By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD
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Your client's weight loss has ground to a halt and they've hit a plateau. I hear the frustration from both of you. Let's look at seven reasons why your client can't seem to lose weight and what to do too achieve a breakthrough.
As you read on, consider which reasons are likely to apply to specific clients. If you discover that just one situation applies, then action the strategies. Some reasons for plateauing will be more challenging than others, but no barrier should hold anyone back from feeling fit, strong and in your best shape.
Here are the 7 reasons why clients can't lose weight:
1. Blowing out calories
2. Not burning enough calories
3. Social eating
5. Hormonal fatigue
6. Medical matters
Now, let's look at each reason…
1. Blowing out calories
A client may think they are on target with their weight loss nutrition plan, but are still subconsciously overeating or drinking each day.
What to do about calories:
2. Not burning enough calories
- Check your clients understanding of portion sizes. For example, just 30g of nuts is a good small serve, not a big handful.
- Check the types of foods being eaten. If junk food is still being consumed, there's a high likelihood of blowing out calories.
- Be wary of liquid calories from fruit juice, coffee with sugars or alcohol. These calories are easily added on top of food calories.
- Ask your client to keep a food journal for a few days to write down everything they eat and drink. Then, review it to look for sneaky calories in the form of added sugar or fat.
- If you discover that your client has simply been overeating, adjust food intake down to drop calories.
Sometimes a client can think that just a small amount of exercise is all that's required to lose weight. If your client's exercise routine consists of 3 x 30min walks a week, you may need to help them to nudge this up.
Increasing your exercise session intensity or subjective effort level from a 'Moderate' 4 out of 10 to "Somewhat hard" 6 out of 10 will significantly increase the calorie burn, build muscle and boost metabolic fitness. As your client gets fitter, they can burn more calories in every workout.
What to do about calorie burning:
3. Social eating
- Increase the amount of exercise by increasing the duration or frequency of workouts.
- Boost the effort put into workouts. Sure, you're client may feel discomfort at first, but as they get fitter, they will feel fantastic.
Eating "on plan" 6-7 days a week is what achieves results. A client who goes "off plan" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a long weekend of social eating and drinking with family or friends, won't achieve results - that's 4 days off and only 3 days on.
Wanting to enjoy social eating, but also wanting a highly social lifestyle is often just not compatible with results. Unless, of course, everyone in your client's social circle is always making leaner choices.
What to do about social eating:
- Explain to your client that their current lifestyle may not be compatible with the results they desire - you can't always have both.
- Aim to stay on plan more days - the weekend doesn't start until the weekend!
- Reduce the social eating schedule and make social meals into more special occasions.
- If your client can't avoid social eating, ensure they know how to choose leaner options. For example, when travelling or for business lunches or dinners.
If family, friends or workmates are not on board with your client's new healthy lifestyle, they can sabotage their efforts. Family may be sabotaging by offering chocolate or saying "you've worked hard this week and deserve a treat" - these are subtle ways to sabotage the best intentions.
Clients can also sabotaging themselves and not even know it. Sometimes on a weight loss journey, you can get to a point where you get scared of success or think you don't deserve success. Then, you undo all your efforts just to incorrectly prove you can't do it - when you really can!
What to do about sabotage:
5. Hormonal fatigue
- Help your client explain to family, friends or workmates that they are not made of willpower and need social support to succeed. It may not always be an easy conversation, but it's sometimes crucial for clients to get the support they need. If you client can't get genuine support from family or friends, they will need to go it alone and prove to their significant others that they can do it.
- Boost your client's self esteem. Remind them that they deserve a few things. They deserve to take the time they need to get fit and healthy. They deserve to be at their fittest, best weight ever and feel fantastic.
The next reason why clients can't lose weight is physiological. There are four inter-related causes of general hormonal fatigue - (1) under-sleeping, (2) over-stressing, (3) under-eating and (4) over-training.
Lack of sleep and stress not only drain you, they have a profound impact on your metabolic function. Poor sleep upsets hormonal balance, increasing levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Stress elevates cortisol, which also triggers cravings and increases the likelihood that body fat becomes more stubborn.
Under-eating can place your body in starvation mode and cause a drop in metabolic rate. Over-training can push up cortisol levels and although you are burning loads of calories, your efforts are cancelled out when body fat won't shift.
What to do about hormonal fatigue:
6. Medical Matters
- If your client is under-sleeping or has disturbed sleep, implement a sleep strategy that is just as much a priority as their food and fitness plan. Aim for 6-8 hours of sleep a day, without disruption.
- Take steps to manage stress by changing either the source of stress, the reaction to the stress or at least, take time out to relax and recover from chronic stress.
- If your client is failing to eat at least 5000kJ / 1200Cal a day, they may be going short on fuel and nutrients. If you are larger or more active, you may need much more energy to avoid fatigue. It's seem strange to think of eating more to lose weight, but if your client's body is in starvation mode, they won't tend to shift body fat beyond a point.
- If your client is over-training, it's time to ease off to allow their hormones to recover and work properly. Training levels are individual, but more than 60-90 minutes of daily high-effort exercise for weight loss, with no rest days can be too much.
When your client is eating well, exercising right, sleeping OK and stress is managed, but their weight won't budge, it's time to investigate whether a medical issue is holding them back.
Hormones are the first thing to check. High blood insulin levels can trigger your body to store more body fat. An underactive thyroid means metabolic rate may be lower than normal. And sex hormone imbalances can pose a barrier too.
Next, consider any medications your client is taking. Some drugs can make it harder to lose weight by increasing appetite, slowing metabolism or have other effects.
What to do about medical matters:
- If despite your client's best efforts, their weight is still unhealthy, ask them to talk to their Doctor about their frustrations and request a check for any medical problems could be holding them back.
- If blood sugars are high, help your client make a renewed commitment to eating and exercising well, which is designed to help reduce insulin levels.
- If you discover an underactive thyroid, medication may normalise this and results may follow.
- Get the Doctor to inform your client if any medications they are taking may trigger an increase in appetite or if weight gain is a potential side effect. If so, see if there are other options to try.
- Recommend that your client goes back to their Doctor for regular reviews to adjust any medications and the plan of attack.
Just like your height, genes influence your weight and body fat level. But whereas genetics likely determine 100% of your height, around 30-70% of you weight is predicted by your genes. The rest is determined by your lifestyle and up to you.
Your client may have more `heavy' genes, which can predetermine a higher weight than they'd like. Your client may have also chosen a weight loss target that is below their genetic potential. I know this sounds blunt, but understanding your genes has the potential to help you feel more comfortable and accepting of your body.
What to do about genetics:
Persistence, patience and breakthroughs:
- Instil patience, as weight loss and body shape changes may be slower.
- Appreciate that people come in all shapes and sizes. Very few of us have supermodel physiques and your clients shouldn't judge success based on this so-called ideal.
- Help your client to review their target weight. By taking the pressure off achieving a much lower number, they may feel much better and be more successful at achieving smaller goals.
- Remind your client the focus is on achieving their best and healthiest weight, not their lowest weight.
I've been a part of the weight loss journey of thousands of people. So, I know a thing or two about what it takes to reach a weight goal.
Re-evaluating your diet to find sources of hidden calories is an easy part. Putting more effort into workouts is harder. Asking your partner not to sabotage you is a little more difficult. And medical issues can be even more of a challenge.
The key to weight management success is being both persistent and patient.
By examining the seven reasons why clients can't lose weight and actioning these strategies, you'll be able to help your clients find the real breakthrough they deserve.
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