Imagine a woman who is 53 and has been seeing her personal trainer twice a week for a year. Despite this she hasn't lost any weight.
Of course, the health benefits of regular exercise (quite aside from losing weight) are undisputed. Exercise makes you healthier, fitter, gives you more energy and helps your mood.
But given that many women over 40 primarily see a personal trainer for weight control, it can still be a source of frustration for trainer and client alike when the weight is not shifting.
Looking at it from each person's point of view:
"I have been sweating it out for a year now with this trainer, and I feel so much better for it. But I haven't lost a pound of weight. What am I doing wrong?"
"I have really helped this client to get fitter and healthier. But I only see her twice a week. I have no control over the other 166 hours in her week. And the problem is her diet. I've made some recommendations, but nothing really seems to work."
This situation is very common. You can't fault the client, because they have been trying their best. And you can't fault the personal trainer. They have certainly improved the client's health and fitness but this has just not translated into weight loss.
So what's the problem here? And more importantly, what's the solution?
The underlying problem is that for women over 40, exercise ALONE is not enough to cause weight loss. This is not true for men. And it's less true for women under 40. But if you ask most women over 40, they will tell similar stories of exercise programmes that no longer delivered the goods when it came to weight loss.
So ultimately, for a woman over 40 to lose weight she has to cut down what she eats.
So what's needed is advice about changing eating behaviours that takes the smallest amount of time out of a training session and yet is most likely to be stuck with, by the client.
There's no easy solution to this problem, but for trainers (and their clients) grappling with this, here are four recommendations.
1. Get the client to keep a food diary.
I won't see a client unless they keep a food diary. Clients who keep food diaries lose more weight than clients who don't. It's as simple as that. Food diaries are a form of self-monitoring, and they work in a couple of ways. First of all, they demonstrate to the client and the trainer, exactly where things are going wrong.
I have had so many clients tell me "I eat very little and still gain weight" and yet when we look at their food diaries, it becomes clear where they are going wrong. It's an invaluable source of information.
Food diaries also help to shape decisions. As one client said to me: "It's harder to have the fifth canape if I know I have to write it down."
2. Make small changes.
Rather than overhauling a client's food diary, get them to make small changes.
For example, cutting back on second servings, reducing portion sizes or changing one snack from high calorie to lower calorie. These are small changes that might not seem like much on their own, but when you add in a few of them over an extended period of time, you can get amazing results. There are literally hundreds of variants of changes that you can make.
3. Keep checking in on the changes that they make.
It's no good advising something and not checking up on it. Accountability makes a big difference when it comes to making changes stick. Spend a few minutes each session, looking at a client's food diary, and following up on the changes that they have made.
4. Make sure all the changes they make are sustainable.
It's easy to recommend different actions for a client. And it might be easy for a client to stick with these changes for a week, or even a few weeks. But a few weeks is not enough. The key to lasting weight loss is lifestyle change.
And for this, the client needs to be making changes that they are happy to make for the rest of their life. Always think long-term.
Of course, this is just the beginning. Clients need to be guided through these changes, step by step, each week. Losing weight is not a project. It's not a short-term activity. It's adopting a new way of life, which takes time.
Exercise and physical activity are crucial for long-term health. But also finding practical ways to change eating behaviour is a vital ingredient in losing weight.
For more about a behavioural approach click here.