Weight loss is a client goal you probably encounter frequently – after all, when surveyed, 45% of men and 80% of women say they’re unhappy with their weight.

How can you help as a PT?

One thing we try to make clear to our students at Personal Training Academy is that every client needs to be treated as an INDIVIDUAL. We teach trainers how to truly create programs that suit that client, their goals, their needs, their abilities and of course – that take into account their overall level of stress.

Weight loss strategies are no different: they must suit the individual. I’ve had clients who work well when they have hard and fast RULES to adhere to, such as ‘I don’t eat any chocolate at all’ and others who chafe against feeling deprived. I’ve known clients who are happy to be strict most days of the week so they can enjoy a cheat day, and others who would prefer to work a tiny treat into each day. You can suggest strategies and you and your client can figure out the best approach together.

It’s obvious, but important to note: what the client EATS is paramount. The role of exercise in weight loss has been overstated over many decades. Remember the sayings – ‘Abs are made in the kitchen’ and ‘You can’t out-train a bad diet’! If your client wants weight loss, they WILL need to look at what they eat. Exercise can assist them in feeling on-track, like they’re ‘on the wagon’, in a virtuous circle of taking care of themselves, but it won’t do the trick on its own.

As a personal trainer, you can’t provide a diet plan for clients. So what can we suggest? Here are a few strategies clients can try. They’ll need to decide which ones resonate with them.

  1. For the more disciplined, order-loving client: 6 days on, 1 day off. Would they like to try eating really well, with no slip ups, for six days per week, with one day where they can have whatever they like?
  2. For the client who doesn’t want to feel restricted. Could they try eating their usual meals, but reducing the serving size by 10 – 15%? If they’re willing, buying a smaller plate and bowl to eat meals out of can really help here. Plate sizes have increased 20% in the past four decades! This technique takes longer, but can help your client avoid pushing back against dramatic changes.
  3. For the client who needs to make one change at a time. Give them one thing per week to work on. For instance – one week, it could be replacing one Coke with water. After seven days, check in and see if they feel that habit is something they can keep up. If it is, add in another (small) change, such as taking lunch to work twice a week instead of purchasing it. And so on. If they need more time with any habit, they can definitely have it – the key here is making changes that are permanent.
  4. For the client who is an impulse eater. Some clients have good control at meal times, but pick up chocolate bars every time they put petrol in the car, or stop in drive-thru on the way home, or other impulse buys. Could they avoid the temptation, for instance by paying at the pump, or by choosing a different route home? Help them to remove the temptations from their environment – it’s called idiot proofing. There’s clear evidence that making it EASIER to make healthy choices and HARDER to make unhealthy ones works very well. Our willpower gets used up when we have to make many tough choices each day.
  5. For the after-dinner snacker. This is a common overeating situation – they may have linked snacking on sweet or savory foods to relaxing at the end of their day. If possible, they need to break the link between food and relaxing – – it IS possible to relax without eating! Ask them to floss and brush their teeth after dinner; the feeling of clean teeth can often be a signal that helps them not mindlessly snack.

There are many other things you could try and they all depend on the individual and their circumstances. If weight loss is their primary goal, over time you can try to find out what the issues are: Is there no healthy food in the house, so takeaway is always the choice? Are they bored at work and mindlessly snacking? Do they have a habit of finishing off the kids’ meals? Once you’ve identified their main issues, you and your client can come up with strategies together.

It’s important to try to understand the complexity of these issues. Food is often linked to emotion and people may fail to change many times before they succeed. Stay non-judgemental and remember you’re there to be the guide by the side, not the judge and jury!