The Beauty in Building Nutrition Habits

Forming habits with nutrition.The nutrition programs at District CrossFit aren’t 30 days long; instead, they are months.

Derick Deal, the head of the nutrition program at the Box in Washington D.C., explained the purpose behind the long duration: “Eating is something we’ve been doing since birth,” said Deal. “It’s one of the most ingrained habits a human can have. And so to think you’re going to be able to change those with a 30-day Paleo challenge or any challenge that only lasts 30 days I think is a little naive. So, that’s where we’re changing the conversation.”

Six months to a year is what a typical nutrition program looks like at District CrossFit. Habits are what Deal is looking to have his members tackle, and he’s noticed a higher success rate in his clients since changing to the longer duration program.

Deal started on the nutrition track about five years ago. It began with his own desire to look and feel better, something he knew would only come if he took his nutrition seriously. However, when Deal began reading one reputable Coach’s recommendations versus another’s, he found conflicting beliefs. But, they both had the level of fitness Deal wanted.

So, Deal began to test out five or six of the major nutritional approaches — from vegan to Paleo and more. He gave each a three to six month trial time. “I realized what was making these diets work for people in general and me in particular had nothing to do with certain foods,” said Deal. “It had everything to do with: Did it resonate with my lifestyle? Did it resonate with my previous beliefs and was it objective? Did I notice measurable change?”

Each nutrition program and seminar starts with an assessment of a client’s habits. Deal said the importance of his seminars is that they are not an information overload. It’s about having somebody, “an expert,” look at a member’s life and help him or her build habits to reach set goals, said Deal.

When it comes to nutrition seminars, Deal offered up several tips to make them successful:

1)   Avoid dumping too much information on the members. Have an end takeaway that the client can apply to real life. “I see the role of a seminar as not just adding to that information but helping them sift through it and decide what’s best for them,” explained Deal.

2)   Know your audience and who you are talking to.

3)   Use the seminar to induce a critical input experience, or what Deal summarized as an “Aha!” moment. For instance, instead of telling members they need to simply eat more vegetables, use a different approach. “Start with what are you favorite vegetables, and then saying when will you go buy them, and then three, what meals will you eat them?” said Deal. This clearly defines the habit of eating vegetables and allows the client to determine if he or she is succeeding.

4)   Leave the seminar attendees with a behavioral oriented handout that reinforces the overall message. Following the vegetable example, have your handout make members answer the above three questions: What are you favorite vegetables? When are you going to buy them? When are you going to eat them?

Overall, Deal has seen success in his clients through their use of his nutrition programs and seminars. Often, members who start on a six-month program stay instead for a year. “Not because they haven’t reached their goal in six months, but because it opens the door into what I think is really pretty beautiful about nutrition, and that is it can be incredibly simple and incredibly automatic,” said Deal.

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at