"How-To" Guide

The Science of Virtual Coaching: 3 Research-Backed Recommendations


There are countless internet-based nutrition coaching programs, but few prove effective. why do some succeed while others fail? One peer-reviewed publication examined 21 studies that used tech-based interventions for weight loss. The authors identified the most crucial components required for a program’s success, of which we’ll extract three recommendations. Then, in The Art of Virtual Coaching, we’ll follow up with tips and insights we’ve found essential to successful nutrition coaching.

1) Use a structured program

Compared to haphazard approaches, structured weight loss programs produce:

  •      More weight loss
  •      Smaller waist circumferences
  •      Lower blood pressure
  •      Lower blood sugar and insulin levels


  • Analyzing a client’s diet may reveal some gaping holes. Let’s say he eats no vegetables, limited fruits, and only processed grains. Rather than attempt to tackle all of these goals simultaneously, ask him which issue he’d would like to work on first. Encourage him to begin with the easiest of these challenges so he can gather momentum and feel good about his progress. Then, ask what he’d like to take on next. Together, we devise a program and timetable, developing a flexible roadmap for success, which we’ll fine-tune as needed along the way.

2) Tailor the program to the individual

People participating in an individually tailored, interactive, online behavior therapy program lost more weight after 6 months than did participants receiving a web-based nutrition education-only program.


  • Tons of weight loss programs offer cookie-cutter solutions. People recognize this on a gut level and when they inevitably fall off, they feel inadequate, assuming that everyone else on the one-size-fits-all plan succeeded. Instead, by tailoring a program to clients, they feel seen and understood, and walk away with a customized plan that sets them up for success.
  • We know that eating vegetables is critical for good health, but one client refuses to eat them. Work around this at first. Tailor the program to him and tell him that eating no vegetables is absolutely fine for now. Instead, help him focus on eating more whole fruits, beans, and legumes to get plenty of intact fiber into his diet. If you don’t force the vegetable issue, more often than not, after he makes other changes within his comfort zone, he’ll come around and take baby steps on the vegetable front.

3) Some types of feedback are more useful than others

The way we provide feedback makes a huge difference. Negative reinforcement decreases intrinsic motivation, or the drive to do something because it’s personally rewarding. Positive reinforcement increases intrinsic motivation and leads to higher levels of competence feelings.

Tailored feedback is more likely to be read, remembered, and experienced as more personally relevant than generalized feedback. Tailored nutrition education also has a greater impact on motivating people to change their diet, their fat intake in particular.


Negative reinforcement


Positive reinforcement


 Generalized feedback


 Tailored communication


Which component of a nutrition coaching program have you found most critical to success? We’re sure we’ve missed some and would love to hear your thoughts and insights!


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