It's more about what are your breakfasts and snacks on a daily basis."

For example, "Are you a mom who needs snacks in your pocket for when you pick your kids up in school or a business traveler who needs snacks that are non-perishable to take on the plane?" she says.

After the first visit, they make the changes slowly, such as take a week to get an exercise routine to an appropriate level, and the next few days, they do some food shopping, she says.

Obviously, she says, no diet is going to work without regular physical activity.

"We refer people to running classes in the park or specialized trainers who train people in their offices depending on their schedules," she says. "Generally, we give a budget for exercise for aerobic, weight training, and stress management."

Cost varies, but prices are similar to personal exercise trainers -- starting at $195 for a 90-minute initial consultation and $75 for the follow-up appointments. "Most clients come weekly for a month and then every other week or monthly [thereafter]," she says. "My favorite clients lose the weight and then in six months call back for fine-tuning before the summer," she says.

But if the money or geography makes signing up with a food trainer difficult, don't fret, she says.

"If this idea resonates, do some soul searching and pinpoint what hasn't worked in the past and look at it that way rather than what your neighbor did to lose 10 pounds," she says.

From there, change just one area of your diet or lifestyle.

"Start by doing something unemotional, like drinking more water throughout the day, and kind of have it jump-start other healthy changes," she says. "We don't say to a late-night snacker or binger to stop that behavior first."

Kerri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, president of KKG Body Fuel in New York, also does food training with her clients. "Through one-on-one counseling, I give comprehensive lists of foods and places to get them and give out restaurant advice," she says. "We look at menus and go through them, and I train clients how to eat at their favorite restaurants," she says.

Like Slayton, "I always ask what have you tried, what did you like and not like about other plans," she says.

And from there it's about making small changes that stick and will lead to bigger changes and eventually a whole new you, she says.

"I try to get people to change as much as possible, yet keep their lifestyle as similar as it was originally," she says. "You can't start by telling someone who used to go to the corner deli every day for breakfast that they have to make an egg white omelet in the morning," she says. "If you do, they will do it for a week -- tops."

It's like therapy, she tells WebMD. "We focus on emotional issues and what to do with triggers," she says. "If its hunger, instead of diving into chocolate, how can we make other food choices more appealing?"

Food trainers like Slayton and Glassman engage in problem solving with their clients and help them develop strategies that fit into their lifestyle and can last a lifetime.

Glassman develops a template for her clients to follow.

"Sometimes people follow it to the T and other people incorporate as many changes as possible," she tells WebMD. "Once they have lost the weight, they can use it as a guideline forever. It's like the list of things to do in a day. Very often you get through 85% of your errands, but you ran late at the dry cleaner and missed your last errand."

"Still," Glassman says, "having a structure and a guideline keeps you on track."

Kathy Kaehler, a personal exercise trainer in Hidden Hills, Calif., also advises clients on healthy eating, and she says this hands-on, time-management approach does work for healthy eating or exercising.

"If you have a favorite show that you watch in the evenings, I don't say you must exercise instead of watching it, but I suggest you do stomach crunches while watching the commercials, and that adds up to some type of conditioning program," says Kaehler, author of several books, including Real World Fitness: Fun and Innovative Ways to Help you Sneak in Activity at Home, at Work, and With the Kids.

"It's incredibly important because most people are not getting any exercise, so if you can do it piecemeal and get in the habit of doing things that fit into your schedule, they will become a habit," she says.

When her clients ask her about food, she applies some of the tenets of food training.

"I go through the drive-thru all the time with my kids; they may get a hamburger and fries, but I have the grilled chicken breast with lettuce, tomatoes and no sauce or a salad without dressing," she says. "This way you are getting something to satisfy you that fits into your schedule. It's better than skipping a meal completely so you are so beyond starvation that you will put anything in your mouth later."

Or at restaurants, she tells her clients not to open the menu, she says. "Ask yourself: Do you want chicken, fish, or steak, and ask for it grilled, and start with a green salad," she says.