When weight loss is the only goal for a fitness client, it’s natural for them to focus solely on the number on the scale. It’s a common misconception that a person’s weight is a direct reflection of one’s health or defines what “healthy” is. However, neither body weight or overall health is that simple. There are numerous factors that affect a person’s overall health that are completely unrelated to a person’s size or relationship with gravity – which is – let’s face it – what the scale actually demonstrates.
As fitness professionals, we have a duty to educate our clients about the all-encompassing nature of health and help them redefine health by those parameters instead of a singular component. Here are six factors to discuss with clients.
A client’s genetics is a non-modifiable component. They are a blueprint we cannot shift or change. Genetic factors can influence how much weight is gained or lost. It is also important to recognize that some genetic disorders exist that affect appetite, metabolism, energy balance, and overall fat distribution. However, genetics only represents a small component of a person’s overall health. Lifestyle is of greater importance (and is modifiable and capable of change). For example, if a client has a predisposition to becoming affected by obesity, it can be influenced by physical activity and a more mindful approach to nutrition.
Stress is pervasive and is usually a persistent force in a person’s life. How a person recognizes and manages stress has a significant impact on health. Situations of chronic stress can stimulate hunger and consequently individuals are drawn towards “comfort food”. These foods are often mostly energy-dense rather than nutrient-dense. As a result, caloric intake may exceed what is expended. It’s critical that fitness professionals help clients evaluate their daily stress levels and encourage mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques as well as prioritizing downtime on a regular basis.
Poor quality sleep on a consistent basis deeply and negatively impacts a person’s health. Consequences of chronic poor sleep include such outcomes as poor mood, lack of energy, inability to focus or process cognitively, higher stress levels, inflammation, and decreased immunity. As a whole, the industry has witnessed a rapid and steady increase in the number of people affected by obesity who also experience inadequate sleep and low sleep quality. While the direct link is not entirely clear, it is possible that the high levels of fatigue impact the desire and energy required to engage in consistent movement and activity.
Nutrition will always be part of the “health equation”. The body needs to be nourished and fueled not just for performance reasons but for general quality of life. However, as professionals, we should avoid attaching the issue of morality to food. A“this food is bad and this food is good” mentality only serves to generate guilt and shame and does not facilitate sustainable behavior change.
Here, we aren’t just talking about EI (energy intake) and EE (energy expenditure), as metabolism cannot be reduced or summarized by these two variables alone. Yes, a caloric deficit is required for weight loss – but – again – metabolism is complicated. The focus here is to help clients create balance, connect with their meals, and enjoy the foods they consume while practicing portion control and prioritizing nutrient-dense foods.
For decades, research has demonstrated the value and positive impact regular movement and physical activity have on an individual’s health. We know cardiorespiratory training, resistance, training, and flexibility are all beneficial activities. We also know that health benefits occur across generations and activity benefits those with chronic conditions and limitations. In essence, participating in physical activity outweighs the risks associated with remaining sedentary.
Physical activity and structured exercise not only burn calories but both offer stress reduction, mood elevation, and immune-boosting outcomes. To encourage additional movement (NEAT) outside of structured exercise with clients, encourage them to stand up frequently throughout the day and take regular walking and stretching breaks. This boosts the calories burned from simple movements, which can contribute to total energy expenditure.
The presence of social support is a predictor of success with most behavior change, but especially weight loss. As fitness professionals, we can assist our clients in identifying individuals close to them who can provide reinforcement, encouragement, motivation, and support. Additionally, we can work to connect clients with others who might be on a similar journey. Consider how you can help your client expand their network in an effort to better support the client’s progress and goal attainment.
An individual’s health is complex and multifaceted but thanks to the diet industry, many still believe that a person’s health is tied directly and completely to their size and/or weight. It’s simply not true. Body size and weight are not the primary predictors of health. As exercise professionals, we must do our part to change that rhetoric and teach our clients about the many factors that influence lifelong health and well-being.