Everyone wants to look good naked (and who could blame them?)

Any trainer who works with the general population can attest to the fact that weight loss is by far the most common goal of anyone who decides to start a fitness routine.  With so many people pursuing this goal, you’d think that we would have figured out how to solve this weight loss problem.  We’d have successful clients left and right.  Easy peasy.  

And yet, the harsh truth is nearly the exact opposite.  The success rate for weight loss is abysmal.  Our best estimates show that we have a 90-95% failure rate when it comes to long term weight loss.

You’re kind of like a refrigerator?

When we say ‘weight loss’ we really mean fat loss (it wouldn’t do us much good to lose muscle, bone, or any other tissue).  Body fat, by and large, is fuel storage.  The body is merely holding energy for later use.  We need some storage of course, but too much can be detrimental physically as well as psychologically.  

We humans are kind of like refrigerators.  Ideally we have an even inflow and outflow of food so the fridge doesn’t get too empty or too overfull.  If we keep putting in more and more without taking much out the fridge becomes fully packed and now food is spilling out of the door and every crevice all over the place…what a mess!  

How do we fix our overflowing fridge?  We need to reduce how much we try to pack in there, and eat what we have stored to create more space.  In other words, find an equilibrium of food going in (storage) and food coming out (fuel utilization).

(Of course we are far more complex than refrigerators.  There can be other factors at play like hormonal metabolic disorders, but consumption and burning calories is still the biggest piece of the puzzle for nearly everyone.)

If it’s so simple, why is the failure rate so high?

If we understand the simple (but not easy) solution of consuming less and moving more, why can’t we successfully put it into practice with our clients?  It comes down to habits.  Our behaviors on a day to day basis over time will determine whether we’re successful or unsuccessful in our weight loss endeavor.

For the moment, let’s focus on the nutrition part of the equation.  The habits most of us put in place at the start of a weight loss goal are either too small to be effective, or too extreme to be sustainable. 

We need to find the right amount of change for our client to implement in order to yield results and sustain for the long haul.

The 1st (and most important) Step: Determine Adherence 

My first task as a coach is to determine my client’s level of adherence.  I’m trying to figure out how much change my client can handle in the next 90 days.  This will dictate which habits we will implement for our weight loss game plan.  

Clients generally fall into 3 levels of adherence: Low, Medium, and High.   

A High Adherence client has both the time and desire to execute a detailed nutrition plan.  They can and will 

  • plan their meals in advance
  • grocery shop regularly
  • prepare the meals (often in bulk)
  • weigh and measure their food
  • Calculate,
  • and  log their macronutrients accurately 
  • execute the plan consistently 
  • solve for potential pitfalls on their own

Tracking their habits may include a detailed macro breakdown each day on an online food log.

It is not normal to be a high adherence person.  It takes quite a bit of effort.  These clients are highly motivated and self disciplined.  They must put an abnormal amount of time and precision into their nutrition plan. But with great effort comes great reward!  They will be on the fast track to their weight loss goal.  

During my time training for fitness competitions I was a high adherence person.  It was cumbersome at first, but after some practice the process became streamlined and I actually enjoyed the discipline it entailed. 

A Moderate Adherence client can stick to a plan pretty well.  They don’t need to weigh and  measure all their food and track their macros, but with some guidance they can 

  • make a grocery list
  • plan their meals
  • cook most meals
  • estimate appropriate portion sizes (no food scale necessary)
  • and avoid potential pitfalls (without being as strict as our High’s)

Tracking habits might be taking pictures of their meals to share with their trainer.

Most clients who are ready and willing to make a change do very well in this category.  Progress is steady but not as rapid as our high adherence friends.  Of course a fair amount of effort is required, but it’s not as time consuming as the high adherence plan.  There’s some wiggle room in the plan and a lot less math!

A Low Adherence client has difficulty sticking to a meal plan due to lack of time or effort.  The best strategy for them is to implement 1 or 2 small changes that are easy to execute and can get some positive results.  It could be as simple as 

  • having a protein shake each morning
  • limiting dessert to the weekend instead of daily
  • switching from a doughnut to an egg and cheese sandwich in the morning
  • keeping a bottle of water on hand
  • cutting alcohol or soda consumption

Tracking habits may be as simple as saying “I had zero doughnuts today” or counting empty water bottles at the end of the day.

For these clients, progress will be slower, but remember, slow progress is much better than no progress.  Sticking to a simple plan can be life changing for them.  

Who Chooses the Category?

So who determines the client’s category?  Instead of me as the trainer telling them where they should be, I’ll explain each one and let them self determine where they should be based on how much time and desire they have for this goal.

Your current adherence category is based on your general disposition and current life circumstances.  People generally gravitate toward one of these categories naturally, but can push towards more adherence when life allows as well as down shift to less adherence when life gets chaotic. Someone who is very structured and normally high adherence but has newborn twins and a demanding work project may have to shift to low adherence for a few months, until the babies are sleeping better and the project is finished.  

A client may think they are high adherence because motivation is high at the moment, but they quickly find out that they miscategorized themselves when Sunday rolls around and they’re faced with shopping, cooking, weighing, packing and storing 18 meals for the week.  No need to self chastise, just switch to the right adherence category and stick to the habits that they can do.  No category is inherently good or bad, and just because you’re in one category right now doesn’t mean you’re locked in there forever.

A Potential Shortcut, You Say?

Is there an easier way for a Low/Moderate Adherence person to make faster progress? If a client can’t dedicate time to the process, perhaps they can find a shortcut by throwing some money at it.  For someone who has the means (read: cashflow), outsourcing their meal prep can be a shortcut to instantly bump someone up an adherence level.  Simply find a company that will deliver a week’s worth of delicious and calorically appropriate meals to your doorstep each and every week.  All the client has to do is open them up and eat!

I once had a client who was great in the gym.  He got massively strong but the number on the scale didn’t budge for months.  He simply didn’t want to put in any effort in the kitchen.  When we finally had him hire a meal prep service, the extra body fat started flying off at an astonishing rate.  While maintaining strength, he dropped 30 lbs in 3 months and a total of 60 lbs that year without setting foot in the grocery store and only using the microwave. 

Now You’re Set Up for Success

If you and your client can determine the appropriate adherence category for them, you’ve taken a huge first step on a successful weight loss plan.  

Instead of blasting our clients with a fire hose of nutrition information (as trainers love to do), we can accurately assess how much change they can tolerate and determine what habits to put into practice so our clients can be successful with their goals at any stage of their life.