20: Coaching through Secondary Food, Integrative Nutrition Plate, Cravings, and Food tracking

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Hello and welcome to the podcast all about becoming a Health Coach. I'm Megan McCrory, a Health Coach in training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition!

Each week I recap we’ve learned and how I’m applying those lessons in my life.

If this is your first time tuning in, I'm happy you've found the podcast and a very special welcome to you. You may want to go back and listen from the beginning to hear more about my Health Coaching journey.

Let's dive right into episode 20

This week in Module 17 we learned more about coaching through Secondary food, we look at the Integrative Nutrition Plate, we then get into cravings and food tracking. 

Coaching through Secondary Food (00:00:44)

In the last episode we went into how to coach through Primary food, specifically relationships. If you are new to the podcast, Secondary foods are what you eat, drink, inhale, ingest, this is what we first think of when talking about nutrition and feeding the body. Primary foods are your physical activity, career, spirituality and relationships. 

The concept of primary and secondary foods is taught in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, or IIN, as a way to understand that we need not only nourishment from food and drink but we also need to have healthy relationships, a sense of purpose in your life, a career that you love, and to be physically active in order to be in the best health possible. Primary and Secondary foods are connected and you have to address both at some point. 

Today we will go into how to coach through secondary foods, or the foods we eat. 


Before we go further, did you download the Circle of Life from Episode 19? Have you determined which areas of your relationships you’d like to work on? If you need some accountability, drop me a line at becomingahealthcoach@gmail.com and let me know what you are struggling with. 


One of the issues coaches have when working with clients is they bombard them with too much information. Most people don’t need more information, they need to shift their behaviour. Ask anyone what they should be doing to be healthier, they will tell you, move more, eat well, get sleep. Ask them why they don’t do it, and you’ll hear silence or excuses. Either way they are not doing what they know they should be doing. 

So what are you as the coach bringing to this coaching relationship?

Your value comes in two ways, first you are creating a space to develop self-awareness around the inner workings that will in turn guide decisions and motivations. Allowing people the space to talk and think for an hour is so powerful. You are the dedicated time that person needs to focus only on themselves. Asking those high-mileage questions then sit back and let the client talk through what they need to say. 

After they talk it all out and you both can start to see the why behind the behaviour your next value comes in providing the right tools for the client to take with them to really affect lasting change. I think this is where some coaches get nervous that they won’t have all the right answers. You don’t need all the right answers. You’ll learn what works along the way. You are bringing them an understanding of bio-individuality, to know themselves better. Ask them what they think they should do. 

What happens if you get a client that really pushes to know more nutrition information than you have in your tool box?  Bottom line: the behavioural changes and relationship with food are the most important. It’s your job to ask the great questions that will get them there.

Things like:

  • “What is it about this detail that you feel will help you reach your goal?”

  • “What is it about this detail that you feel with change the situation for you?”

  • “What about this is important to you?”

Try to bring the focus back on to the clients relationship with food and help them to be curious about their own process with food.

When was the last time you sat down are asked yourself, why am I eating this?  

If you are still feeling a bit uncomfortable in this area of coaching, IIN provides these following 10 tips to help you coach through secondary foods

  1. Offer support - the last thing people want to change is their food

  2. Don’t prescribe a diet - whole foods is okay, help them to explore bio-individuality

  3. Use the Integrative Nutrition plate as a guide - the Integrative Nutrition plate is IIN’s version of the USDAs plate, almost all countries have their own version of the plate. 

  4. Keep it simple - get back to the basics, provide resources like recipes

  5. Accept when you don’t know something

  6. Keep bio-individuality in mind - remain open and non-judgemental

  7. Gather evidence - 3 day food diary

  8. Ask high-mileage questions - imbalances in primary food

  9. Help clients crowd out less-nutritious foods

  10. Acknowledge areas that are going well

Remember you are coaching your client to become the expert on themselves!

Cravings (00:16:29)

Let’s move on to cravings. We have all been there, right?

Like something beyond us is forcing us to eat that chocolate or munch on those chips. You’re not even hungry, but no matter how hard you try, you turn into a crazy person and stuff your face.

I typically crave cheese, lucky for me I live in Switzerland, the land of cheese. Their national dishes are fondue and raclette, both cheese based. Those things that are not based in cheese are still covered in it. It is so hard to manage a craving for cheese living here. 

You may ask, but why not just eat the cheese. Believe me, I do, but the point is I don’t want to have my body overriding my head. I want to be in control of what I put in my mouth and when you crave something that is definitely harder to accomplish. 

Many people view cravings as weaknesses, but often, they’re important messages from your body to guide you in maintaining balance.

When you experience a craving, deconstruct it. Ask yourself, “What is my body trying to tell me?”

  1. Lack of Primary Food -  Being dissatisfied with a relationship, having an inappropriate exercise routine (too much, too little, or the wrong kind), being bored, stressed, or uninspired by a job, or lacking a spiritual practice can all cause emotional eating. Many people try to cope with uncomfortable emotions or difficult situations by seeking balance through food. Food can provide a form of relief, or even an escape, when you’re under stress. In this way, food is being used as a strategy to fulfil areas of primary food that aren’t being satisfied.

  2. Water -  Staying hydrated is a great way to help reduce extreme cravings and may ultimately help regulate the amount eaten to match needs more closely. A glass of water before eating has actually been shown to reduce the amount of food consumed during a meal. Another factor to consider is that your hydration status affects your body’s electrolyte balance. When you sweat and lose water, you also lose electrolytes, like sodium. This may lead you to seek out sodium-rich foods following an intense workout.

  3. Yin-Yang Imbalance -  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, certain foods are more yin (expansive), while others are more yang (contractive). Within this theory, foods that are too yin or too yang may lead you to crave the opposite in an attempt to maintain balance. This theory suggests eating foods that are more neutral (like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans) and avoiding extremes on either end that may lead to cravings. For example, eating a diet rich in sugar (yin) may cause a craving for meat (yang) and eating too many raw foods (yin) may cause cravings for heavily cooked foods (yang).

  4. Inside Coming Out -  Cravings often come from foods you’ve recently eaten or foods from your childhood. Recently eaten foods tend to be fresh in your mind, so you’re more likely to crave that food in an attempt to re-create a positive eating experience. Similarly, when you crave foods from your childhood, you may really be seeking the feeling of comfort those foods may have provided when you were younger.

  5. Seasonal -  The body often craves foods in accordance with the season. In the spring, people crave lighter foods, like leafy greens or citrus fruits. In the summer, people crave cooling foods, like raw foods and ice cream. In the fall, people tend to crave grounding foods, like squash, onions, and nuts, and many crave heat-producing foods, like meat, oil, and fat, in the winter. Cravings can also be associated with seasonal holidays. For example, turkey, eggnog, or Christmas cookies.

  6. Lack of Nutrients -  If the body has inadequate nutrients, it might produce odd cravings. An extreme example of this is a disorder called pica, which leads to extreme cravings of nonfood items, like clay. This condition may arise due to a chronic iron deficiency.

  7. Hormonal -  When women experience menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, fluctuating testosterone and estrogen levels may cause unique cravings. Stress has also been shown to alter hormones in order to promote cravings.

  8. Devolution -  Any big change that you make, dietary or otherwise, isn’t going to happen overnight. Sometimes, you may revert to old habits because they are familiar or you’re not totally ready to let go of them. If this happens, remember to be patient with yourself – take a step back and recognise that even if your diet got off track briefly, you don’t have to throw in the towel! In fact, this is often just a part of the process of changing your diet.

Sugar (00:27:30)

One of the cravings that most people have and many people would like to control is a craving for sugar or sweet things. Sugar is said to be at the root of many metabolic diseases, the most well known being insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.

Guest speaker Sarah Wilson was back to tell us how to quit sugar. The first step is to quit eating processed foods, in order to do that you should learn how to cook. Cooking your own food is so important to manage what you are eating, and also having a respect for the food you make. Home cooked food always tastes better, part of that is the love that is put into it.

Sarah breaks down how to quit sugar in her book titled I Quit Sugar. She notes that it takes about 8 weeks to achieve freedom from sugar. 

First, start by dialling down sugar daily. If you don’t like your coffee without sugar, try switching to tea. Try not to deprive yourself but switch out items for healthier versions with lower sugar. Depending on your starting point, do this for a week or more until you feel comfortable. 

Next, go without sugar or any sweeteners for 8 weeks, this includes fruit and fruit juices. The point is to retrain your taste buds to appreciate less sweetness. 

The first 2 weeks you will notice that your skin and tastes begin to change, weeks 4-5 your body starts going through a detox process, weeks 6-7 your appetite starts to change. After week 8 you can start to reintroduce fruits but limit them to 1-2 portions a day. Never reintroduce fruit juice, it has the same concentration of sugar as soda. Utilise safe sweeteners, ones low in fructose like stevia or rice malt syrup. 

It’s quite easy for me to run through what to do it’s quite another thing to do it, especially if you are currently hooked on sugar. You’ll need to work with your clients own bio-individuality to determine what’s best for them. My client switched out store-bought muffins for homemade muffins as a first step. This way she could control the amount of sugar in the muffin. You have to start where the client is ready to start and as the coach you have to be okay with that starting point, don’t try to push the client where they are not ready to go.

Are you hooked on sugar? Everyone can benefit from reducing their sugar intake. Try eating sweeter vegetables like carrots, beets, or sweet potatoes, or add cinnamon or coconut to a dish. Like every journey, it all starts with a first step. Check out my newsletter on root vegetables!

If you are interested in the steps to Sarah Wilson’s program to quit sugar I have it available as a free PDF for you to download.

Ok, we’ll need to stop there for this episode but join me next time when we will talk about the Gluten-Related Disorders, Listening to your Body, and Intuitive Coaching

Please email me at becomingahealthcoach@gmail.com and for links to the resources I mentioned check out the show notes at www.meganjmccrory.com

Thank you again for spending this time with me

I’m Megan McCrory and you’ve been listening to how I’m becoming a Health Coach, until next time stay happy and healthy!