By Tami Vigness
For many, the ins and outs, dos and don’ts of health, fitness, and nutrition are bamboozling. With so much contradicting information circulating around the internet, it can be difficult to decipher fact from fiction. One week we read an article telling us that carbs are bad and so we purge our cabinets of pasta, rice, and bread. The next week, we hear that fruit is our enemy because it’s too high in sugar. Out with the apples and bananas. But wait! Whole grains are okay? Blueberries are rich in antioxidants? Off to the grocery store we go.
We pore over nutrition labels with the fervor of a law student studying for the bar exam and find ourselves more confused than ever. “Natural,” “organic,” “gluten-free,” “low carb,” and “fat-free” are often fluffy words placed on products that trick consumers into thinking they are buying something that is healthy. Low fat and fat-free products often have added sugar to compensate for the lack of flavor, protein drinks and bars can be laden with unnecessary ingredients like artificial sweeteners and oils, diet sodas don’t contain sugar, but they do contain aspartame. In all the confusion and misleading labels, it’s easy to get discouraged and develop a tainted relationship with food.
Every day we’re inundated with ads telling us to take this pill, or drink this shake, and discover the body we’ve always dreamed of. Before we even know it, we’ve spent hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars on products that claim to be the golden ticket to solving all our weight-loss woes. Inevitably, the diet pills get expensive or come with undesirable side effects, the meal replacement shakes are no longer satisfying, and we find ourselves in the same old rut of buying processed convenience foods or waiting in line at the fast-food drive-thru. Any modicum of success that had previously been achieved has flown out the window, the number on the scale keeps creeping up, and the vicious cycle of fad dieting repeats. And repeats.
The start of a new year often begins with resolutions to eat better and exercise more, lose those 10 pesky pounds, or get back the six-pack abs we had in our 20s. Knowing where to start is often the biggest hurdle. Thankfully, there are people like Danielle (Dani) Rancourt and her team at Pivot Nutrition Coaching to help navigate the complex and confusing world of health, nutrition, diet, and exercise.
Eat Like an Athlete
Having played competitive sports all her life, Dani has the “never settle for less” mentality that many athletes inherently have. Growing up, she played hockey in her small hometown in northern Ontario and always dreamed of playing Division I in college. But in a smaller town, it was hard to get noticed. Knowing she’d never be content with the offers to play Division III hockey, Dani packed her bags and traveled to British Columbia to better position herself to achieve her goal. And it worked. With a Division I offer in hand to play hockey at Vermont University and pre-med as her decided major, Dani knew she needed to continue to aim high. “Suddenly I was surrounded by all these great athletes,” Dani said. “It was a wake-up call, and I needed to figure out what I could do to stand out.” It was then that she turned her attention to nutrition – eating like an athlete. Her pre-med and science-heavy curriculum gave her the tools she needed to discover how to use food to improve her athletic performance. She focused on foods that would fuel her body before practices and workouts, as well as the foods that would allow her body to recover properly. Changing her diet and eating like an athlete ultimately enhanced her performance all around, and she went from the 4th line to a starting position by her junior year. By the time she was a senior, she was a co-captain. Seeing first-hand how the right nutrition improved her performance, Dani changed her major to nutrition and dietetics and went on to earn a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Physical Performance from St. Louis University.
After graduation, Dani’s career path led her to Grand Forks where she landed a job as a Registered Dietitian and Certified Sports Dietitian at Altru’s (now former) Sports Advantage Powered by EXOS. “I really wanted to work for EXOS, and even though they had openings in warmer states, I chose to apply in North Dakota. I’m from Canada and a hockey player, so North Dakota seemed like the best fit,” Dani recalled with a laugh. The EXOS philosophy of guiding people to achieve the best version of themselves was something that resonated with Dani and her own personal beliefs. Taking a more holistic approach to health and nutrition and how they affect performance was a concept that spoke to Dani and her personal journey with nutrition enhanced performance. Knowing that what to eat, how much, and when to eat played a huge part in Dani’s success as a college athlete. She wanted to impart that knowledge onto others to bring their overall performance to a new level. She spent over five years at Altru’s Sports Advantage mapping out nutrition programs for both amateur and professional athletes as well as advising anyone who was looking for a more complete approach to achieving their health, body composition and physical fitness goals.
All Foods Fit
Tailoring a nutrition program specific to an individual is a bit of an art. A dietitian needs to consider where their client is at in their journey, what they have done in the past, what they hope to achieve, what barriers stand in their way, and how they can maintain lasting results. Educating their clients properly plays a huge part in a dietitian’s ability to help their clients be successful. Rather than advising people to steer clear of sweets or french fries or pizza, a good dietitian will teach you how to include those “fun foods” without feeling restricted or overindulging; nutrition is a balancing act where all foods can fit.
Dani is quick to tell anyone that you can, in fact, enjoy a cookie, bowl of ice cream, or plate of nachos without “blowing your diet.” One of the biggest reasons many diets fail is because eliminating or drastically limiting certain foods or food groups only makes you want them more; people want what they can’t have. Restriction often leads to feelings of deprivation and almost always leads to overeating. Excessive restrictions might also mean that a person is unknowingly cutting out necessary nutrients. Your body needs a certain amount of fat in your diet for hormonal balance and satiety. Carbs fuel your muscles and your brain. Going gluten-free (unless you medically need to) might mean you’re missing out on other essential nutrients like fiber, iron, calcium, and vitamin D. In the world of nutrition coaching, the goal is to help clients fuel their bodies for life, rather than looking for a temporary fix and seeing certain foods as the enemy.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “everything in moderation,” and it really is true. As a registered dietitian, Dani wants her clients to find a balance by eating the food they enjoy, stop categorizing foods as “good” or “bad,” and indulge without overindulging. Instead of crippling guilt that often accompanies “cheating on your diet” by having 4-5 slices of pizza, pop and a side of guilt, how about two slices of pizza with a side salad or fruit instead?
Part of the education a dietitian can provide is how to set realistic goals, and most dietitians understand that not everyone is going to eat healthy 100% of the time. “We tell our clients that we don’t want them to be perfect with their nutrition; making good choices 80-90% leads to results and it’s more sustainable,” Dani explained. The next time their client finds themselves in the fast-food drive-thru, a dietitian might encourage them to get a grilled chicken sandwich instead of fried chicken, and order a small fry instead of a medium. And despite growing up being told we must clean our plates at the dinner table, a dietitian will suggest eating until we feel satisfied, not stuffed. The “all foods fit” mentality encourages us to make healthier choices when we can and not feel guilty when we indulge in a treat. Learning how to enjoy a favorite food, and not feel guilty about it, helps negate those feelings of deprivation and restriction that so many diets leave in their wake.
Creating a New Path
When Sports Advantage closed its doors in May of 2021, Dani knew she needed to create a new path for herself. Her desire to help others succeed with proper health and nutrition was stronger than ever. Thanks to the reputation she established with Sports Advantage, a band of loyal friends and colleagues, and a healthy number of Instagram followers drawn to her bubbly personality, fun and helpful whiteboard drawings, recipe and workout ideas, and realistic approach to health, Dani was ready to take the next step, and Pivot Nutrition Coaching was born.
Within 24 hours of launching her 1:1 nutrition coaching business, there was a waitlist of people ready to pivot to the next phase of their journey to better health and wellness. Before a new client officially begins their program, a discovery call is made. During that call, Dani might ask: “Where do you struggle the most when it comes to nutrition? What’s your lifestyle like? What diets have you tried in the past and why didn’t they work for you? What are your goals? Why are they important to you? What do you need to be successful?” All of these questions, and more, are asked in an attempt to establish the rapport needed to develop the proper program for each individual. “We want to make sure we’re a good fit for each other,” Dani explained. Before their first coaching session, clients are asked to take pictures of the food they consume each day – all of it - and to not change a thing. Having an honest look at a person’s lifestyle is critical to developing an individualized program for them.
Pivot – Build – Achieve – Maintain
At Pivot Nutrition Coaching, Dani and her team of like-minded Registered Dietitians have created a four-phase approach to help people achieve their goals. The first phase, dubbed Pivot, involves helping clients pivot away from an “all-or-nothing” mentality and let go of restrictive tendencies that hinder their (long-term) success. “In this phase, it’s all about finding a balance,” Dani explained. This phase also focuses on creating awareness – current habits, lifestyle choices, and even past successes and failures. “After all,” Dani said, “awareness precedes change.”
The second phase is Build. In this phase, the dietitians work with clients to build a solid foundation on which they can develop healthy and sustainable habits. “Without a solid foundation,” said Dani, “things fall apart.” Sustainability, or lack thereof – as anyone who’s ever been on any kind of diet can attest – is probably the number one reason most diets fail. Most fad diets end up having the opposite desired effect: after days, or weeks, or months of excessive restrictions, we succumb to temptation, end up binging on whatever our particular vice happens to be, and ultimately giving up. According to Dani, because the goal is to develop sustainable and realistic habits that can be maintained long-term, the Build phase is the most important.
Achieve, the third phase, involves helping clients “cross the finish line,” which requires time, patience, and consistency - the building blocks to success. Phase 3 is all about applying the sustainable habits learned in Phase 2 and being consistent with them to achieve lasting results. Unlike a fad diet that promises rapid weight loss and fast results, the Pivot program focuses on helping clients make lifestyle changes and equipping them with the knowledge to make better choices. “We try to help our clients understand and accept that their journey is a marathon, not a sprint,” Dani said. “Fast doesn’t last.”
The fourth and final phase is Maintain. “What is the point of investing time, effort, energy and finances into something if you can’t maintain the results?” Dani asks prospective clients. Dani and her team know a client is ready to graduate from the program when they have a better mindset (Pivot), they have a solid foundation of healthy habits (Build), they achieved their goals (Achieve), and finally they are confident they know how to maintain their results long-term without needing to be held accountable to their coach. In other words, they’ve developed good, sustainable habits and are equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to be successful in maintaining their new, healthier lifestyle. Often the best indicator of success is the ability to effectively keep the weight off and not revert to the fluctuation that typically comes with restrictive dieting. “Most programs and diets don’t teach people how to maintain their results long term,” Dani explained. “Most people that have dieted have successfully lost weight. Sadly, 95% of people fail to maintain those results long term.”
For the average person, the program at Pivot typically takes 6-12 months to complete, but the team wants their program to be the client’s very last stop. And while six months to a year might seem like a long time, Dani explained, “It’s actually a shortcut, because instead of jumping on and off the wagon for years, we aim to do it right and do it once.” G
// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here
From Issue 1, 2022
PHOTOS By It’s Her Brand Enterprises