I don’t work as an in-person personal trainer anymore. I’ve moved away from that, and I don’t really feel like getting back to it. But I’ve come to a realization recently which I found somewhat shocking: I realized that if I were still working as a trainer, and someone came in telling me that they wanted to lose weight, I would tell them no.
That’s not because I wouldn’t help them lose weight - as a trainer, I would certainly do that long term. I have the requisite knowledge to help coach someone to lose weight. If someone really wants to lose weight, there's nothing wrong with that. However, in the short term, many people shouldn’t be trying to lose weight.
Huh? That seems odd, right? But the reality is that most people aren’t really equipped to handle weight loss on the terms that they put forth. Trainers know that, and can tell you plenty of stories - people who come in wanting to lose twenty pounds in two months despite not having any real exercise experience. People who want to lose weight but don’t want to stop drinking a twelve pack of soda every day. People who want to get abs in four weeks. Stuff like this is common, in large part because the fitness industry often overpromises and underdelivers to these people.
Most trainers don’t make the logical connection to the next step - that people should be eased into a healthier lifestyle rather than having it dumped on them all at once. If you tell someone to change thirty habits at once, it’s going to be a lot harder than just changing a few. And incremental changes like this tend to be the most effective: it’s not about holding to some imaginary ideal of what healthy looks like, it’s about managing to be a little bit better than the day you were before, every day.
Losing weight is a reach goal. It’s difficult! It’s easier to build muscle or strength in that these, to a beginner, only require that you go into the gym and train. Losing weight, on the other hand, means massive changes in your diet as well, and that’s usually much harder than simply adding exercise. Why try to make a client do both at once? It’s better to teach a client to exercise first, make sure that they can adhere, and then consider adding in diet and cardio later to stimulate weight loss. Without having a base of strength and skill to work from, you’re just setting a client up for failure.
So no, I won’t help a first time client lose weight. I’ll put them through an exercise program to help them get stronger while building some muscle and endurance. Then, over time, you add in other stuff. Ideally, I wouldn’t start giving a client coaching on weight loss until they’ve got at least a few months of training under their belt. But no way will I start a new client immediately on a weight loss program.
Add in the fact that many clients really don’t need to lose weight - they need to get in shape, and weight loss will likely follow - and I would say that pushing them to lose weight early on is probably a bad idea. We shouldn’t simply be pushing a client to lose weight. We should be coaching them to live as their best possible selves - in the short run, this should mean providing a manageable dose of change, no matter what the long run goal is.