3 Characteristics of a Healthy Body Positive Group Coaching Program

Untitled drawing-12I’m happily back home after a weekend presenting at the Body Positive Fitness Alliance Affiliated Professionals Workshop, and I want to share with you guys some of the characteristics of healthy coaching programs. I don’t mean just programs that deliver health, but also programs that ARE healthy, programs that will support not only the clients who participate in them but also that will remain strong and viable themselves. This was really the focus of the weekend – how not only to build a program that will support the mental and physical health of the client, but also that will continue to grow and evolve in a healthy and sustainable way.

I shared more than 3 characteristics at the workshop (and you’ll have to take the next one to learn the other characteristics, heh), but I felt like these three were a great place to start for anyone looking for a good program to participate in, or trying to build a program that will serve their clients in the healthiest way.

Number 1: Evidence, evidence, evidence

Or, as I more affectionately refer to it, EVIDENCE OR GTFO. Why is evidence so important? For a couple different reasons:

  • clients deserve recommendations that we know work, not recommends based on the coach’s ego. The coach’s recommendations should be sound, tested, and evidence-based. When a coach diverges from the evidence and starts creating programming based on their own opinions and preferences, they are putting their clients’ health at risk, all because they believe they know better than all the scientists and doctors and physiologists who establish science-based recommendations. Don’t hire the coach who thinks they know better than the entire scientific community. Don’t BE the coach who thinks they know better than the entire scientific community.
  • when pseudoscience and woo are allowed to take root in a group, they create confusion and chaos, and ultimately undermine the credibility of the coach. The coach can begin to prevent this by creating evidence-based programming – but there is more to it than that. Pseudoscience (much like a virus) can be introduced to a group by group members. If the coach hasn’t created a culture within the group that challenges baseless claims, that pseudoscience-virus can fester and spread among the group members. The coach can ‘immunize’ the group against pseudoscience by teaching their clients how to spot bad science and logical fallacies. The best way for a coach to keep their coaching groups healthy is to promote (and teach, if necessary) critical thinking within the group.

If the words ‘critical thinking’ and ‘evidence based’ feel clinical and cold to you, it’s time to re-frame. You’re not alone, by the way – lots of people have a hard time reconciling the concepts of warm and fuzzy body-positivity with science-based terminology. But body positivity IS evidence-based! The research continues to show that empowering and supporting people is the best way to encourage long-term positive behavior change. Evidence and body positivity go hand in hand. To be evidence based, a program must be body positive. To be body positive, a program must be evidence based.

Number 2. All bodies are good bodies.

We talk about this one a lot. Because we get a lot of pushback from popular culture for it. Many people, people still stuck in Diet Culture, people who’ve invested their time and emotions in Fit 1.0, think ‘All Bodies Are Good Bodies’ means that we all just give up on self improvement. That we stop trying to get better at things, that we stop practicing behaviors that improve our health.

It means exactly the opposite, though. It means: YOUR body is awesome and worthy of self care. No matter what your body looks like or can do, it is worthy of self-care. You are valuable, your body is valuable, and it’s worth caring for in the best possible way, and we are here to meet you exactly where you are and help you pursue YOUR goals for YOUR body.

All Bodies Are Good Bodies means we work on our self talk, AND WE ALSO work on the things we say about OTHER bodies. We are kind and compassionate when we talk about and to ourselves, and we are also kind and compassionate when we talk about other people’s bodies. Celebrating one body doesn’t mean denigrating another. We can all be awesome. ALL bodies are awesome. And worthy of care.

A coach can foster a culture of compassion toward all bodies by modeling self care for themselves. And by teaching clients to treat themselves with respect and compassion. They can also foster that culture by not making derisive comments about celebrity bodies, or bodybuilder bodies, or skinny bodies, etc. And they can address those kinds of comments when they’re made by clients as well. A group culture in which all bodies are respected will help everyone in that group feel respected and supported in striving for their goals while ALSO appreciating their bodies for what they can do today.

Number 3: Eyes on your own plate.

“I would never eat that.” “That’s a lot of food!” ” What did you eat to lose weight?” “People who eat [insert any food] don’t care about their health.”

We here in western culture LOVE to judge the food choices of other people. We love to tell people what we eat and why it makes us superior. We love to look down our noses at people who eat things we believe are unhealthy. We love to make sweeping judgements about people based on their food choices. We love to endeavor to eat in ways that we believe signify that we are smart, healthy and more informed than others.

We are obnoxious.

If I’ve learned anything from running an online coaching community, it’s that when people start talking about what they eat and don’t eat, things go to hell quickly. People either forget or don’t know how important context is, that people make food choices for perfectly valid reasons that may not be obvious to other people.

The best way to keep a coaching community from devolving into shame and judgement about food is to simply make the topic off limits. “Eyes on your own plate” is actually a formal rule in all my groups. Group members worry about their own food and no one else’s. And each group member can feel safe from the judgements of others, because there is an expectation that each member will focus on their own diet and no one else’s.

“What you eat is your business and no one else’s” is a common refrain in my groups, and the result is a safe place for members to give and seek support without fear of being judged or told they’re “Doing it Wrong™”.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug my own coaching group program here. Habit-Based coaching has become very trendy lately, but I’ve been doing habit-based coaching longer than just about anyone in the business. I was writing about habits before it became a ‘thing’, and in fact some of the people who used to ridicule my approach are now copying it! If you’re looking for a sound, experienced coaching program that embodies the characteristics I’ve talked about here, you can’t do much better than The Habit Project, my joint venture with Sean Flanagan (bonus, we’re running a sale right now!).

If you’re a coach who’s interested in creating the kind of program I’ve talked about here, join us over at the Body Positive Fitness Alliance and attend one of our future workshops. In the future, ALL fitness coaching will be body positive, and you can help us get there (and get a jump on the competition) by getting involved now!