This content is part of an article series.
In this series, I’ve talked about the importance of nourishing your body, healing your gut, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and embracing other aspects of ancestral health. But which of the nine steps to perfect health is the most important? If you’re a nutritionist, personal trainer, or health coach, which step should you ask your clients to prioritize if they want to attain “perfect health”?
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My first response is that, despite the title of the series, there’s no such thing as perfect health. One of the few things we can be certain of in this life is that we are all dying from the moment we’re born. If such a thing as perfect health existed, and we could attain it, we’d be immortal.
However, we can all take steps toward perfect health and guide clients in that direction, and that’s why I wrote the series. Among those nine steps, it’s impossible to say which is most important because the answer will vary from person to person, from client to client.
Attaining perfect health is impossible—but by noticing and addressing our blind spots, we can greatly improve our day-to-day well-being and help others do the same. Check out this article for more about perfect health. #optimalhealth #changeagent #chriskresser
What Is the Biggest Obstacle to Perfect Health?
Most of us want black and white answers to questions like this because they provide the illusion of safety and certainty.
We want the answer to be the same for everyone because it’s easier to follow a system or a prescription than it is to find our own way. And as tribal animals, we humans like to be part of a group. Hence the power of social movements, whether we’re talking about the ancestral health lifestyle or another popular topic.
For Your Clients, a Chain Is Only as Strong as Its Weakest Link
What I’ve observed in myself, in working with patients, and in almost 20 years of meditation practice is that each of us has a significant blind spot or area in our lives where we lack awareness and insight. As a simple analogy, let’s call this a weak link in our chain and assume that the chain represents optimum health.
Most of us invest the majority of our time and energy strengthening the parts of our chain that are already strong. These stronger links are where we feel comfortable and confident, where we can operate safely within the bounds of who we think we are.
And this is the root of the problem. No matter how much we strengthen what is already strong, if there’s still a weak link, the chain as a whole isn’t stronger. And it can easily break.
This dilemma describes the situation of many clients who seek out health coaching. They might eat well and lead fulfilling, low-stress lives, but a lack of regular exercise is starting to catch up to them. Or perhaps they’re already emphasizing nutrient-dense foods and maintaining healthy, close relationships, but years of getting too little sleep is causing major health problems.
It makes sense to focus on strengthening the client’s weak link, whatever it may be, instead of building up and polishing the links that are already strong—but engaging in that focus is much, much harder to do. Why? Because it usually requires coaxing them to step out of their concept of self and challenge their very identity. We’re asking them to grow, evolve, make major lifestyle changes, and shine the light of awareness into the dark corners of their psyche. As you likely know, this isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s not as simple as asking them to add a supplement or eliminate nightshades from their diet. It’s a true challenge. It’s a life’s work.
Meet Joe Paleo and His Weak Link
To make this even clearer, let’s take a hypothetical person: Joe Paleo. He was a high school and college athlete and has been interested in nutrition and fitness his entire life. However, after taking on a new, high-stakes job with an investment banking firm, he’s no longer making healthy choices. He’s now less active, eating more than usual, and feeling pretty crummy.
So he starts to tweak his diet. Is dairy the issue? Should he add white rice or be completely grain free? How many carbs? What about intermittent fasting? He also tries some new supplements and makes adjustments to his exercise routine. He even seeks out professional help from a nutritionist and a personal trainer, but Joe still doesn’t feel better.
Why isn’t Joe getting better? Because he’s just strengthening the parts of his chain that are already strong—and ignoring the weak links. In Joe’s case, it may be that stress management is the weak link. But his first challenge in addressing that is that he’s not even fully aware that the increased stress from his new job is a problem.
But even once we become aware of what our weak links are, it’s still difficult to work with them. We’re fighting against a lifetime of conditioned beliefs about who we are and what we’re supposed to do. In Joe Paleo’s case, perhaps he was raised in a family that didn’t value rest or pleasure but rather placed a high premium on success and accomplishment. This makes it hard for him to carve out time to relax.
My Weakest Links
My own weak links are pleasure and fun. I’ve got the diet dialed in. Exercise? No problem. I’m even committed to stress management. But what often falls through the cracks for me is making time for pleasure and fun.
I know this is the weak link in my chain because the periods of my life where I’ve emphasized it have been the periods when I’ve enjoyed the best health. But lately, as I’ve been immersed in running a busy private practice, teaching, launching products, and undertaking the day-to-day business of family life, I haven’t made much time for pleasure or fun. And my health has suffered as a result.
My commitment to myself is to try to do one purely pleasurable or fun activity each day. Some days I’m more successful than others, and I always have to look out for the tendency to fall back into my old pattern.
If Your Clients Want Perfect Health, They’ll Need Your Support
And just a side note: I shared with you what my weakest link was. Though I was still able to help clients and colleagues alike, deep down, I knew I had to address my own weak link. Before you can give fully to your clients and others, take stock—are there weak links in your own chain that you should address?
Of course, addressing a client’s weakest link is often easier said than done. Part of what we teach students enrolled in the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program is to meet clients where they are. Most people don’t like being told that they have a weak link in their lifestyle. They tend to feel unengaged and even resentful when someone else directs the process to change their health.
Think back to our example, Joe Paleo: If he came to you for health advice and you offered a strict plan for addressing his blindspot—stress management—you would probably be met with quite a bit of resistance. Joe might not even be ready to admit that he has an issue handling the stress of his new job, and it’s likely he wouldn’t feel motivated to try incorporating stress relief techniques into his lifestyle.
Joe might be better served by someone using strategies like motivational interviewing to empower him to come up with his own strategy to improve his health and support him throughout his journey. Filling that need and offering that support is a major reason why I think health coaches are essential in the fight against chronic disease.