If you drive down Main Street USA, you can find donuts and ice cream at the same drive-up window. Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin' Donuts never close. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Across the street, you can get steak burgers around the clock at Steak 'n Shake. If you are still hungry, you can munch on chocolate chip waffles and hash browns any time of the day or night at IHOP.
When it comes to exercise, America has been referred to as a paradise of energy conservation. You never need to run, rarely do you need to walk and you can often sit for hours at a time. Our modern environment has created—even trapped us in—a culture that requires more than just knowledge to manage our weight. Achieving weight loss is a matter of skill; clients need to know what to do and how to do it in a world that will literally stand in their way.
Despite these challenges, it is possible to help your clients lose weight. Here are five evidence-based practices that will make you a more effective weight-management coach.
Step 1: Define Program Commitments
When enrolling clients into your weight management program, the first thing you need are commitments that establish the non-negotiable parts of the program. For example, you may require clients to attend weekly coaching sessions and keep a food journal for eight weeks. Identifying these commitments up front ensures that clients who enroll are willing to keep them. Keeping the program commitments helps clients confront and problem solve program behaviors.
Step 2: Define Program Behaviors
When defining program behaviors, the more specific you can be the better. Two behaviors we coach clients on are consuming at least five full-cup servings of whole fruits and vegetables every day, and completing two full-body strength workouts per week. These behaviors are specific and measurable. The specificity allows you to measure compliance and problem-solve how to achieve compliance. Be as prescriptive as you can when it comes to program behaviors; unclear or unspecific behaviors are impossible to measure and coach.
Step 3: Get a Quick Start
Contrary to popular opinion, slow weight-loss does not increase the probability of long-term success. However, losing greater amounts of weight early in the program can improve results down the road. A 2011 review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that greater initial weight-loss increased total weight-loss and improved long-term maintenance. In other words, achieving high compliance early in the program builds momentum and generates better results on the scale.
In a review of 400 patients enrolled in the HMR Program for Weight Management, those who achieved a quick start (high compliance early in the program) lost nearly five times more weight than those who did not get a quick start. When clients practice good-for-you behaviors right away, they are much more likely to continue with these behaviors after the program. Coaching your clients to get a quick start will increase their chances of achieving long-term success.
Step 4: Keep Outcome Data
Tracking behaviors and keeping outcome data are essential factors in effective coaching. Some of the behaviors we track include: meal replacements (usually shakes and entrées), fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity calorie expenditure and strength workouts completed. We also track weekly weight change and compliance with record keeping. This data is then used to coach clients and give them perspective on their progress. We also set weekly goals for program behaviors and challenge clients with weekly assignments.
Step 5: Be a Role Model
The best way to be a coach is to model the behaviors you are coaching. Being a role model helps on two levels. First, it gives you credibility. In a society abounding in competing weight-loss theories, your clients are looking for more than just information; they want you to show them how to succeed. By role modeling your program behaviors, clients will be more likely to take your coaching when you give it.
Second, part of your job is to help clients problem-solve these behaviors in an unsupportive environment. If you have already problem-solved the behaviors for yourself, you will be better able to coach your clients through the same process.
Richard J. Wolff, RD, LDN is the president of MEDFITNESS, a personal training company specializing in efficient, evidence-based strength training. He is an adjunct faculty in the Graduate School of Nutrition at Northern Illinois University and serves on its Health and Wellness Advisory Board. Wolff has served as a consultant to Health Management Resources (HMR), a provider of medical weight management services. His writing has been featured in Weightlifting USA, Nautilus Americas Fitness Magazine, Personal Fitness Professional and Club Industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.