It's part of our job to help clients combat fitness saboteurs, or "fit shamers", to keep their progress consistent.
When your clients are working hard to improve their health and fitness, their biggest setbacks isn’t from not following their eating plan or workout. Rather, they might be exposed to negativity and unsolicited feedback from family members, coworkers, or friends. At first, the comments seem harmless:
“You looked better before.”
“A personal trainer? Who do you think you are?”
Although clients seek personal training for many reasons, their common reason is that they ultimately don’t feel capable of making lasting changes on their own. As their trainer, you can support their mission and be both a taskmaster and cheerleader for an hour or two each week.
It’s great during those times, but what about the other people whom they see between their sessions? These important people may not openly or immediately support their goals, and that can be a problem for both you and your clients.
It’s not your client’s fault.
Family members and friends often have mixed emotions about seeing their loved ones change, especially with weight loss. If someone commits to a healthier lifestyle, those around them can feel anxious, criticized, or left behind.
Competition can play a role, especially in the workplace. Co-workers could feel like your client is trying to get ahead of them. At home, a partner might feel threatened that your client is becoming fitter. To the partner, it may seem like an concerted effort to become more attractive and confident, or possibly a “sign” that there’s something wrong in the relationship. A well-intentioned friend might assure your client that they “don’t need to change a thing.”
Clearly, there can be a lot of negative forces at play here. The goal is to help your clients prevent loved ones from undermining their efforts and help them stick with their program.
The first step is to listen.
One way to do that is to give your client a safe place to discuss their past “failures” and challenges, including sabotaging behaviors from themselves and others. That means you need to be willing to listen and add “counseling” to your list of skills, along with having knowledge of program design and resting metabolic rate.
Listening to your client is an absolute basic coaching skill and an essential part of being a personal trainer. You must create a trusting, non-judgmental atmosphere that makes it easier for clients to come clean and avoid excuses if they skipped a few workouts or hit the drive-through a few times.
Barbara LoFrisco, PhD, has written extensively about relationships with clients who seek professional services. She believes that building rapport with your clients is one of the most important skills to have as a trainer, and offers some recommendations for establishing trust with clients:
- Before you make any attempt at an intervention, demonstrate to the client that you understand where they are coming from. Use your active listening skills to understand the client and their story. Let the client talk it out; your job as the listener is to help the client connect the dots, not necessarily solve all of their problems.
- In order to assess the trust level, pay attention to both the content of what the client is sharing and his or her body language (which could reveal discomfort). If it seems like the client isn’t quite opening up immediately, don’t push it. Just let the client know that you are concerned and are a text away to help and listen if things get too overwhelming.
Dr. LoFrisco also suggested that sharing some of your own related experiences with a client is another way to create rapport. Do things like being empathetic, but not overly sympathetic. This can come off as patronizing. Encourage the client to continue his or her line of reasoning as they talk things out.
Help pull your clients through the shaming.
When our clients are faced with these personal challenges, the solutions aren’t so easy. What’s important is that we listen to our clients and support them if they’re being sabotaged.
The main thing we can do as professionals is to educate clients on how “diet sabotage” can happen in themselves and others, and remind them it is not their fault. Perhaps the saboteur is just projecting feelings of discontent with his or her own life.
Encourage your clients to ask for support from friends, family, and co-workers. For example, with family, you can more heavily involve them in healthy eating at home by taking suggestions for healthier dishes. Suggest to your clients that they shop and cook together with their family. This is a helpful and more fun way to get the family onboard.
Next, suggest that your clients align themselves with people who also share an interest in a healthy lifestyle. For example, urge your clients to find local fitness communities whom they can work out with–perhaps a running or hiking club.
If your client is confronted with someone who tries to persuade them to overeat, help them prepare helpful responses, like “I ate a big lunch,” “I’m going out later,” or “Everything was so good that I couldn’t eat another bite.” It’s a matter of teaching your clients to firmly say no (politely), helping them draw boundaries, and finding contentment in other communities.
Help your clients succeed by checking out these other useful articles:
- How to Create a Meal Plan Your Clients Will Actually Follow By Mike Samuels
- 5 Signs Your Client May Have an Eating Disorder By Samantha Skelly
- 6 Techniques For Building Maximum Trust and Rapport By Eric Bach