Focus on Programming


Setting Up a High Quality Program for Weight Loss

According to the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, 61 percent of Americans are overweight, while 27 percent are obese.

Last year, the CDC reported that there had been a 57 percent increase in the number of obese Americans in the past eight years. To add insult to injury, a 1999 study of nearly 108,000 dieters (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) concluded that 80 percent of people who start a diet pick one that is virtually guaranteed to fail.

In other words, there is an enormous need for fitness centers to provide high-quality weight-loss solutions. Here are some essential considerations when creating a weight-management program for your facility.

Choose a Program Backed by Research

With obesity out of control, it's easy to get sucked in by all the “fad” programs, diet books and supplements that are currently available. The Federal Trade Commission suggests that consumers shouldn't even consider a program which doesn't tell them that they will need to make changes in both their diet and physical activity to manage their weight. A successful program must address behaviors that support cutting calories while increasing physical activity.

Have Specified Staff Teach the Program

While this may seem simple, it is often overlooked. Coaching people toward physical activity and dietary changes is a skill that needs to be learned. Designating two or three key staff to learn these skills increases the likelihood that your clients will receive effective weight-management programming.

Require Your Staff to Be Role Models

This is another simple concept, yet critical to the success of your clients and the program. It is virtually impossible for your staff to coach clients effectively on behaviors that they are not currently engaging in themselves.

Train Your Entire Staff

Everyone — from the front desk staff to the fitness instructors to the personal trainers — in your facility needs to be very familiar with the program. They all need to be informed about what the program is and how it works.

Offer Free Orientations

Your clients need an easy way to find out more about your program. A weekly orientation that is scheduled at a standard time gives members an opportunity to learn more about the program in a non-pressured environment.

Focus on Accountability

Weekly accountability is an absolute must if you want to run an effective behavioral program. Require your members to attend a weekly coaching session or group meeting that emphasizes learning strategies on how to cut food calories while increasing physical activity.

Emphasize Structure

The more structure you can offer your members, the better they will do. Practicing new, unfamiliar behaviors is very difficult to say the least. However, by providing a structured program that emphasizes weekly check-ins, record-keeping, specific food plans, shopping lists and portion-controlled foods, your members will be much more likely to learn and practice those new behaviors.

Richard J. Wolff, RD, LD, is the owner and director of the HMR Program for Weight Management at Wolff Health & Fitness Center. For a free copy of Wolff's latest special report, The New Diet Book Disaster, visit wolfffitness.comand click on “weight loss.” Wolff can be contacted at (847) 931-2434.

Getting Member Involvement

Here are a few steps to encourage people to enroll into your program.

  1. Offer a money-back guarantee. This demonstrates to your members that you are committed to them. Your guarantee also lets new clients sample the program without risking a large investment.

  2. Promote the program to all new members. Your staff should discuss the program with every new member. This is a great time to inform them of all the benefits your program offers.

  3. Offer a referral incentive. Wolff's program gives program members and fitness center members a $30 coupon for every referral they make to the program. The coupon can be used toward any product or service.

  4. Write problem-solving articles (e.g., “The Ten Things You Must Do to Lose Weight and Keep It Off Forever”) that focus on weight-management issues and then publish them in your own newsletter or a local newspaper. People who are interested in weight management will read the articles, and see your name and phone number. Be sure to include a resource box at the end of the article that mentions your free weight-loss orientation, and how readers can get in touch with you.

  5. Offer free weight-management lectures within your fitness center. This is a great way to attract people from your community who are not currently members. It is also an easy way to showcase your program to your members without having to pay anything. Just be sure to provide value in your lecture. Your program commercial can be worked into the end of your lecture.

  6. Promote your program online. It's a proven fact that consumers go online for weight-management information. There are a lot of options you have when promoting your local program online. To get ideas on how to structure and promote your program, visit Just click on “weight loss” to check out the weight-management center.

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