Putting in an hour at the gym two to three times per week is arguably the easiest part of trying to get fit. This is not to discount the difficulties of finding the time nor the effort put forth during the workouts, but prioritizing training in a weekly schedule is usually just a matter of rearranging time blocks. The hard work, the area where the most drastic changes need to take place for weight loss success, revolves around changing a person’s mindset.
One’s inner dialogue, expectations of success, and general outlook on developing healthier habits all require attention and care. Many people struggle with the mental aspect of change. It can be an all-encompassing experience, and the mental fatigue tied to the development of new habits often leads to feelings of burnout and relapse into old habits. How do we combat this?
Get in Touch with the Real Reason for Wanting to Lose Weight
Self-reflection is a necessary, albeit un-fun, tool in reshaping a person’s mental and emotional approach to weight loss. A weight loss goal is usually a stand-in for a deeper, unmet emotional need. A simplified Socratic line of questioning can help get to the core reason for having a weight loss goal.
“I want to lose weight.”
“Because I have a [social event] coming up.”
Why is it important to lose weight for this event?
“Because I want to look good.”
Why do you want to look good?
“Because when I look good, I feel good about myself.”
Why is it important to you to feel good about yourself?
“If I feel good about myself, I’ll be happy.”
Keep digging deeper until the client uncovers the emotion behind this desire. In this case, the client is looking to improve their happiness and self-esteem, but weight loss alone will not fix this problem. It’s common for clients with vague weight loss goals to use fitness as a way to improve some part of their life with which they are unsatisfied.
Unfortunately, the pursuit of a fitness goal in the hopes of improving some aspect of their life usually results in frustration, lack of adherence, and lack of results because the areas of their life that they want to improve are the very things derailing their progress.
If a client is already stressed (due to family, work, relationship issues, self-esteem issues, etc.) and participating in unhealthy behaviors as a way to cope with that stress, adding exercise on top of that stress is not going to fix the root problem.
Unless the underlying emotion behind the goal is addressed and a mindset shift begins, even the most well-planned fitness and nutrition program will not succeed in the long term.
Treat Your Client Like a Grown-Up
The client-trainer relationship should be based on collaboration. It’s a common cultural stereotype that trainers are dictators whose wrath will be incurred in the form of more or harder exercise if their edicts regarding nutrition are disobeyed. This dynamic based on obedience and punishment sends the wrong message about how to affect change in someone’s life. It also reorients the motivation to one of aversion rather than one based on autonomy and self-chosen principles.
Food and exercise are choices that have consequences. There is no inherent morality tied to those choices, but there are unavoidable consequences to these choices. Giving a client a set of rules or guidelines to follow regarding food and exercise may be a good way to get them started on their path towards better health, but helping them understand the intended outcomes and reasoning behind those protocols can help promote adherence.
Approaching the implementation of these protocols as an experiment will help the clients learn how their individual bodies react to these inputs. From there they can make informed decisions about how to implement these rules or guidelines on their own, if at all. This may require the trainer to do more research and improve their own knowledge in order to better convey this information to the client, but in the long run, this will benefit both the trainer and their current and future clients.
One day the client will have to go out on their own. Adopting a mindset of ownership of their bodies and autonomy of their choices are skills they can learn from their personal trainer. The more knowledge and understanding they have about their own bodies, the more likely they will be able to maintain, or even improve upon, the results they saw during their time with their trainer.
Encourage a Growth Mindset for Lasting Change
A health problem cannot be changed by the same diet and lifestyle that created it. Change is hard, uncomfortable, and requires consistent effort. When a client resolves to change their habits in an effort to improve their health, it’s likely that some combination of their environment, their relationships, and their self-belief will not be ideally positioned for them to succeed.
Rather than focusing on what factors are going against them, help them find ways to navigate these obstacles. This process is about progress, not perfection. As long as they continue to work towards improvement, making the best decisions their circumstances will allow, it is likely that they will see results. As their circumstances change over time, or as they exhibit mastery and internalization of new habits, they will have the ability to make further changes and continue to make further progress.
The work towards change requires a growth mindset. It requires that previous failures be seen as opportunities to learn and improve. Challenges should be welcomed as a way to grow. Effort results in mastery. The bedrock of this way of thinking is the belief that the individual will succeed in the long run, given enough time, education, and support.
Time, effort, and consistency lead to results. It takes longer than we think to achieve our goals, but the struggle increases the value of the eventual outcome. Improvements happen gradually. Focus on behaviors, and the results will follow. Encourage your clients to see the progress they may disregard. Use body circumference measurements, body composition measurements, and photographs to track physical progress. Celebrate the persistent effort and the new behaviors that the client demonstrates.
The difficult truth is that there is no defined endpoint in a weight loss journey, only a transition into weight maintenance. Like brushing our teeth, the behaviors surrounding weight loss and maintenance are simply a part of the way humans maintain their health. It is a continual process of mental and emotional growth, and a client empowered by a healthy mindset will enjoy lasting changes and diminished struggles over time.