"Making time for sport is essential"

Nutrition coaching can be a helpful and beneficial step towards maintaining a healthy diet. But what are the important things to look out for? Nutrition advisor Sonja Erni provides the answers in this interview.

Ernährungsberaterin Sonja Erni

Sonja Erni, 38, has a degree in nutrition counselling, and has her own practice in Burgdorf. A mother of three, she was heavily involved in designing the nutrition coaching app Oviva.

Sonja Erni, why should someone hire a nutrition coach?

Sonja Erni: Nutrition coaching (NC) helps you find your way through the increasingly complex "information jungle" on nutrition, which is becoming more and more difficult to make sense of. Coaches provide valuable tips on nutrition that you can integrate into everyday life. This positive adjustment helps to make you feel better and fitter. Generally, I'd say that NC is a good basis for a healthy lifestyle.

Who do you recommend nutrition coaching for?

Nutrition coaching is suitable for anybody who wants to change their existing eating habits, which are often incorrect. These people are willing to modify their lifestyle to live a healthier life in future. NC isn't always about losing weight, but for many this is often the intention.

You were heavily involved in developing the Oviva app, a virtual nutrition coach. Is the target group for this app the same as that for «conventional» nutrition coaching?

The Oviva app is designed for people with a body mass index – or BMI – of more than 18. Our customers should also be over 18 years of age. Unlike «conventional» nutrition coaching, the Oviva app doesn't offer advice to children and pregnant women.

How does the app work?

You take a picture of everything you eat and drink – main meals, in-between meals, as well as snacks. You send the pictures using the app to your personal nutrition coach. You can also record your activities and your weight in the app. This data forms the basis for individual coaching, using the app.

Can an app replace real coaching?

Virtual coaching has a number of advantages. It is available wherever and whenever you need it, and is carried out regularly, which gives the coach an accurate insight into the customer's eating habits. Since launching Oviva in September 2014, we have found that customers tend to assume more responsibility for themselves when using the app and are very honest. This is probably because they know at the back of their mind that they have to document their eating habits. But virtual coaching isn't for everybody, so Oviva will never replace personal advice altogether.

Whether it's virtual or personal coaching, what do you need to be successful?

Strong self-motivation and an absolute willingness to change your own behaviour are very important. People who seek nutrition counselling should also be open to new things, curious and deal honestly with the subject of eating. Also, people don't like to hear this, but making time for sport is essential to success. Finally, you need perseverance, and this is an area in which the coach can offer considerable support to customers.

How do you mean?

If I see that my customers haven't lost weight or haven't achieved interim goals, I ask them specifically, "What have you changed? What are you doing differently?" It's helpful to write down exactly what activities you're involved in or what activities are more difficult than they used to be. It can be a powerful motivator, for example, if you notice that it's easier to climb stairs, or that you've lost weight in terms of centimetres, if not in kilogrammes.

What should people look for when picking a coach?

Overambitious promises of success often indicate dubious offers. You need to be careful if someone offers a 100% guarantee of success or promises you'll lose an excessive amount of weight quickly. You have to bear in mind that changing your behaviour or lifestyle takes time. Successes achieved quickly often don't last long.

Interview: Szilvia Früh