It is a difficult endeavor to lose weight, and even more difficult to maintain progress after the goal has been met. Clients are often outcome-focused rather than behavior-focused. The health and movement behaviors in which they consistently engage will ultimately create the habits to achieve and sustain their desired outcomes. There are four habits or behaviors that allow an individual to reach and maintain his or her goal in a safe, sustainable, and time-effective manner. 

1) Learn how to “Scratch the Itch” with healthier food substitutions

Many people “fall off the wagon” when trying to lose weight because of food cravings. With a diet regularly consisting of high-calorie processed foods, a client may have a difficult time adjusting or adhering to a new eating plan. It is helpful for clients to have alternatives that satisfy the flavor or textural cravings of certain foods that they are trying to avoid or minimize in pursuit of their goals.

For example, if a client consistently has cravings for soda, flavored seltzer water or soft drinks sweetened with stevia “scratch the itch” of the soda craving without the extra calories or additional refined sugar. Making small changes that become permanent such as these are an important aspect of lasting, sustainable weight loss.

Here are some other creative, healthier substitutions for guilty pleasures:

-Mashed avocado can be swapped for mayonnaise.

-Pickles can be a useful alternative for a salty and crunchy craving.

-Chopped veggies and hummus can stand in for chips and dip. 

-Cauliflower has found new life in recent years as a healthy alternative for just about anything (cauliflower mac ‘n’ cheese anyone?), especially for the carb-conscious client or someone looking to sneak in new more veggies.

-A square of dark chocolate may satisfy a sweet tooth in place of a sneaked Snickers bar.

As with any attempt to change habits, planning is necessary to circumvent potential roadblocks to progress.  A little internet research and meal planning goes a long way to help a client eat according to their goals and implement sustainable lifestyle changes.

2) Identify the emotional support food provides

Emotional eating can be a part of a vicious cycle of guilt and binge eating. It often occurs unconsciously at the end of a stressful day of work, or after the rest of the family has gone to bed, with snacks hidden away for the purpose of comfort. Without identifying the root causes of the negative emotions that are remedied by food, it will be a difficult battle for a client to improve their health. It would be like someone trying to walk up a muddy hill, not understanding why they keep slipping even though they try harder.

It can be helpful to encourage your client to pay attention to the circumstances surrounding food cravings. Often emotional food cravings appear suddenly and for a specific comfort food. Emotional eating usually is not satisfied with a full stomach, which results in mindless eating and guilt.

Stress, suppressing emotions, boredom, childhood habits, and social influences are the most common triggers for emotional eating. Depression, feelings of loneliness or isolation, anxiety and boredom are temporarily alleviated by food. It gives the individual an activity to perform and it lights up the brain with feel-good neurotransmitters.

Trainers commonly ask their clients to keep a food log to get a snapshot of their eating habits. Asking the client to write down any emotions they are feeling when they eat can provide additional insight into why the client consumes certain foods and help him to come up with alternative coping skills that provide emotional support.

3) Enlist help if it is needed

Rare is the individual who can change their lifestyle and habits on her own. The majority of the population will require assistance to fulfill the change they wish to make. While it is laudable for the individual who successfully made changes on her own, it is not a weakness to ask for help. Asking for help is a crucial first sign that the individual is truly ready to change. It requires strength and vulnerability to deal with the uncomfortable emotions that often accompany seeking help.

A certified fitness professional helps clients stay accountable to their goals, offers benchmarks of progress, and modifies health behavior strategies to better fit into the clients’ lifestyle. Many trainers have deeply personal stories about how their own health and fitness journeys led them to a career in personal training and successful, sustainable weight loss or healthful shifts in lifestyle. They are passionate about helping others because they understand the impact that prioritizing one’s health can have on all other aspects of life.

4) Get comfortable with saying “No”

It is inevitable that friends, family, and co-workers will offer food or drink that may sabotage a client’s progress.  It is these times when preparing healthy alternatives, understanding the emotions tied to comfort foods, and having someone who is an ally and provides accountability will make saying “no” easier.

Saying “No, thank you,” “Not now,” or “Maybe in a little bit,” are simple, polite phrases to navigate food and drink offerings without offending anyone. The more often a person uses these phrases to stick to their eating strategy, the easier it gets to use them in the future. Because most social gatherings revolve around food and alcohol, developing this skill is paramount to long-term success. The ease with which a person can confidently and politely refuse food and drinks not aligned with their goals will help them engage in healthier behaviors for life.

Planning ahead, understanding the conscious and subconscious drivers of behavior, and trusting the health strategies made in collaboration with a professional teaches self-efficacy, providing the courage and determination for a client to adhere to the behaviors geared toward sustainable change.

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David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez is a graduate of the Personal Trainer Certificate Program at San Diego Mesa College, an NFPT and ACE Certified Personal Trainer, and Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist. David was inspired to become a personal trainer after losing more than 100 pounds. Having kept the weight off for over a decade, he uses his story to motivate his clients and demonstrate to them that big changes are possible and sustainable. His training focuses on pain-free movement, helping clients find an individualized nutrition plan, and creating a positive mindset. His favorite pastimes are soccer, weightlifting, hiking, cooking, and his dogs. David lives in San Diego.