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Nourishing Your Nutrition Program

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One thing that can help your members see better results and set your club apart is a successful nutrition program. While these programs can be challenging to get off the ground, it’s not an impossible task.

Recognizing the importance of nutrition education, Wisconsin Athletic Club has invested in a team of trained staff, including one full-time registered dietitian (RD) and three part-time dietitians.

However, even with a dedicated team, it can be difficult to predict which programming topics will be popular, as well as when members are most likely to attend workshops. 

“In one-on-one sessions, it is not always easy to meet the client where they are in their health journey, but it is important to remember not everyone is ready to make significant changes right now,” added Kim Flannery, the nutrition director at Wisconsin Athletic Club. “Encouraging them to take a few baby steps toward improvement may be the best option.”

Amy Silver, the nutrition coordinator at Fitness Formula Clubs Oak Park (FFC Oak Park), said since nutrition programs in the health club industry — especially those that bill to insurance — are still fairly new, clubs have to be willing to create the path instead of following one. 

“When challenges come up or we want to set expectations for the program, we don’t always have a guideline to follow,” said Silver. “We’ve learned to use the other programs at FFC to guide us in the right direction, but we also need to be creative and entrepreneurial in order to be successful.”

Another key factor to ensuring your nutrition program is successful is holding participants accountable. 

“I like to offer members the option to check in with me via email, especially if they are feeling a little tenuous about making changes,” said Flannery. “Knowing I am there seems to be very helpful, especially when they are disappointed with themselves and need a pep talk. Some members track their meals, and this is another opportunity to offer help and encouragement.”

Most of FFC Oak Park’s programs involve the participants meeting with their RDs one-on-one every week or every other week. “Due to the consistency of appointments, these meetings serve as both education and accountability,” said Silver. “Participants will set short-term and long-term goals that are reviewed at appointments. Depending on the participant, the RD may recommend quantitative measurements and/or keeping a food journal for review at meetings.”

Two things the Wisconsin Athletic Club has found that make a nutrition program successful are the staff and fun programming. “Our dietitians are skilled not only in the science of nutrition, but also in the art of behavior change and meeting the client where they are,” said Flannery. “Our members know we care. If we can make the learning fun, everyone wins.” 

For FFC Oak Park, Silver said their keys to success are hiring and coaching RDs to have a patient-centered approach and an entrepreneurial spirit. Additionally, Silver said building a network of referrals can help your nutrition program thrive. 

“At FFC Oak Park, our largest network was built by our medical director, which has helped us get referrals from the community to help those who may not have sought out a health club in the first place,” Silver explained. “This network can also come from local businesses, other practitioners or even word of mouth.”

One thing both clubs agree on is that earning the support of other departments is essential for the program’s success. Silver said everyone at the club has to appreciate the expertise RDs bring and be willing to recommend members to them.

“It is important to remember all areas of the club work best for our members when we find ways to support one another,” added Flannery. “Exercise and nutrition are natural complements for the best member experiences, so referrals and collaborative programming are huge opportunities for increasing revenue.”

Overall, it is important to keep in mind club members are busy — take this into consideration. “Ideas for quick snacks and meals, as well as cooking demos that show people very basic techniques, are always favorites,” said Flannery. “Weight loss continues to be a major goal for a large number of members, but they are more open to exploring behavior change methods and mindful eating suggestions than in the past. Since we know traditional diets don’t create lasting changes, we can build interesting programs focused on mindful eating, behavior change techniques and cultivating real willpower.” 

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