In our increasingly obese society, it’s no surprise that weight and fat loss is the most common New Year’s resolution. In fact, chances are that some of these “resolutionists” will eventually make their way to your gym. So why is it that most of these individuals fail to achieve and/or maintain their weight loss goals year after year? Though many trainers would attribute it to a lack of willpower, more often than not the root of the problem is actually poor nutrition program design.
Traditional nutrition programs use a “one size fits all” approach, often requiring the dieter to track all calories consumed each day. While calorie counting may provide benefit to some individuals with very specific dietary needs (e.g. athletes, competitive bodybuilders, certain special populations), it is simply an unnecessary evil for most people. For the vast majority of healthy individuals looking to lose weight, calorie counting is counterproductive in achieving and maintaining weight loss. The reality is that someone who’s 30, 40, or 50+ lbs. overweight probably didn’t get that way from healthy dietary habits, and definitely didn’t get there overnight. Most likely, years of unhealthy choices have slowly compounded, resulting in their current situation. Now consider the fact that humans are creatures of habit and routine, and it’s not hard to see why asking someone to completely change all of their poor nutrition habits at once and count every calorie in the process is setting them up for failure.
So if calorie counting isn’t the solution, what is? We need to create a customized program that utilizes a “whole person” approach – an Integrative Nutrition Plan (INP) – based on several key principles:
- Unhealthy nutrition habits should be modified in progressive stages, not all at once.
- Initial objectives should be simple, build confidence, and be based upon the individual’s current dietary habits/routines.
- Unnecessary tasks that may cause frustration, such as counting calories, should be avoided.
- Individual should not progress to more difficult objectives until he/she has demonstrated both confidence and proficiency with existing ones.
- Frequent assessments should be conducted to monitor progress and take note of any feedback or concerns.
- Program must be sustainable.
Steps for Creating an Effective INP
- 1. ESTABLISH SMART GOALS
Client goals should be:
- Specific – Why does your client want to change? Simply stating “I want to lose weight” is not enough.
- Measurable – An objective way of measuring progress (e.g. body fat analysis).
- Action plan oriented – Goals should be clearly defined.
- Realistic – Goals should be realistic based upon the client’s current fitness condition. For example, someone who is 70 lbs. overweight should not expect to achieve six pack abs in three months.
- Timed – INP assessments should be made, and objectives set, at regular intervals.
- 2. GENERATE/ASSESS NUTRITION BASELINE
Determine your client’s current dietary habits. To establish a baseline, have them document all meals (both food and beverages) for an entire week. Ensure that the designated week represents their typical eating habits (having them do this around the holidays, where many people tend to overeat more than usual, may not give you an accurate representation). Do not have them make any adjustments to their diet at this time.
The following should be recorded for each meal:
- Time of meal
- All foods and drinks consumed during the meal
- Approximate portion sizes
Though they may be embarrassed to document their unhealthy eating habits, assure them that this is a necessary step in designing the best possible program for their specific needs. Additionally, while this task requires a bit of overhead on the client’s part, the simplicity and short duration should make it manageable.
After the baseline is complete, it’s up to you to evaluate it. In short, you’re looking for unhealthy nutrition patterns in order to determine areas to address (e.g. you see your client is consuming many sugary drinks and snacks). Write down any negative patterns you find, as this will be used in the next step as you begin defining objectives.
**NOTE: If necessary, this step can be performed again at any time during the program. However, keep in mind that it does involve additional work for your client, which could become frustrating for them as the program progresses and objectives get more complex.
- 3. PHASED PROGRESSIONS
Changes to your client’s diet should be made in phases, starting with one or two easy changes in the first phase and progressing to increasingly complex changes in subsequent phases. Since you have already evaluated their nutrition baseline, come up with a proposed set of progressions (you can always modify their objectives later) based on the unhealthy patterns you noted in step #2.
In Phase 1, your goal is simply to provide one or two dietary changes, based upon your nutrition baseline assessment. These objectives should be very simple and easily accomplished (for example, reducing soda intake from 3 sodas per day to 2). The goal of Phase 1 is not to maximize weight loss, but rather to increase the client’s confidence and establish a positive mindset.
From this point, you may choose to create as many additional phases as are necessary to get them to their goals. Perform regular assessments, preferably weekly, to gauge your client’s physical progress and emotional state. Each phase requires careful attention to detail on your part to determine if and when your client is ready to progress. Ideally, this will be when the objectives specified in the current phase have become very easy for them to incorporate into their daily routine without frustration. However, based on the feedback you receive during your assessments, it may be necessary to modify phase objectives or keep them at the current phase for a longer period of time. Remember, moving to a new phase too quickly could be discouraging and ultimately detrimental to their progress.
Mary, 45, came to me with the goal of losing 20 pounds in 6 months to increase her energy levels and overall health.
- ESTABLISH SMART GOALS – Lose 20 pounds in 6 months to increase energy levels and overall health.
- GENERATE/ASSESS NUTRITION BASELINE – Mary documented a week’s worth of her meals. Upon evaluation, I could see that she was consuming a substantial amount of simple carbohydrates in the form of sugary drinks and snacks throughout the day. In addition, many of her lunch and dinner meals were high in saturated fat and sodium.
- PHASED PROGRESSIONS (Weekly assessments)
- Phase 1
- Objectives – 1) Replace one sugary drink or snack per day with a 12 oz. glass of water.
- Assessment 1 – As expected, Mary was able to incorporate these changes into her lifestyle with little difficulty. Seeing that she was feeling confident and ready to move forward, I had her progress to Phase 2.
- Phase 1
- Phase 2
- Objectives – 1) Eliminate snacking after 7pm, with the exception of one serving of fruit if she felt hungry.
- Assessment 1 – Mary stated that the first three days were rather difficult, but that it had gotten increasingly easier the remainder of the week. Again, seeing that she felt good about her progress and was successfully managing the assigned objective, I had her move to Phase 3.
- Phase 3
- Objectives – 1) Incorporate 2 additional smaller meals (healthy snacks) throughout the day. 2) Reduce her lunch and dinner portions by 40%.
- Assessment 1 – Mary stated that she was managing all objectives, but indicated that she still found them to be a bit challenging. Seeing that she was still adjusting, we agreed that she would stay at Phase 3.
- Assessment 2 – While the objectives were getting easier for her to incorporate into her day, I could see that she was still having a bit of difficulty adapting to the current objectives. Again, we agreed that she would stay at Phase 3.
- Assessment 3 – Mary now seemed confident and much more comfortable with the Phase 3 objectives. In addition, she was starting to see weight loss results. At this point, I had her progress to Phase 4.
- Phase 4
- Objectives – 1) Substitute several of her remaining unhealthy foods with healthy alternatives.
- Assessments (to end of program) – While this initially took her out of her comfort zone for the first few weeks, Mary was eventually able to make our Phase 4 objectives virtually second nature. Over the course of the following months, combined with her exercise program, Mary exceeded her initial goals, losing a total of 30 lbs. Additionally, she had reached her goal while learning to incorporate sustainable, healthy changes into her diet.
Weight loss begins in the kitchen – unfortunately, most nutrition plans do not take into account the unique needs of each individual, leading to high rates of failure. Implementing INP, along with a properly designed exercise program, is a surefire way to help your clients achieve and maintain their weight loss goals!
By: Douglas McClouds, NESTA Certified Personal Fitness Trainer