Research Paper By Stacie Dickerson Cole
(Health and Wellness Coaching, UNITED STATES)
Weight loss in women – compare coach approach, personal trainers and nutrition counsellors
How does a coaching approach compare with personal trainers and nutrition counselors for solving a woman’s most common weight loss challenges?
From a coaching perspective, it is not right or wrong to be overweight. However, for the client whose stated goal is to lose weight, a coach may be the most valuable player in their line-up of professionals.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, seventy three percent of women have attempted to lose weight, with an average of 7 attempts. Why do so many fail at something obviously so important to them? To answer that question, let’s examine what the most common challenges are for women trying to lose weight, compare each form of assistance mentioned above, and evaluate which might be the best solution.
What are the most common weight loss challenges?
A Google search for “top weight loss challenges for women” returns over a hundred and forty million related articles. Within them, certain themes emerge that echo my personal experience. From that, the following list of common weight loss challenges was compiled.
Not having a compelling reason / vision.
Without a compelling reason it is hard to maintain all the changes one must make to transition to a healthy lifestyle. To make a healthy lifestyle a priority, the “why” must be both important and urgent. A one-time event like a wedding or party is rarely enough to create sustainable change.
Seeing Weight Loss as a Life Interruption Versus a Lifestyle Change.
Women who are unsuccessful at long-term weight loss often see a “diet” or exercise program as a short-term solution. It’s the difference between saying
This is how I live my life now
When can I eat _____ again?
Temporary solutions offer temporary results. As soon as the old habits return, so do the pounds.
Unrealistic Expectations / Being Impatient.
Women often set themselves up for failure because they set the bar too high and don’t give themselves enough time to reach their goals. The extra weight didn’t happen overnight and it certainly will not come off overnight. Furthermore, failure to reach a goal could turn a client off to the whole process. Reaching the goal feels great no matter how small or how long it takes one to get there. Taking it slow also has another benefit: the longer someone does something, the better the habit is engrained.
Emotional or Spontaneous Eating.
Food can be used as an emotional buffer to loneliness, boredom, tiredness, stress, anger, anxiety, depression, and many other conditions. These emotional states trigger cravings that can cause a woman to eat high calorie foods that push her over her ideal daily caloric intake for weight loss. Furthermore, this binging sometimes creates shame. Clients are embarrassed they’ve gotten off track and can be very upset by it. They tend to not tell anyone and that’s when they need help and support the most. Sometimes the shame causes them to stop keeping their food diary, a key success indicator.
Underreporting of calories.
Losing weight is a physiological response to spending more energy every day than one eats in calories. Maintaining an accurate food journal is the best way to know exactly how many calories are being consumed. If the portion size is underestimated or an item is forgotten and not recorded at all, the amount of calories recorded is incorrect. One would assume she could eat more when, in fact, her caloric budget for the day is maxed out. Underreporting of calories leads to overeating and impedes weight loss.
Restricting Calories Too Low/Being Hungry.
This obstacle is in stark contrast to the previous one. In their zest to achieve their goals quickly, women often cut their planned caloric intake too low thinking the more they cut, the better. This tactic leaves them hungry and therefore more susceptible to binge eating.
Temptation at Social Events.
Attending parties and other social events leaves the conscious dieter susceptible to peer pressure and temptation. At home one has control over her environment therefore it’s easier to maintain strong willpower. At social events, the temptations can be overwhelming. The social pressure to belong can overcome one’s willpower and the otherwise successful dieter can find herself overindulging.
Not Taking the Time to Acknowledge Progress and Celebrate Successes.
Without acknowledging the victories, a weight loss client will tend to focus on her failures. In the beginning, the newness of weight loss is exciting. It’s natural for motivation to start to wear off after the initial phase of weight loss ends and the daily grind of it begins. If the client remembers how far she has come and the challenges she had to overcome, she is more likely to stick with the program.
Hitting a plateau is frustrating and sometimes leads to a client giving up. One must exercise patience to get through a plateau and continue achieving her goals. It’s a common part of the process of losing weight. Again, acknowledging progress is important.
What role do personal trainers, nutrition counselors and coaches play to help clients lose weight?
Weight loss is a physiological response to being in a caloric deficit. Calories are energy. Simply stated, one must burn more energy every day than consumed in calories in order to lose weight. A nutritionist, a personal trainer and a coach can all play an important role for a client wanting to lose weight. Let’s take a closer look at the role of each.
A nutritionist, or dietician, informs people on how what they eat impacts their health. They can recommend specific diet plans that can help prevent, or even alleviate, illness as well as reach overall optimum health. Diet applies to weight loss because eating the right amount of calories is the determining factor in whether or not a person will lose weight, assuming there are no underlying medical conditions. A nutritionist can show a client what to eat to accomplish his or her weight loss goals in the healthiest, safest way possible.
“A personal trainer,” as defined in Wikipedia,
is a fitness professional involved in exercise prescription and instruction.
Trainers often assess a client’s current fitness level then put together a workout plan for the client based on her goals. The trainer goes through the program with the client exercise by exercise, showing her the proper way to execute the activity and informs the client of other specifics like how often to do the routine, desired target heart rate, etc. The work of a personal trainer enhances the work of the nutritionist. Cardiovascular exercise further increases the caloric deficit needed for fat loss. Resistance training helps maintain or gain lean muscle mass, which pound for pound, burns way more calories than fat. One pound of muscle burns 35-75 calories per day. One pound of body fat burns approximately 8 calories per day!
The coach plays whatever role the client wants the coach to play: accountability, encouragement, creating an action plan, challenging beliefs, provide resources, etc. One possible scenario is that the coach helps the client establish a clear goal or desired outcome of her choosing and helps her work through specific challenges or barriers to reaching the goal. These challenges can come from any area of the client’s life. The coach can also assist the client in developing an action plan to overcome the obstacles and achieve the stated goals. Interactions between coach and client are very customized with the content of each session being strictly client-driven.
How is the coaching approach unique?
Personal trainers and nutritionists do take into account the client’s goals and input. However, they
learn specific information in their area of expertise and prescribe solutions for clients. In other
words, they give clients answers. A coaching relationship is based on the belief that the client
always knows best and has all the answers within herself.
Personal trainers and nutritionists both offer factual information, personalized to a degree. These professionals inform or tell their clients something. If the 80/20 Principle were applied here, the pro talks 80% of the time and the client 20%. With a coaching approach, the 80/20 Principle is reversed with the coach talking 20% of the time and the client 80%. Coaching tends to be more exploratory than factual and is oriented around a client’s values and beliefs. The client tells the coach information and discovers the answers versus being told the answers.
When trying to lose weight and keep it off, behavior modification is key. Personal trainers and nutritionists do a great job of educating the client, which is necessary. Arguably, clients could find the answers to those questions in any number of places without hiring a professional to help. The coaching approach is well-suited to creating and sustaining a change in lifestyle. The coach gives a client the unique opportunity to have a safe, non-judgmental, confidential, space to discuss the why and the how to make her goal a reality. The solutions are 100% the client’s own ideas, and therefore more likely to be perpetuated when the professional relationship ends.
How can each professional contribute?
Considering the nine most common weight loss challenges listed above, how does each approach stack up?
Not having a compelling reason/vision:
A coach approach is likely the best option for a client developing a vision and considering her reason to move forward with a healthier lifestyle since the one-of-a-kind answer is centered in the client’s values and cannot be found in a nutrition book or training guide. The reason or vision would be unique to each client; something the client would have to come up with herself.
Seeing weight loss as a life interruption (temporary solution) versus a lifestyle change:
A coach can offer something the nutritionist and trainer cannot. The coach could assist the client in discovering a meaningful reason for losing weight that would serve as a strong motivator to continue, even after the professional relationship ended. Instead of seeing a diet as a form of deprivation, the coach can help the client see a new, more positive, perspective regarding forming new habits and routines that are necessary for achieving weight loss. Also, the coach can help the client set goals and get her actively involved in coming up with the solution versus just telling her what to do, which is more empowering than merely giving a client a to-do list of menus and exercises.
Unrealistic expectations / Being impatient:
Both a trainer and a nutritionist can explain to a client the typical rate of weight loss and tell her to be patient. However, only the coach can help her become patient and realistic.
Emotional or Spontaneous Eating:
Again, the coach approach would best help with this common obstacle. A trainer or a nutritionist tell the client what to eat or what exercises to do. Of these three options, only a coach is qualified to help the client identify emotional reasons for overeating and assist in changing the mindset behind the poor habits.
Underreporting of calories:
A nutritionist is the best professional for the job of teaching the client proper portion sizes so that the recorded caloric intake is correct. The coach can help the client with methods for recording the food, tactics for remembering to do so and creating a plan to stick to the prescribed amount of calories.
Restricting calories too low / being hungry:
Both a coach and a nutritionist can help a client with this challenge. A nutritionist is best prepared to explain what the caloric intake should be and the dangers and effects of eating too little. A coach can work with the client on setting realistic goals, based on the parameters of acceptable weight loss from the nutritionist.
Temptation at social events:
A coach is best-suited to help a client determine strategies to master social temptation and peer pressure in a way that works best for her. Not taking the time to acknowledge progress and celebrate successes: The nutritionist and the trainer are likely to acknowledge a client during their sessions for her successes, as is the coach. However, the coach can help the client determine how to do this on an ongoing basis for herself. It’s important for an individual to acknowledge herself and not always look for the approval from somewhere or someone else.
A personal trainer is the best solution when a client has reached a plateau. At that point, clearly the client has stuck with the changes for a while if her body has adapted to the demand. She must change her program to start seeing results again. However, this is also the point where a lot of women get discouraged so a coach could help the client develop some action-oriented goals to help her stick with the program and overcome the urge to quit.
The chart below recaps which professionals typically assist with each of the common weight loss challenges facing women. Interestingly, none of the most common challenges are solely about knowing what to do in order to lose weight. That fact puts coaching at the forefront of the weight loss battle. The coaching approach is also best qualified to assist with the greatest number of common weight loss barriers.
Which approach is most effective?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults and one sixth of children in America are obese. In the past twenty years, obesity rates doubled for adults and tripled for children. If these trends continue, by the time today’s children reach adulthood, obesity will be the norm and healthy weight the exception. In fact, for the first time in U.S. history, the current generation of children in America may have shorter life expectancies than their parents.
Those statistics are mind boggling, especially if you consider that fact that we live in a world where information is free. One can find the answer to any question twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without ever leaving her couch. Yet, obesity continues to be a growing problem in the United States.
The information regarding how to lose weight is essential but obviously not enough. If it were, as information became more readily available, the statistics would have been going in the other direction, assuming most people want to maintain a reasonable weight. The biggest advantage a coach has over the other professionals is that nutritionists and personal trainers both address the logical side of weight loss. Coaches address the more powerful, emotional side. People don’t always go after what they need; they chase what they want. In many instances, the coaching professional is the best solution considering the most common weight loss challenges for women. However, a team approach of all these professionals would give the client the absolute, all-around best advantage when trying to lose weight.