Is there anything more frustrating than busting your butt, following all the rules, and then not seeing any real results?
You are invested in your client’s success. You’re both disappointed. She is seeing some positive changes, but that number on the scale just won’t budge.
So what’s going on?
Here’s what most people in fitness aren’t talking about: four factors that can make or break weight loss, and chances are at least one of them will be the key to your client’s success.
It’s a heartbreaking thing to run across someone who, despite her hard work, is just not seeing the results she wants to see. If any of your clients has asked you these questions, you know the feeling:
“What am I doing wrong?”
“When will the weight come off?”
“Is this even worth it?”
You know the frustration. You can feel it. And in that moment, even though you are a trainer, and you have the science, the tips, and the tricks, you just want to shake your fist at the gods of fitness and nutrition right along with her.
But, we’re trainers. And trainers don’t accept the “I just can’t lose weight” proposition.
So, here they are; four reasons that could explain why you and your client are stuck. These aren’t the reasons you’ve heard a million times, and each one could fill a book. Here’s the Cliff Notes version.
#1 - Consistency and Putting in the Time
Consistency is the most important factor in weight loss. Period.
Why? Sit down. This is a hard pill to swallow:
Because you ARE what you CONSISTENTLY DO.
To get to where you are now took some serious time. Has it been a rough year? Five years? Or maybe even 20 years?
However long it’s been for you, your total weight and body composition are a direct result of thousands of different factors that have adapted over your total lifespan.
For instance, if you spent the last 10 years of your life eating sugary desserts a few times a week, getting poor sleep, propping up the bar at happy hour instead of exercising, and getting stressed out at work, your health, your weight, and your energy levels reflect those actions.
Now imagine your client in that position.
She wants to change and she works hard, but after a couple weeks she expects results that aren’t there. She wants a few weeks of effort to undo years of bad habits.
Your client needs to come to the realization that undoing years of these lifestyle habits takes time.
She also needs the motivation and encouragement from you to keep going and to stay on this long journey.
In my experience as a trainer I expect a true, lasting weight loss transformation to take about one-quarter of the time that it took to gain the weight in the first place.
In other words, if your client spent the last 8 years in an unhealthy spiral of weight gain and crash dieting, then she can expect it to take at least 2 years to get back to a healthy weight.
That can be hard to hear, so it’s important that you are always realistic with your client about the time frame that will be required to reach their goal and make it stick.
It’s discouraging. I get it. Help your client focus on the small wins in the meantime.
Did you make it to the gym 5 days this week? WIN.
Did you limit your sugar intake to less than 30g every day? WIN.
Are your energy levels up? WIN.
Can you deadlift more than last month? WIN.
Help her celebrate these wins with and hold onto those high fives.
#2 - Recovery
Consistency is essential, but recovery is the second most crucial factor that impacts weight loss.
Recovery deserves its own article, but in short it’s about how long and deeply you sleep, how well your hormone system bounces back from daily stressors, how well you refuel your body’s nutrients and how well your body adjusts after working out.
This is so important, but I find that most people with a weight loss goal do a great job exercising, but fail to recover correctly.
Here’s what your client needs to know:
The MAGIC of your WORKOUT happens during the RECOVERY from that WORKOUT.
If your client is not creating the proper environment for positive adaptations to occur during the one to three days following a training session, then your workout—no matter how brilliantly planned—was essentially a waste.
A regimen of 60 to 90 minute workouts, four to five days a week, combined with an appropriate diet, should lead to weight loss.
If it doesn’t, recovery may be the problem.
As a trainer, you may need to tweak your client’s recovery and troubleshoot any problems to jump start her weight loss again.
#3 - Carb Tolerance
Oh carbs, how we all love you!
If only you weren’t so delicious and the research about you so confusing!
Seriously though, this is what a lot of people are asking:
“Are carbs good or bad?”
“What kinds of carbs are best?”
“When should I eat them?”
If your client asks these questions, you’re not alone. And, even for us professionals, the right answers can be murky.
There is some interesting research, though, that can give us some insight into carbs and weight loss.
According to a recent study, there is a link between a person’s genetic ability to produce amylase (the enzyme in saliva that breaks down carbs) and BMI.
It turns out that some bodies GENETICALLY do a better job of regulating carbohydrates than others (likely a number of genes, not just amylase).
If your client is on the “gifted end” of carb-genetics, then a slice of cheesecake registers as lower on the glycemic index in her body than most AND she may be satisfied for a week after just that one slice.
On the other hand, if your client is at the “not so gifted end,” that one piece of cheesecake has a HIGHER glycemic index and it goes right to her love handles.
Oh, and she’ll dream about that slice of cheesecake every day thereafter, increasing the likelihood that she’ll binge on carbs in the near future.
So, in other words, life isn’t fair.
Being carbohydrate intolerant could be what is derailing your client’s weight loss. If you suspect this is the case, give her these simple guidelines:
- Don’t cut out carbs totally.
- Get carbs from veggies and other foods low on the glycemic index.
- Take a probiotic supplement.
- Try an “ultra-low” glycemic index carb supplement like Ucan to curb cravings.
#4 - Hormone Therapy
Finally, we have hormones.
They affect every system in your body in some way, but thanks to modern medicine we can manipulate them.
Hormone-replacement therapy is a multi-million dollar industry. But is it really good for us? In my opinion, no; unless there is a real, medical reason for it. Here’s what my over-50 client said:
“My doctor wants my hormones to look like that of a 30 year old woman.”
So what’s wrong with that?
Unless the doctor can match your hormone therapy to YOUR 30-year-old self, they are actually trying to match you to a “medically normal” 30 year-old hormone panel which may or may not be YOU.
So in affect, without your past 20 years of history, they are “flying blind” and it is going to take YEARS of trial and error to get the right cocktail for you.
Additionally, the body composition changes you want for your client depend on her body responding as nature intended to the strenuous regimen you are putting her through.
You introduce external hormones into your system that should be adapting internally, so you may disrupt or even derail the natural adaptations that are a result of your nutrition and exercise.
As an example, consider the hunger-regulating system of the hormones leptin and grehlin. There is extensive research on the effects of exercise on this system that can be summarized in one sentence:
The natural hormonal response to exercise can regulate hunger signaling resulting in eating habits that promote weight loss and improved body composition.
However not a single one of the 75 studies on this was done on a hormone replacement therapy patient. Why?
Because those patients don’t respond normally and that throws off the results that the study is trying to measure.
Furthermore, the only body composition related studies of note regarding HRT look at increase muscle mass and function, NOT weight loss. In other words, hormone replacement therapy can aid your workout performance and recovery after age 50, but cannot claim to help you lose weight.6
Additionally weight loss is never mentioned as a potential benefit to outweigh the risks of stroke, VTE, or the development of various cancers associated with HRT. The North American Menopause society (who is traditionally pro-HRT) says "Women should use the lowest dose that successfully treats their symptoms." 7 Those symptoms being hot flashes, night sweats, memory loss, and bone density decrease. All of which have been shown to be improved through exercise without HRT. 8
So if you are working with one of those clients, and the number is growing, just know that you are navigating largely uncharted waters and that weight loss is unfortunately not even on the map!
I am not anti-hormone replacement therapy by any means, but I highly recommend that my clients see what lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise changes can accomplish for weight loss for at least six months before trying hormone therapy.
Go Drop Those Pounds!
If you started reading this article because you were curious, I hope you are finishing with a tid-bit or two to take away.
But if you started reading this article because you are at the end of your rope and almost ready to throw in the towel because of lack of results, take encouragement from these four factors. You haven’t tried everything yet.
Keep moving your client’s journey forward by being realistic about how long the road really is, focusing on smaller wins in the meantime, recovering adequately, addressing carb tolerance, and encouraging her to give her hormones a chance to naturally respond to the changes she is making.
Health and well-being are never a dead end. As long as we’re breathing let’s keep at it!
I believe in you! Let’s drop this weight for good.