To lose weight, a typical internet article would tell your clients, they must cut out all carbohydrate and increase protein intake. Another article then tells them that too much protein will cause some real damage.
Who can they trust?
With so much conflicting information circulating the internet and mainstream media, it’s no surprise that your clients are confused about how to eat for fat loss.
If you want your clients to stop relying on the news and social media for nutrition advice, and instead pay attention to you, you will need to earn their trust, remove the confusion, and present an ‘easy to follow’ plan.
The first step? Talk to them like real people.
Stop trying to convince your clients with science.
Your clients look to you, their personal trainer, as the authority of all things training and nutrition. This honor means that you need to separate the good, sensible information from the downright awful and inconsistent kind.
The common mistake that we personal trainers make, however, is that we overload our clients with the science every time they ask for our advice. For example, a client may ask if broccoli is healthy. The typical show-off trainer might say something like:
“Yes, it contains sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, which can help to improve the 2-hydroxyestrone:16Î±-hydroxyestrone ratio by increasing the disposal rate of estrogen metabolites, and this in turn can reduce your risk of cancer.”
Cue chirping crickets.
Although you’ve provided correct information, none of that is really relevant to the client’s goal nor do they necessarily care about those details. Plus, that’s probably not why they asked you. Note that 99% of the time, when a client asks Is… good for me?, what they really mean to ask is Will this food help me lose body fat?
We trainers have to avoid adding to their already astronomically high level of information overload and know that if they don’t understand the advice we’ve just given them, then they’re unlikely to follow it.
The information we provide needs to be delivered on a level that they understand and absolutely must be relevant to them.
Using the same broccoli example, we can tailor our information sharing to be much more approachable. Observe the following hypothetical conversation:
Client: Is broccoli good for me?
Trainer: Yes. The high water and fiber content can help fill you up more at meal times, which may prevent you from feeling hungry later on in the day.
Client: Will it help with detoxification? ‘Ripped abz’ magazine said it does?
Trainer: Yes, it provides an assortment of nutrients very beneficial to the liver that can help do its job removing toxins from the body.
Client: You’re the best trainer in the world that has ever existed.
Trainer: I know.
By presenting the information in a way the client understands and can remember, we increase the likelihood that they’ll follow our advice.
Understand your client’s dietary environment and tendencies.
One of the most useful sayings for a personal trainer to remember is the following:
“No one cares what you know…until you show how much you care.”
We’re likely to have our own views on nutrition, and providing they’re well justified, there’s nothing wrong with this.
But if there’s a huge disconnect between our beliefs and the current actions of a client, we should avoid forcing our views and presenting a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. Because if you don’t show any care for your client’s current situation and nutrition practices, then they’re likely not going to listen to you.
When a client has the most abysmal nutritional habits you’ve ever seen, the odds are against them for suddenly changing everything overnight just because you said so. Instead, by providing recommendations according their current nutrition habits, the transition to a calorie deficit feels effortless and will be much easier for them to adhere to.
Also, it’s very important to understand that your client will be able to get results on a plan that doesn’t conform to your way of thinking – don’t be so arrogant to assume otherwise.
Sure, you might be a low carb, high fat and strong Paleo proponent with the view that a nutrition plan containing any processed food will never get results. But if the client is able to create an energy deficit on a 100 percent processed food diet, and can stick to it, then they will get results.
Or you may be a huge lover of an ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM) approach and that everyone should enjoy flexible dieting. But if your client absolutely loves a more restrictive and primal way of eating and doesn’t feel deprived in any way at all by abstaining from Krispy Kremes and Coronas with a wedge of lime, then roll with it.
Fat loss has a lot more flexibility in terms of dietary choices, but if the goal is to optimize health, then obviously, there should be greater emphases placed on higher quality foods. Certainly, a successful fat loss diet will still include whole, nutritious foods, as they will help satiate hunger better than processed foods tend to.
Overall, you should maintain an open mind to other ideas, methods, and beliefs, as well as the capacity to subtly adapt any client’s situation to one that allows them to get results, regardless of whether or not it conforms to your traditional methods.
Get rid of “absolutes,” or an all-or-nothing mindset.
An “absolute” is a recommendation to your client that suggests that it’s the “only way of doing things.”
It usually carries minimal leeway and invokes the notion that if it isn’t followed, then your client will never get results. Telling your client that they must ‘eliminate all processed foods’ is one example, and not only can these types of recommendations be hard to follow, but they can also lead to unnecessary feelings of immense guilt if they fail.
The only “absolute” worth noting is that you need to be in a consistent calorie deficit in order to drop body fat, plain and simple.
In reality, there is no “absolute” way that our clients must comprise their calorie intake, and telling them that they ‘must’ eat their protein and guzzle their fish oil is a brilliant way to overwhelm them, generate some resistance, and begin an uphill struggle.
Here are some other common “absolute” terms that should be avoided:
- Must eat breakfast
- Must eat 2g/kg bodyweight of protein
- Must eat every 2-3 hours
- Must avoid ‘x’ food (unless it’s for medical reasons)
- Must consume a post-workout shake
Giving the client as much control as possible, while establishing some guidelines is a great way to improve the trainer-client relationship and build trust.
A Better, Simpler Way to Help Your Clients Lose Fat
Here’s a very simple three-step plan that is very effective at getting the fat loss ball rolling and getting new clients to love you:
1. Establish where the client is now.
This involves asking a lot of questions and finding out things such as the following:
When you start working with a new client, you will need to find out as much about them as possible.
You can either do this by sending them paperwork prior to your first in-person meeting, or by waiting for your first in-person meeting to learn all about them.
This can be achieved by creating a list of relevant questions that help you learn more about your client and their nutrition habits.
The answers should help determine the following:
- Question: How much are you eating a day?
- Why ask? This is the key question and it tells you how many calories a day are they over-consuming and by how much will you need to reduce their calorie intake.
- Question: What do you eat regularly?
- Why ask? If they are regularly eating any higher calorie foods, then maybe these can be replaced with lower calorie alternatives.
- Question: When are you eating?
- Why ask? Although irrelevant for fat loss, meal timing may impact hunger and energy levels at other times during the day, which may be relevant to building a successful and long-term plan.
- Question: How is your hunger and energy levels?
- Why ask? If they are hungry all the time and/or have poor energy, then look for recommendations that will help correct this.
- Question: Do you subscribe to a particular way of eating?
- Why ask? If they are a strong proponent of Paleo, Herbalife or extremely low carbs, then you will need to take this on board before making initial recommendations
- Question: How is your sleep?
- Why ask? Poor sleep quality can impact hunger, appetite and energy levels, so maybe this can be addressed before nutrition.
- Question: Are you subjected to a lot of stress?
- Why ask? Stress can increase appetite, which can cause an excess of calories to be eaten. If stress is a factor, maybe this can be addressed before nutrition?
- Question: Do you take any medication?
- Why ask? Some medications interfere with weight loss, so check to make sure if this is the case with your client.
- Question: Outside of the gym, how active are you?
- Why ask? If they’re very sedentary, then maybe this can be addressed before nutrition.
You could either email a list of questions to the client prior to the initial consultation and then go through the answers with them in-person, or you could ask the questions directly during the first meeting and record the answers they give you.
Either way, create a document on Word (or whatever) with all your questions and either send it to them to have them fill it, or fill it out yourself.
By doing this, you should be able to get a clear idea of exactly where the client is now and why it is they may be struggling to hit their fat loss goal. Make them feel as comfortable as possible telling you everything, because if they feel you’re going to judge them then they may withhold vital information that could make the whole process much easier.
2. Apply the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule describes that 80 percent of the outcome is the result of 20 percent of the input. In other words, once you’ve determined potential roadblocks, look for the simplest changes (the 20 percent) that can be made to provide the biggest improvements (80 percent).
For example, if the client has been unsuccessful in all previous fat loss attempts, then you know that, despite what they may think, they’re either eating too many calories or not expending enough energy (or both!).
Go over what they’ve told you and look for the simplest way you can reduce their calorie intake and/or increase their energy expenditure.
Here’s an example of a conversation that I’m sure many trainers will be able to relate to:
Trainer: So you’ve been struggling to lose body fat? How is your appetite over the course of the day?
Client: That’s correct. I’m really good with my food intake…..but on most afternoons, I get extremely hungry and tired so I gorge out on massive quantities of chocolate….and sometimes cake…..doused in Nutella……washed down with a bottle of wine…..and another cake.
Trainer: …..Interesting. How many hours sleep a night do you get? And how would you rate your sleep quality?
Client: I sleep about 4-5 hours a night and I usually wake up about 3-4 times. I’m quite a light sleeper.
At this stage, fight the urge to use the scientific lingo and refrain from using words like “circadian rhythms”, “leptin”, and “no chocolate/wine”.
Remember, think simple:
Trainer: You know, there may be a link between getting less than 6 hours sleep a night and getting tired and hungry later in the day?
Client: Really? I had no idea! I can get on that right away! You’re the best trainer in the world that has ever existed.
Trainer: I know.
Direct changes to their nutrition haven’t even been mentioned, yet the Sherlock Holmes within you found a way that the client can not only control their appetite, but also increase their energy levels.
The end result will be a reduction in calorie intake and increase in calorie expenditure.
They’ll get leaner and you’ll be considered a hero.
This is just one example of many, but keep your eyes and ears open to what the client tells you, as they often give away many clues.
When your advice becomes a deeply cemented habit, then you can begin to add more to the plan, but at a rate that doesn’t overwhelm them or make them think that they’re changing too much, too soon.
3. Ensure consistency
In order for anything to work, they need to be consistent at executing it, period.
I recommend checking in with them at the end of every week in order to review the previous week. I like to send my online clients a weekly e-mail asking the following:
Do you think you’ve had a good week?
What was easy?
What was difficult?
On a scale of 1-10 (1=poor and 10=excellent), how would you rate your energy this week?
On a scale of 1-10 (1=poor and 10=excellent), how would you rate your sleep this week?
How would you rate your stress levels this week (1=extremely chilled and 10=super stressed)?
How was your appetite and hunger this week?
What can you make improvements on next week?
What positive changes have you noticed this week?
This gives me a very clear idea as to whether the plan I’ve created for them is suitable, or if I need to make adjustments immediately so that the client finds it easier to follow.
Maybe the initial idea you had worked well for a week, but then the client couldn’t continue. In that case, find a way to make it simpler, or find another area to target.
This is one of the reasons that small, but significant changes to the client’s nutrition and lifestyle early on work so well: they’re not too bothersome and don’t require anything drastic to be done.
I have definitely noticed much better consistency with clients’ nutrition when they know that they will have to check in with me on a regular basis.
When a client, who is brand new to appropriate fat loss nutrition approaches you, your aim should be to get them results, whilst keeping them comfortable.
As they experiences more and more success as a result of your coaching, the trust between the two of you will be enhanced and it will only be a matter of time before they transition into more of a ‘Super-Keen and Dedicated’ client who is not afraid to ask you for more complex nutrition plans.
Related articles to help you help your clients with their weight loss
- Is Exercise for Weight Loss Really Effective? By Eirik Garnas
- Is Cardio or Strength Training Better for Fat Loss? By Nick Tumminello
- 3 Reasons Your Client Isn’t Losing Any Weight (And What to Do About It) by George Kalantzis