How To Contend With Toxic Clients As An RD Nutrition Coach

by | Mar 29, 2021

Working with clients who seem “unmotivated,” “resistant,” and “stubborn” can get tricky as a newbie RD nutrition coach (or even as a veteran dietitian nutrition coach). In this article, we have 3 strategies to help you overcome common coaching challenges and even the most difficult clients (A.K.A. toxic clients). However, before we get to those 3 strategies, first allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Tony Stephan, and I’m a dietitian business coach. I help RDs make more IMPACT and more INCOME through nutrition coaching. However, before becoming a dietitian business coach, I was an RD nutrition coach (just like you). I served thousands of nutrition coaching clients over a time span of 12 years. My successful nutrition coaching business is what led me to where I am today. Now allow me to share with you everything you need to know about how to overcome common coaching challenges and toxic clients.

THE COMMON NARRATIVE

Here is a common narrative in client coaching. 

A person approaches you, and they are very interested in your program. You talk with them in your discovery call, and you think to yourself, “Wow! This is my ideal client!”. They talk about how they have tried multiple diets and workout programs, yet nothing has helped them reach their goals. This is where it’s YOUR time to shine, right? You think, “It’s time to show them the difference of working with a dietitian nutrition coach!” as you have had great success with other clients. So you excitedly sign them on your program. You know your program works, and you have absolute confidence in what you do! 

So you start working with them, excited to change their life for the better. It starts off well, but then, you find they are half completing the goals you’re recommending to them, and sometimes they don’t even do them. The momentum they once had is slowly waining. Concerned, you have a heart-to-heart with your client and change their goals, certain that things will start to be different.

But… nothing changes.

In fact, they remain stuck, and you remain stumped on how to evoke change.

Again, this is a common narrative. If this has happened to you, know that it’s just a part of coaching! It’s not your fault. Many dietitian nutrition coaches have been in the exact place as you. So now, let’s delve into WHY this happens and the 3 strategies that can help you evoke change when you feel stuck with your coaching clients.

 WHY WE RUN INTO DIFFICULT & TOXIC CLIENTS

During your time as a dietitian nutrition coach, you are bound to run into all kinds of people. So it’s only natural that there will be occasional difficulties and bumps on the road in your dietitian nutrition coaching career. In our Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification, we group our clients into 3 categories:

  1. Low compliance, low results
  2. High compliance, low results
  3. High compliance, high results

Before we delve into the 3 strategies, it’s very important to first understand the types of clients you may encounter and what you can do to best approach each one to evoke change. We delve into this in much further detail in the Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification, but I will briefly go over some tactics you can use for each type of client.

LOW COMPLIANCE, LOW RESULTS

If your client isn’t complying and is not seeing results from this low compliance, it can be discouraging as a dietitian nutrition coach. Many people automatically write off low compliance, low results clients off as unmotivated and seek to “fire them” from their program. However, with the right approach, this type of client can see great results.

If you find yourself having a low compliance, low results client, here are some tips that may help you evoke change in this type of client. Sometimes it is a matter of making sure you clearly understand why the client wants to change and making sure that all communication and expectations are clear. We never assume that we know the deep reason why someone wants to change their lifestyle. So it’s important to make sure to get to the deep reason why they chose to work with you to change their habits. When in doubt, keep it simple with this type of client. It can be easy to accidentally create anxiety of overwhelm in this type of client.

HIGH COMPLIANCE, LOW RESULTS

This type of client can be particularly perplexing because they follow the program and are overall incredibly compliant, yet aren’t seeing the results they desire. This situation can also be discouraging as a dietitian nutrition coach, but fortunately for you, I have some tips that will send you in the right direction on how to handle these types of situations.

First and foremost, one of the best things you can do is continue to increase compliance and further individualize the program. With this type of client, it’s possible that they are not fully compliant with your program. So increasing compliance can be a game-changer for this type of client to produce results. Further individualizing the program can help in these situations too.

HIGH COMPLIANCE, HIGH RESULTS

High compliance, high results– it sounds like the dream client! Doesn’t it? A high compliance, high results client is someone who is putting forth the effort and reaping the rewards for their labor. However, although most would consider this the dream client, there are a few considerations to take into account with this client to ensure their success. 

With this sort of client, it’s important to prevent overwhelm and eliminate possible boredom. This client is very motivated to take action, so it’s important to prevent burnout. Keep a close eye out and make sure this type of client isn’t taking on too much at once. Make sure you have open client and coach communication about what they can handle and what they can’t handle. On the other hand, you also don’t want this type of client to get bored! When they are crushing their goals day in, and day out, they might start to feel bored and lose momentum.

3 STRATEGIES TO CONTEND WITH TOXIC CLIENTS

Now that you know the types of clients you’ll run into, now we’ll talk about how to deal with toxic clients in particular. You need to know that no two clients are the same, and no two situations are the same. Before we get into the 3 strategies, first, we will define what a toxic client could look like.

WHAT IS A TOXIC CLIENT?

Unfortunately, a toxic client can feel almost like a rite of passage in the nutrition coaching realm. After working with a number of clients, you are bound to run into a difficult client at some point. If you’re uncertain what a toxic coaching client relationship looks like, here are some signs to look out for:

  • You’ve had trouble collecting payment more than once, and you’ve relentlessly had to keep following up and reminding them to pay to no avail.
  • The client has crossed professional boundaries by cursing at you, yelling, calling you inappropriate names, or anything of the like.
  • You constantly get negative feedback even after making the changes the client has requested, time and time again.
  • Your client continues to cross communication boundaries, such as insisting on communicating with you 24/7 while on a time of leave.
  • Your client refuses to comply with goals, doesn’t show up to coaching calls, and fails to comply with your program’s basics even after a great amount of intervention.

WHAT DO I DO WHEN I HAVE A TOXIC CLIENT?

Having a toxic client can be mentally draining as you seek the best way to handle the difficult situation. Below you’ll find 3 strategies that can help you handle these difficult situations with toxic clients.

BRING THEM BACK TO THEIR WHY

Ultimately this client initially reached out to YOU for help! There was a reason they took that action and reached out to you as a nutrition professional. Get them back to why they chose to work with you as a dietitian nutrition coach in the first place. Remind them of the goal they are trying to achieve and have an honest, tactful conversation about it. This can be a powerful reminder of the big picture. It also reminds the client that you’re there to help.

REITERATE HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS AND YOUR BOUNDARIES AS A PROFESSIONAL

When you initially started working with this person, you likely specified rules, expectations, and essentially what this client needed to do to succeed in the program. You may have even gotten them to sign paperwork regarding rules and expectations. If a client continues to cross a boundary or fails to meet expectations, it’s important to remind them how the program works and why it’s optimal for them to follow the rules and meet expectations. Sometimes it may be a matter of having a tactful conversation about a particular rule or expectation.

HAVE AN HONEST CONVERSATION

Ultimately, not every client you work with will end up being the best fit for your program. Although it doesn’t happen frequently, there are times where you will need to have an honest conversation and professionally let a client go. Letting a client go should be a last resort in your nutrition coaching business for more reasons than one. However, at times letting a client go is a necessary part of looking out for what’s best for both you and the client. When you’re having this conversation with the client, it’s important to be honest yet tactful. You always want to maintain your boundaries but still leave the conversation as friends!

THE BOTTOM LINE WITH TOXIC CLIENTS

With difficult clients, sometimes it’s possible to redeem the coaching client relationship. Whereas other times, unfortunately, it’s not possible to proceed any further with the coaching client relationship. Difficult clients and toxic clients are one of the many hurdles new RDs run into when starting their own nutrition coaching business. In our Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification, we navigate hurdles just like this and teach you how to coach clients to success!

If you’re looking to start your own nutrition coaching side hustle, you’re in the right place. I’m proud to be a part of the movement of dietitian entrepreneurs who are making more IMPACT and more INCOME! In the Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification, we teach our students how to create a solid business structure for their online businesses. 

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