ABOUT MEG CLARK
Already coaching as a personal trainer, Whole30 Certified Coach Meg Clark felt that becoming a Whole30 coach was a natural progression. Struggling to consume sugar in "moderation" like she thought she should and suffering as a result, Meg began her journey with Whole30 after hearing about it through a client. She did her research and when she read the Whole30 rules around sugar, she had a light bulb moment. With "permission" to cut out all processed sugar, Meg did her first round in 2014 and experienced many of the non-scale victories (NSVs) of Whole30. She began to feel better, perform better in the gym, and have mental clarity and energy like never before. Shifting from processed foods to real, whole foods to fuel her workouts and lifestyle, Meg now coaches her training and nutrition clients with a philosophy rooted in her own experience with healthy movement and her personal journey with Whole30. Read more about Meg's experience and get her tips for moving in ways that feel good below.
"As much as I can, I want to set clients up for success during Whole30 and celebrate their little wins. If they start to feel empowered by their choices and notice changes that they are creating, that’s huge."
HI COACH MEG. SHARE WITH US YOUR BACKGROUND WITH WHOLE30 AND HEALTHY MOVEMENT. HOW DID YOU END UP CONNECTING THE TWO?
My name is Meg Clark and I’m a personal trainer and Whole30 coach. I’m also a wife, dog-mom, avid cyclist and enthusiastic home cook! A few years into my personal training career a client mentioned they had just finished this program called the “Whole30.” They talked about how good they felt and how they hadn’t eaten any sugar for a whole month. I was intrigued. At the time, I was struggling to control my sugar intake and felt like I was constantly failing to eat sugar in “moderation” like every diet/food plan/magazine said was the “right” way to do it. When I heard about Whole30 and read the rules I thought, “This is what I need - 100% elimination of processed sugars.” It was permission to cut sugar out of my diet completely and that was a game changer for me at the time.
Eliminating sugar was the first step, but what I've realized over the years is that the biggest benefit I have experienced is the program’s profound effect on my mental state. I have become a happier, less depressed and more productive person simply by changing what I eat.
As a personal trainer, coaching Whole30 was a natural progression of my work with my clients. My favorite thing about it is seeing my clients feel empowered over their own physical and mental health! I love the combination of working in the gym and working on Whole30 at the same time.
You started as a personal trainer before being introduced to Whole30. What was your approach to nutrition before that?
The first word that came to mind when I read this question was “uneducated!” Or maybe “misinformed.” Either way, I didn’t have enough knowledge to even begin changing the way I ate in a significant way. I grew up athletic, played volleyball through college then started running and doing triathlons out of college. I was always pretty healthy, fairly lean and didn’t worry (or think) much about my food beyond “Does this taste good?” I also didn’t know how to cook. This meant I ate a lot of beige things through college and into my young adulthood - nachos, pizza, pasta, sandwiches...notice a trend? I had a general sense that I needed to eat protein and that I should eat vegetables (which I didn’t, really) and that I shouldn’t eat “too much” sugar or fat.
This way of thinking kept me going for a long time. But I also knew I didn’t feel great. I had consistent stomach aches, bloating, gas, and felt generally mediocre physically. My workouts were all over the place. I was often depressed and lethargic. I got to the point that I would fall asleep on the couch in the middle of the day, unable to stay awake after eating lunch. I thought something was wrong with me, and I began to think it might have to do with food, but I had no idea that my mental state could also be related to food. No one had once said to me “What you are eating is affecting your brain as much as it is affecting your body.” I look back at myself in my teens and early 20’s and wish that older me had been around to tell younger me that.
When I became a personal trainer my eating was already getting better. I was cooking more at home (thanks to a meal box subscription service), and I started reading more about nutrition. It wasn’t until Whole30 that I truly made the connection between the food I was putting in my mouth and feeling better physically and mentally. It was a sharp turning point in my life and I dove in!
As a result of Whole30, how did your own relationship with food evolve and did this affect your training at all?
My eating has changed dramatically since starting Whole30! For one, I eat a ton more vegetables now and way fewer processed foods so overall, I just feel better on a consistent basis. I am so much more in tune with how my body will feel after eating certain foods. I know that if I’m going into a big training week, I better avoid processed sugar and that if I eat too much fat at breakfast I’m going to have a brick in my stomach when I get to my midday workout.
One of the biggest shifts I made was to cutting out most processed foods for triathlon training and starting to eat real food while biking. Instead of all the sugary chews and gels, my husband and I started making rice cakes with bacon to eat on the bike. They were easy to make, tastier than gels and they didn’t make my stomach upset when I started running after biking. I still make rice cakes for long bike rides now, or I grab some Rx bars to take with me. I love eating real food for workouts!
Most importantly, I know that I have control over how I’m feeling and that I can adjust accordingly. And naturally, when I’m in a better physical and mental space my workouts are better as well.
Now that you’re a Whole30 coach, how do you bring together healthy movement and nutrition for your clients?
I try to encourage clients to figure out a lot of stuff on their own. What foods work for them? What foods make their cravings worse? Can they add more weight to their deadlift or get more pushups in during the set? The more they can answer these questions themselves instead of me dictating to them what they “should” be doing, the better. I want to be their guide but I also want to teach them enough that they could be self-sufficient if they wanted to be.
With my clients, I work a lot on tuning into the body and noticing what it needs. Does it need a full meal or is just a craving? Does it need a hard lifting session or would a more mellow day focused on mobility be better? What does it mean to each person to “be healthy” or to “get in better shape?” If you ask 10 different people what it looks like for them to be in “good” shape, you’ll get 10 different answers. So nutrition and movement look slightly different for each client. Overall, I just try to keep it fun and not overwhelm clients with too much change at once.
We love that you mention power and strength both inside and outside of the gym! Explain how these notions fit into your coaching style.
One of the big benefits I get from being in a gym all day and using my body in a very physical environment is simply, confidence. When I started to feel truly confident and strong in the gym I found that it started following me around outside the gym as well. That’s what I want for my clients - for them to take their wins inside the gym and let that positive experience lift them up during the day. When I work with a client I want to challenge them and get them outside their comfort zone, but I don’t need to crush them. They don’t need to be in a ball on the floor after their workout. I try to create challenging workouts where everyone gets a “win” every day.
This applies to Whole30 coaching as well. For a client, a week without sugar might feel like an even bigger win than PR-ing their squat! As much as I can, I want to set clients up for success during Whole30 and celebrate their little wins. If they start to feel empowered by their choices and notice changes that they are creating, that’s huge.
What advice do you have for someone who may just hate to “work out?”
Working out doesn’t mean 1 thing. If someone hates the gym, I encourage them to find something outside the gym they love! I tell my clients they don’t “need” to do any specific type of exercise. We put a lot of expectations on ourselves to do all these intense gym workouts, but it’s just not the most important thing. Whatever a client can do consistently that gets their body moving is great. If they can find a community to do it with, even better.
Instead of telling yourself “I have to work out today,” try switching to ask yourself “How do I want to move my body today?” Then you get to decide what feels best for you each day. When I made this switch, I suddenly felt so free! I gave myself the freedom to simply move. I started walking more and tried yoga for the first time, which is now part of my regular routine. As long as I do something active most days of the week, I’m happy.
Lifestyle changes can be intimidating! Share some useful tips for those that may be new to Whole30 and/or exercise.
- Find a group to join! This could be a Whole30 coaching group, an organized training team, or a rec sports league. Whatever activity you want to try, it’s nice to know other people who hold the same interest, who can give you some good advice when you’re just starting off, and who can help hold you accountable. Sharing experiences is one of the best ways to connect with other people, and those relationships will help keep you consistent in your activity.
- The other thing I always tell people is to ramp up slowly. With Whole30, this means making sure you are prepared going into it! Do the reading beforehand, think about what things can easily fit into your life, and start there. Go to the grocery store on a regular basis and get to know your way around. Start cooking more meals at home and packing your lunch for work, even if it’s not Whole30 meals. Keep it easy and simple so you are more likely to stick to it.
With working out, it means start shorter and easier than you may want. Ramp up slowly at a pace that is comfortable and allows your body to recover. I hate to see clients get excited about something and throw themselves into it aggressively, only to find themselves injured and unable to continue a few weeks in. Get more sleep! Almost everyone could use more sleep, especially when increasing their activity level. Getting enough sleep will help you stick with the new habits you are forming.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the Model Meals/Whole30 community?
Health and fitness are like a haircut - you can’t just do it once and expect it to stay the same forever! It’s a continuous process of learning and adjusting. I’m proud of all the progress I have made in my own nutrition and fitness journey, but I still work at it because when I feel better I’m simply happier!
Meg, we are so grateful that you shared with us about your Whole30 journey and how you've connected that with healthy movement. We love your tips, coaching philosophy, and the approach that you shared with us to getting moving. Thanks for being so candid and sharing such useful tips with us and our community!