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Fat Loss Programming for your Clients – Part III

As discussed in Parts I & II of this series, fat loss programming contains not only a great deal of information, it also requires patience on the part of the client and the trainer. The physical components are simple compared to resetting a “dieter’s” mindset. With that, we will conclude this series in the 3rd installment by completing #5 in our system – Education and Preparation, which covers learning to rebound from setbacks, identifying and overcoming plateaus and identifying and celebrating achievements.

Coaching vs. Telling – Empowering our Clients

In order to be powerful, you must first be empowered.

Our common client approaches weight/fat loss as a REACTION to something negative happening or having occurred (ex. I gained weight, or I didn’t get the promotion I deserve, etc.). What we want for our clients most of all is for them to have the ability to respond, not react. Responding to a thought and/or feeling is positive and powerful, while reacting, in general, leads them to trouble. Remember, it’s never one choice that stalls progress, it’s the next choice and the next and the next. Borrowing from a credo from Alcoholics Anonymous – Logic over Emotion. Responding is logical and tends to allow the client to remain in control of their choices. Reacting to fleeting emotions or giving into current thoughts and feelings is the single most hurtful action anyone on a weight loss journey can do, as there will always be a life challenge to overcome.

Something that I find vital when working with clients is to do my best to understand where they are in their journey, including their mental makeup. During conversations, providing feedback and validating someone’s’ thoughts and feelings is supportive and lends itself to gaining trust. Minimizing thoughts and feelings to simply provide a list of to-do’s and not to-do’s is the opposite. I frequently observe “coaches” doing this and although it is appealing to the coach due to its simplicity and appealing to the client due to the “direction”, it rarely solves anything for anyone involved. When I am the most successful with clients, it is because I am in a headspace that allows me to see them, what their struggles are, what their resources are and what their current abilities are. This enables me to help connect the dots with them. When I struggle, it usually is due to my impatience in trying to get them to their goal by offering the “to do” list.

A Master Coach makes an art of asking pertinent questions and utilizing that information to see the endpoint, while aiding, supporting and directing to get to the next step in the process. Coaching is asking questions and utilizing the feedback to help your client move forward. Coaching is a team effort between you and the client, not just you telling the client what to do. This type of coaching leads the client to autonomy, or the ability to make these important choices on their own. In my opinion, this is a worthy goal of any coach.

Having now gone through a bit of the art of coaching, it is now time for us to visit the remainder of our distinctions (see below).  These distinctions will help us to teach the client a new, long-term outlook, help them maintain a rational perspective and utilize the biological and physiological body principles to ensure they are the most efficient learners possible.

Mindset Matters Most

You have probably noticed the return to the discussion of mindset repeatedly throughout this series. It is with good reason. As you clearly see, even when our clients understand the physical aspects of transforming their bodies, it is the mind that allows us to veer off course. In my experience, there are only two things that matter more than everything else combined, and when a client possesses both they will succeed. If not, they will struggle.

1) The ability to delay INSTANT GRATIFICATION


If I were to add a 3rd, which I suppose now we will, it would be:


There are so many different things you can do to lose weight, but not necessarily help you reach your actual goals. Here is a list of actions that must be performed and repeated to reach specific goals.

Shades of Grey (Context matters)

Asking “Compared to What?”

I utilize this question more often than just about any other in my arsenal. Often, our clients will get frustrated with the pace of progress or fall back into older habits and mindsets that leave them confused and potentially sabotaging their honest efforts. Asking “compared to what?” is a simple, direct question that just about immediately (if not sooner) gets them out of the “black or white”, “all or none”, or “good or bad” mindset.

Asking “compared to what?” allows for shades of grey. When understood and utilized, it is a relief for the client. Instead of fixating on being perfect for fear of any missteps leading to certain disaster, this question creates the possibility of a range of options and outcomes.

For example, eating 2 cookies and deciding that you are done may be much better than many previous cookie binges. Many people would get disheartened because they had a cookie or two, forget that they are in process and that they have actual proof of progress. Perfectionism is the enemy of progress. Most of our clients have a perfectionist mindset so engrained that any mistake or misstep (in their minds) damn near guarantees a failure to succeed.

Who do I need to become in order to get what I want?

This is the ultimate question, don’t you think? Our clients have an operating system that allows them, enables them and demands them to act as the person that they are currently. We, as coaches, need to help them create a vision of who they want to be. I am not talking about simply a visual representation of what they would look like once having lost weight. I am speaking much more to the habits and attributes that would represent their future selves. As you have often read, in order to get something different, you must become someone different. Ultimately, we are asking for our clients to carry forward the parts of themselves that they want to retain and figure the new aspects of their character that will be needed for change.

Change Talk Questions

How do you handle stress now? How do you handle stress in the future?

How often do you exercise now? How often do you exercise in the future?

How many servings of veggies and protein do you eat now? How about the future you?

How strong is your patience now? How about the future you?

How often do you utilize justifications and excuses to get out of doing things you know you need to do? Wat about the future you?

How often are you discouraged, utilizing negative self-talk and frustrated with life? How do you handle it now? What does this look like for future you?

These questions when framed in a supportive and challenging way can do wonders for our clients to realize the path to their goals.

What would you add to this beginning list?

Results are Not Linear

An ideal scenario sees us make a singular decision and magically maintain the power and ability to repeat it. Reality, however, works differently. Weight loss is not one, single decision. It is a culmination of hundreds of decisions made daily and repeated over and over.

Most diets are sold on the belief that a protocol, once followed, delivers results that are forever. We know this, and the client does too. The issue is that most people buy into diets at a time of emotional weakness, falsely believing that the result they are achieving is the result that will stay.

We know that the body is an adaptive machine, which is illustrated below in ‘Metabolic Compensation’. So, our job needs to be figuring out how to teach this practicality to our clients.

Further, all systems work the same way. When the client understands in their heart, not just logically, that there will be ups and downs, twists and turns and that the scale will move up and down frequently, pressure gets relieved. This may result in the client not self-sabotaging nearly as frequently. This is an imperative component of success – delaying the frequency and intensity of setbacks, not eliminating them.

In the ‘Measure What Matters’ section of this article, there is a list of physical measurements that I think create a more complete picture of success. There is also a list of mental/emotional measurements that will tell you the real story of how the client is handling life at the present time.

One thing is certain – results vary in all life phases all the time.

Scale weight fluctuates 2-5 lbs. daily, stressors are higher at times, hormonal changes, sleep pattern disruptions, energy spikes and dips, food quality and changes in amount, bowel movement pattern changes all lead to normal and expected fluctuations.

Metabolic Compensation

The body has one single job – survival.

This is seen in the adaptive and reactive nature of metabolism. One’s metabolism seeks balance, or homeostasis. As a result, when you push on the metabolism in any direction, it will push back against you. So, how do you learn to work with the body instead of against it?

You can do this with your metabolism by learning a different strategy than "eat less, exercise more."

Not only will it compensate with changes in hunger, cravings, and other sensations, but it'll also slow its metabolic rate. This decelerated metabolic output aspect of compensation is known as "adaptive thermogenesis." In other words, through various mechanisms, the metabolism will reduce its rate of caloric burn significantly. Some research suggests up to a 25% decline in daily energy expenditure can occur. These changes could be coming from a combination of muscle mass loss, changes in leptin/thyroid output, and a spontaneous decrease in non-exercise associated movement (NEAT).

To beat the metabolism at this game requires you to be diligent with your approach. Not going to extremes with diet and exercise, cycling the approach with periods of less food and exercise for periods of more food and exercise, and learning to read the body's metabolic signals are important strategic maneuvers for metabolic success.

How can you, the Coach, accomplish this?
First, acknowledge you can’t diet forever. There will always be some metabolic adaption when trying to lose fat. But when fat loss comes to a screeching halt, you have two options:

Incorporate refeed meals. By increasing the amount of food you’re eating (but still remain in a caloric deficit), you’ll increase leptin levels to boost your metabolism and give yourself a mental break from dieting.

Reverse diet back to maintenance calories. Reverse dieting is the process of increasing your calories over time to minimize fat gain and repair your metabolism following a diet. If you’re coming out of a long-term diet and looking to maintain weight loss, reverse dieting is likely your best option. Here’s a sample:

Maintenance Calories: 2550
Fat Loss Diet Calories: 1650
Reverse Diet Week One:1800 Calories
Week Two: 1950 calories
Week three: 2100 calories
Week Four: 2250 calories
Week Five: 2400 calories
Week Six: 2550 calories

The Research:

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in April 1999 showed just how damaging the weight loss model can be on metabolic efficiency. This study looked at a group of obese individuals who were put on a very low-calorie diet and assigned to one of two exercise regimes. One group did aerobic exercise (walking, biking, or jogging four times per week) while the second group did resistance training three times per week and no aerobic exercise.

At the end of the twelve-week study, both groups lost weight, but the difference in muscle vs. fat loss was striking. The aerobic group lost 37 pounds over the course of the study. The resistance-training group lost 32 pounds. A focus on weight loss would lead us to the conclusion that aerobic exercise is best. However, when looking at the type of weight lost, it was shown that the aerobic group lost almost 10 pounds of muscle on average, while the resistance training group lost fat exclusively and maintained their muscle mass. Most important, when the resting metabolic rate of the participants was calculated, the aerobic group was shown to be burning 210 fewer calories at rest per day!! In contrast, the resistance-training group increased their metabolism by 63 calories per day.

Takeaways? The body strives for efficiency and we must provide a constant state of inefficiency. Higher metabolic rates are inefficient and are accomplished by strength training. Strength Training is the key to altering our clients’ appearance and increasing their daily expenditure (resting and exercise-induced).

The avoidance of plateaus is accomplished through progressive overload in exercise, consistently improving food quality, controlling excess energy intake and ensuring that the body has everything it needs with lower calories (nutrients/supplements, water, rest, positive stress).

Nutrition and Calories

Rather than giving our clients full menu plans, or having them do the calorie counting thing, focus their effort towards three simple nutritional targets – protein intake, fiber intake and water intake. These three things seem to check a lot of boxes, and consistent execution seems to accelerate fat loss for most people.

Minimum Ideal Optimal
PROTEIN .5 oz. / lb BW .75 gr / lb BW 1.00 gr / lb BW
FIBER 25 grams / day 30 grams / day 35+ grams/ dy
WATER .5 oz. / lb BW .75 oz. / lb BW 1.00 oz. / lb BW

Reconciling this Approach with the Calorie Model

In the Metabolic Compensation section, I suggested reverse dieting as a useful strategy, complete with caloric intake suggestions. Caloric intake is the WHAT, Nutritional Targeting is the HOW. Just adding more food will not suffice. The type of food (quality and macronutrient) is vital to successful transformation.

Food is Information

Some foods and food combinations make us feel energetic, light, and help to control our energy, hunger and cravings. Others make us feel awful. Whether it be an insensitivity or an allergy.

If we were to poll our clients with a question “what is food?”, most would probably immediately answer along the lines of food is calories or food is energy. This is indeed true, but when taken to another level, food is information to the body and your mind. Food can create powerful memories of the past (good or bad), provide comfort or be a source of stress and fear. Food can be a source of joy (social, celebratory) or it can be a source of feelings of failure (not following protocol, breaking a diet).

To say that food is nothing more than calories, or, just as popular and just as incomplete – food is fuel is a disservice to the power that food plays in each of our clients’ lives. Part of our job as Coaches needs to center on helping the client to understand their relationship with food. The information is present, we simply need to help them uncover the patterns and feeling they associate with eating.

Quantity is Important. Quality is More Important

Weight gain and loss is controlled by your quantity of food calories consumed and expended over a long period. Your health, leanness and tissue quality are controlled by food quality over a long time period. Your workout performance is guided by meal frequency, meal content and macronutrient breakdown, which can be felt daily.

For our clients, improving their food quality can be one of the most important and practical practices to work on. It is a fantastic way to increase meal satiety and volume, increase thermic effect of food and improve the state of their health.

Strength Training Takes Priority Over Adding MORE Cardio

Strength training’s role in fat loss programming cannot be underscored enough. Strength training boosts short-term and long-term metabolic rate and it is the stimulus to transform our clients’ appearance.

Programming wise, cardio has many more limiting factors than a progressive strength program.

Measure What Matters

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Peter Drucker

Through the years, I have collected and created numerous methods (standards, if you will) for measuring meaningful progress. Presented here are charts for Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Semi-annual measurements.

The daily measurements can give near real time data in a combination of objective and subjective styles. Stress levels should be at 6 or lower (out of 10). Sleep hours are to be at 6+, while hunger levels should be at 6 and below. For energy, we strive for 6+ and cravings should be at 6 or lower.

These figures represent the minimal necessary environment for change to occur and to maintain as much control as possible. These figures also give you and the client the reasoning as to why they are succeeding or struggling and how to solve for the challenges.

Weekly measurements are designed to prevent weight creeping, build rational thinking regarding scale weight and provide a non-scale focus to maintain positivity and momentum.

Monthly Measurements are present to show trend lines and actual progress in the client. They serve to give the data needed for program manipulations for weight loss, also to celebrate many other goals for improved fitness and health.

Semi-annual measurements are intended to show health improvements and mindset changes.

Daily Measurements

Stress Level Sleep (Hours) Hunger Energy Cravings

*Adopted and adapted from Dr. Jade Teta

Weekly Measurement

Date Weight Range Change
Non-Scale Victories Gratitude List Reasons to Smile

Monthly Measurements

Bodyfat % Change Muscle % Change Circumference          Change
DATE: Waist –
Other -
DATE: Waist –
Other -
DATE: Waist –
Other -
DATE: Waist –
Other -
Heart Rate Change Heart Rate Recovery Change Fitness Test                     Change
DATE: 1 Mile Test –
BW Strength -
DATE: 1 Mile Test –
BW Strength -
DATE: 1 Mile Test –
BW Strength -
DATE: 1 Mile Test –
BW Strength -

*** BW Strength Test = 20-minute time limit – Max Reps – Chin-up variation, Pushup Variation, Squat Variation

Semi-Annual Measurements

Blood Pressure Lipid Profile Hormonal Changes Medications
Goals Achieved Goals Altered New Goals

Putting this ALL into practice

Autonomy is the result of learning and applying these lessons. Ultimately, our clients learn the ability to choose their negotiable methods and strategies to accomplish the non-negotiable needs for change (see below). Your coaching is what will uncover their functional strategies.


When working with clients during a fat loss program, you can be certain to run across one or more of these challenges:

Remaining one-dimensional. Stubbornly measuring weight loss only, instead of muscle gain and fat losses or strength gains. Weight loss is an outcome of better habits, it does not make for an inspiring goal. Besides, when is the last time your client has not been actively trying to lose weight or thinking about starting to try to lose weight? Change = Change.

Relying on willpower. Setting strict parameters that require perfection and then giving up due to any imperfection. People tend to toggle between under feeling and undereating followed by overeating and “over feeling”.

Impatience. Unraveling your current habits takes time. Creating new ones takes even longer.

Confusion leads to repetition. Because our clients are so confused by media and input from friends and other peoples’ “results”, they repeat the same patterns from a position of fear.

Solving for these Challenges:

  1. Create an ‘honesty covenant’ between you and the client so there is accountability and truthful conversations.
  2. Help them create an emotional attachment to what they want (their WHY).
  3. Teach them how to properly set goals (outcome and habit goals - their WHAT).
  4. Together, create a plan that they can perform and repeat (their HOW).
  5. Teach them the difference between fat loss and weight loss.
    • All weight loss is not good weight loss. All weight gain is not bad weight gain.
    • Calories have more than one destination.
  6. Learn their personality type to assess which type of programming they will respond best to (Lifestyle vs. Short-term Assault).
  7. Teach them to measure what matters. Teach them what to measure for their results, when to measure it and how to measure it.
    • It is not just about weight loss and how fast they can lose it.
  8. Be prepared to teach the scientific laws of weight control repeatedly in different and creative ways.
  9. Include them in the decision-making process.
    • Coach them by asking questions, not just telling them what to do.
  10. Be prepared to work on their “patience muscle” daily. Mindset, expectations and general confusion as to how their body functions will create many setbacks.
  11. Ensure that they know that their food choices are OUTCOMES.
    • First, you think and feel things, then you make choices.
  12. Utilize a complete, WHOLEistic approach to programming that includes calorie control, proper nutrition (food quality, supplementation), stress management, sleep, hydration, training periodization and recovery.