Ask the Coach: Primal Health Coaches Answer Your Questions

A couple weeks ago I asked for ideas for our Primal Health Coaches—what questions have you ever wanted to ask a Primal Health Coach? Many of you wrote in, and I loved reading your ideas. There were so many excellent thoughts I couldn’t begin to include them all here. (Luckily, our coaches might join us for a future post.)

So, sit back and take a look at what our Primal Health Coaches have to say about meal plans, cardio classes, behavior change, physician recommendations, their Primal Health Coach Institute experience, and more!

Question #1, from Jeannie: “Do you make customized, individual plans for every client? What does that encompass? Also, what resources do you use as a Primal Health Coach that allows you to provide support for your many clients?”

“The framework for the Primal lifestyle is the same for everyone, and most people will get really far with the basic template. Initially my goal is to help my client get the baseline set, see what changes, and then make adjustments from there. My suggestions are tailored to each client and the goals they wish to reach. While I do supply handouts for the first month I don’t for the additional months because any changes that are made are usually small. I know many people like meal plans but I don’t think they promote long term success. Meal plans can help give a client ideas, but that rarely translates into generating meal ideas on one’s own. In my opinion it can often lead back to old habits, because nothing was really learned.”
– Jen Essary

“I approach all clients from an individual perspective in order to meet them where they are. We work together to come up with their top three health goals, and then narrow this down to one that they can most easily be successful with in order to motivate them to move on to the next. I rely on many of the resources I’ve gained from the Primal Health Coach course, as well as my years of experience working as a personal trainer.”
Regina Barak

“I do not customize. My service offers the opportunity to achieve optimal health. Healthy people tend to reach their ideal weight, and experience less disease and sickness; and healthy people tend to avoid chronic disease. I have to ensure all aspects of a healthy lifestyle are put into effect for a total life transformation. Most people will say they already eat right, exercise correctly or live a stress-free lifestyle. But missing any one of these factors will sabotage the overall goal of optimum health.”
Ron Drillen

“I will usually ask for food preferences and offer a selection of about 21 meals to try to add to their repertoire. I share all of my favorite food bloggers whose recipes I trust, so they can explore and make their own choices.”
Roxann Morello

“Hi Jeanine. The quick answer is, no, I do not make customized meal plans for each client. I work alongside the client to develop a weekly meal strategy. When a client goes into the week with a strategy (what to eat, and why), they tend to be more likely to stick with it. For me the best approach is to talk through the personal and work challenges in the week ahead. Are there going to be a few long nights at work? Is there a kids’ practice or game that will keep them out later, or unable to make a full meal? We work together to identify the strategy that will work best for those specific scenarios. I believe weekly meal plans certainly have a place, but they should not be given without a real strategy in place for the week.”
Steven Konsdorf

“I make a customized plan with every client. I have clients fill out an intake form a few days before our first session. When we meet, we can discuss their specific answers, goals, and visions of health, and begin forming a plan to get there. We move forward each week with their individual plan. During our coaching sessions, clients often bring something they want to discuss; a favorite book or article, or a recipe. We dissect it together and find ways it can fit into their Primal lifestyle. I use all kinds of resources! I love the Tendencies quiz by Gretchen Ruebin to help client learn about how they deal with internal and external expectations. I have blogs, podcasts and books I use and recommend, and also a lending library of books and cookbooks for my clients. One of my favorite resources is the supportive network of Primal Health Coaches. I can ask anything of these great people and I get brilliant ideas back! I love resources, learning and sharing new ideas. It’s my favorite aspect of coaching!”
Sara Baird

“In many cases, developing customized meal plans is actually out of scope of practice for health coaches. Health coaches are advocates for behaviour change… and I can tell you from experience that very few people ever established a new behaviour (and had it stick!) from following a prescribed meal plan. As a Primal Health Coach, I take my clients on a journey of education: so they can learn and understand WHAT foods support them and – this is the important part – WHY. The entire goal is to eventually graduate ciients from my care, and I need to feel confident that they know how to feed themselves in the absence of a meal plan. I supply my clients with a comprehensive Foods To Use and Foods To Lose list, and let them make meals they love, in whatever configuration they like.”
Erin Power

Question #2, from Julia: “I like taking 45-60 mins long spin classes. But, my heart rate gets VERY high. It’s definitely not slow and steady cardio and the class drills are a bit long to qualify as sprints. When or how do I work these workouts in to a primal lifestyle?”

“I have so many questions about this scenario. How often are you taking these classes? How do you feel afterwards? How are your sugar cravings? Are you starving after class? Do you have weight loss goals? What are your goals? From what you have written it sounds like you’re training in the “black hole.” The heart rate might not be high enough to qualify as high intensity, especially with the length of the class. It also isn’t low enough to be aerobic. My advice would be to limit the frequency of these classes. Mark has several articles about heart arrhythmias and chronic cardio which you can reference. For endurance training and fat burning purposes you’d come out ahead by keeping your heart rate below 180-age (Maffetone equation). I’d recommend working with one of the coaches who has taken the Primal Endurance Mastery Course if racing is one of your goals.”
– Jen Essary

“If you love the spin class, keep it up! It’s great to have fun! Just perhaps allow yourself more sweet potatoes, fruit, sleep, and more rest days! You could try phase training: do 80% spin and 20% cross training for 3 weeks; then switch to 80% cross training and 20% spin class for 3 weeks weeks; and so on. Using the methods outlined in Primal Endurance, you could also emphasize more slow workouts until your aerobic base can support your current speed in spin class.”
Matt Zastrow

“Hi Julie, I would ask you to think about the goal of the class. Why are you doing this specific class? Is it for fat loss? If so, then there are potentially better ways to accomplish that with less stress on the body. Are you taking the class because it fits your schedule? Again, there are certainly other options with less stress that can be done for those 45-60 minutes. Are you taking the class because you enjoy it? If this is the answer then good for you and don’t stop. If you truly enjoy the spin class and it matches the goals you have then keep doing, but be strategic about it. Keep the spin class to once or twice a week. Leave several days in between classes to adequately recover. You can certainly have a spin class, but stay smart about it so that it fits your Primal lifestyle.”
Steven Konsdorf

“Fellow group fitness junkie here; and I’m a spin instructor too! First of all, that moderate-to-high intensity effort, sustained for an entire hour, is typically what we’d refer to as being in the “black hole” of intensity: not easy enough to be easy, but not hard enough to be hard. If you love it, then continue to do it, but consider scaling back to two a week. And add in some low-and-slow stuff (like walking), and some short-and-sharp stuff (like lifting weights and sprinting) to ensure you’re getting the optimal fitness and gene expression benefits from your time spent in the gym. And don’t forget recovery!”
Erin Power

Question #3, from Rosie: “What strategies would you recommend for breaking/replacing bad habits like eating at certain times not out of hunger but out of habit?”

“First I would ask how long you’ve been primal and what your current eating habits look like? If you’re relatively new to primal you may not be fully fat adapted. If you’ve been primal for awhile then I’d want to know more about your level of insulin sensitivity, any previous health challenges, and what a typical food day looks like for you right now. I would want to explore with you the origins of eating out of habit. Where does that belief come from? When did it begin? Are you misinterpreting a signal for something like thirst as a prompt to eat? My job as a coach is to help you explore these kinds of questions about your habits and challenges. When you understand the origins and the whys it makes it easier to re-frame that habit and make a new choice.”
– Jen Essary

“I would suggest you create a food diary for one week so we could take a look at what kind of food you are eating. For instance, a diet consisting of processed foods and starchy carbs does not satisfy hunger, and leaves the brain wanting more. In that case we would discuss how carb dependency creates a cycle of needing more carbs from both a psychological point of view and a physical dependency as well. It’s a process, but we would establish small goals so you’re not feeling deprived along the way.”
Regina Barak

“More often than not, regimented eating schedules are a project of societal and/or workplace guidelines as to when you are “supposed” to take your lunch break. Most of us get indoctrinated into this behaviour from a very young age, and becomes a very strong habit that is hard to retrain. One effective tool to use to tell if you are truly hungry or just experiencing cravings out of boredom or habit, is to ask yourself: “Would I like to eat an hard-boiled egg right now?” If the answer is yes, you are hungry and should go eat some real food (like a hard boiled egg!). If the answer is no, you may be falling victim to (sugar) cravings and old habits that play tricks on you.By making yourself aware of what current state you are actually in, it can help provide you with the willpower to stay clear of the cravings, and making an informed decision of a more healthy choice.”
Jonas Drott

“Great question, Rosie! Eating out of habit instead of out of hunger is something I’ve struggled with as well. First, I would figure out the real reason for eating while not actually hungry. What started that habit in the first place? Are you bored, tired, anxious, stressed, etc? Second, I’d encourage you to replace the “bad” habit with a healthier one, like drinking water or unsweetened tea, or going for a quick 5-10 minute walk when the urge to snack hits. Third, I’m a firm believer in using affirmations to retrain your subconscious mind to help you make better choices automatically. Create an affirmation and say it out loud throughout the day multiple times. You could say “I only eat when hunger ensues naturally.” Use positive language and make sure your affirmation is stating what you do want and not what you don’t want.”
Melissa Emmons

“Time for my client and I to become detectives and scientists! Detectives and scientists ask a lot of questions. Then they ask more questions. They ask them without judgement, simply gathering data. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What am I feeling at that moment? What would I rather do instead? What is a better way to take care of myself I love the shared excitement when a client has a lightbulb moment and zeroes in on what is actually happening. Especially when it’s a moment of personal reflection and understanding of their own behavior, followed by the support and empowerment to change that behavior. Getting to the next level feels so good.”
Sara Baird

“We need to be motivated to make the right choices. One way to do this is to write down your goals, and your reasons for those goals. Read these goals frequently; perhaps every morning. Be sure to include the Why of your goal(s). For instance, you might have a goal to lose weight, and the Why might be to prepare for an upcoming wedding or vacation; or to not hate clothes shopping; or to manage Diabetes symptoms. Brainstorm what is important to you and then go for it! Think of developing new habits being like you are standing on the sand at the beach and your goal is to go body surfing in the ocean. You get there by taking one step at a time until your feet are wet, then you keep going until you are deeper in the waves. It is the forward action, one step at a time, one decision at a time to keep putting one foot in front of the other, heading towards the waves where you want to be. This analogy may not work for you, but it works for me because I love the beach. You may need to find something more inspiring for you. As Erasmus said long ago, ‘A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit.’”
Vanessa Marsden

Question #4, from Jack: “How would you balance the advice from a Primal Health Coach with doctor recommendations? The two view points often seem like they are at odds. Doctors seem to have outdated views on nutrition, but ignoring their advice seems like it could be dangerous.”

“Hi Jack. It’s definitely unwise to ignore doctors’ advice, and equally not recommended to follow a PHC’s advice blindly. A good health coach will back up his/her advice with actual scientifically-validated evidence, which you can study and run past your doctor yourself. Similarly, a good doctor would be open to discussing the evidence you’ve provided. With this exercise, you get to evaluate both your doctor and PHC; if you are still in doubt, you can always seek out a second opinion. Remember: you are 100% responsible for your health, and you really want to be confident and comfortable with the decisions you ultimately make. Good luck.”
Victor Chew

“This can be a tough situation if there are differing opinions between the coach and the doctor. Some doctors are less open minded about non-drug therapies, but this is why it’s really important to look for medical practitioners that offer a more holistic approach that includes a nutrition and lifestyle component —such as an integrative or functional doctor.”
Rachel Peterson

“Never ignore the advice from your doctor. Any and all information is invaluable when you have to make the best decision on your health. Doctors, like all professionals should be seen as advisers. Each offering a little piece of the information puzzle you need to complete the health puzzle. Ultimately you have to decide what direction you need to go in order to reach your goal. It is never advisable to hand over the responsibility of your health to another person without question.”
Ron Drillen

“Hi Jack. When working with a client I highlight the fact that my role as a Primal Health Coach is not to diagnose or prescribe a diet or contradict a doctors prescribed approach. If a client wants to go Primal, I encourage them to talk with their doctor about it. Simply meet with your doctor and lay out the Primal approach you want to take with your health coach, and seek to understand the concerns or objections your doctor may have, and why. You can even show examples of how the Primal Blueprint has helped others with the same diagnoses; just search Mark’s Daily Apple for plenty of Success Stories. Getting your doctor’s buy in is a great first step and shows you also have vested interest in taking control of your health.”
Steven Konsdorf

“Despite our opinions (right or wrong) about conventional medicine, your doctor’s orders are important and truthfully not to be ignored. In a perfect scenario, the relationship between client, health coach and doctor would be absolutely collaborative and synergistic. Take the bull by the horns and ensure that your doctor and your health coach are working together to move the needle on your health goals. Introduce your doctor to your PHC; introduce your PHC to your doctor. In a perfect scenario, the relationship between client, health coach and doctor would be absolutely collaborative and synergistic. It’s your health, and you are within your rights to build your own dream team of allied health care practitioners to help you achieve your optimal human badassery!”
Erin Power

Question #5, from Will: “Hey coaches! I am ready to sign up for the health coach certification program. However, it’s important that I have my wife’s buy-in and support before investing in the program — seeing as it will effect her and our two young sons. She’s on the fence. What is the value of this program (particularly for a young family) based on your experience as a health coach that I can relay to my wife as an outside perspective? How has the mastery of primal nutrition and lifestyle impacted your family?”

“Hi Will. I’ve been in just those shoes myself, not too long ago! I’d like to suggest that you ask yourself why you want to enroll: Do you have a passion in helping others? Do you want to start a health coaching business, or use the knowledge and skills from this program to grow your existing business? Do you just love to geek out on the primal lifestyle and hang out with your tribe? Obviously, these are just a few of the questions you’d want to ask yourself to understand your true motivation, and you are the only one that can answer them. For me, the answers were all yes! I do have a full time job that I also love, so it’s not imperative for me to start generating income with this certification right away. However, the knowledge, skills, support, and just being part of the this awesome tribe have made my family’s lives richer, in the sense that we’re healthier, stronger, and more adventurous, because we feel better and can move better. What more can be more prosperous than that?”
Victor Chew

“The value of this program for me has been a more foundational understanding of what it means to live holistically, and to age in such a way that keeps me young, energetic, and virtually medication-free. This has a ripple effect for everyone you are living with! At age 65, I feel like I’m 40. My own experience with the program has been awesome; I’m walking the walk instead of simply talking the talk.”
Regina Barak

“We are a family of four, and it feels like we are team. We have found our groove of food we all agree is delicious and meets our standards for health. My husband and I are also much more likely to jump in and gof around outside with the kids, now that we understand the importance of play in a long healthy life. That brings us closer as a family. Since I’ve taken the course, my family has been inspired to learn too. Now I take what I’ve seen work in my own family and use those tools as a starting point for my clients. It’s a pretty fantastic career in that I thrive off learning and coaching, while also reaping priceless benefits to my family and our health.”
Sara Baird

“The benefits to the overall health of the family are enormous. The course takes all the information in the books, the website and podcasts and goes deeper. It organizes it all in one place and is continually kept up to date. Understanding the “why” and the “how” behind all of this brings so much more confidence in actually helping other humans. The content on how to take this information, translate it and actually apply to different situations and to different people allows you to help more than just your family. You can now take this passion and turn it into another income stream for your family. Many of us started here because we found we were the “go-to” person for nutrition and health advice for friends and family. We were sort of already doing it, for free and with no real direction or organization. I can personally attest to how great it felt to have my son’s first year of college paid for and to be able to say yes to better vacations working VERY part time doing something I loved. Finally, the transition to doing this full time and leaving a career that was causing me entirely too much stress became a reality. I now see my kids more. I am a better mom. The family is happier and healthier. It takes time for all of this stuff to come to fruition (it took me a few years) but you’ve got to start somewhere and you’ll never get there unless you are willing to take the first step.”
Laura Rupsis

Thanks again to all of you who submitted questions for the coaches. And thank you also to our Primal Health Coaches for their time and perspectives today. Feel free to visit the sites and social media accounts of the coaches who joined us today, or check out the full directory of Primal Health Coaches who lives in your area or who offers coaching in a particular health specialty. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the Primal Health Coach Institute for yourself, enjoy a free guidebook.

Do you have a question for one of our coaches? Ask them here, and I’ll invite them back soon for another round of Ask the Coach. Have a great week, everybody. We’ll be conducting reader polls—and announcing winners for the various contests all week—including the Grand Prize. Grok on!

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