It seems as though just about every month there is a ‘revolutionary’ diet that claims to work weight loss miracles. With so much misinformation, what do you tell your weight loss clients to empower them to make informed decisions of their own?


As fitness professionals, our job is to help clients achieve their fitness goals, and that means being aware of any factors that might influence them. Research shows that most people hire a fitness specialist for one of the following reasons: weight control, body reshaping or help or adherence to an exercise plan. At the top of the list is, perhaps not surprisingly, weight control. The ongoing success of the diet industry is a testament to that fact.

As a personal trainer, it is important to consider what to do when a client approaches you with one main goal in mind–to lose weight. She understands the necessity of physical activity to help her with this task, but beyond that, her friend informed her that she lost weight on the latest diet plan. Predictably, the client is asking the familiar questions: What about this diet? Will it work? Rather than dismissing the diet out of hand, consider educating your client so that she will be able to determine for herself whether diet ‘x’ is worth pursuing.


When it comes to slimming down, two important factors involved in a successful weight loss are metabolism and caloric intake. Metabolism is a colloquial term used often in the industry, but is often not well understood. We often use terms such as “burn” and “furnace” to connote the metabolic process, and these are apt metaphors. It is important to explain this concept to our clients because the metabolism is as unique as the individual. It refers to all of the chemical reactions in the body, and is a balancing act between reactions that break down large molecules into smaller ones for energy (catabolism), and those that use energy to create more complex molecules from simple ones (anabolism). For example, eating a banana as an afternoon snack for an energy boost requires catabolic reactions. The practice of consuming amino acids in the form of protein shakes to develop muscles mass after a workout, which utilizes anabolic processes.

Our interest here really lies in the metabolic rate–the amount of energy the body uses to carry out these metabolic reactions. Because many factors affect the metabolic rate, it is measured under standard conditions with the body in a resting and fasting condition known as the basal state. From this, we can arrive at what is commonly known as the basal metabolic rate, or BMR. The BMR is essentially how much energy the body requires to survive. The greater a person’s activity level, the more energy his or her body needs above value of the BMR.


A common initial question for many weight-loss clients is “What about calories?” We hear about them, we count them and we even cut them–but what are they, exactly? The calorie as we know and use it colloquially is in fact a kilocalorie. It is a unit used to measure energy in chemical reactions, and it is often used to describe the usable energy contained within food or beverages, as well as the energy released in the body. Different foods provide varying amounts of calories and therefore differing amounts of usable energy. In light of this, it is possible to modify the meaning of BMR as it relates to calories.

In simple terms, the BMR can be associated with the number of calories a person’s body needs in order to survive. Caloric needs highly individual and are based on a variety of factors including age, gender, metabolism, activity level and body size. If you eat more calories than your body requires, weight gain is the predictable result.

One pound of fat is the equivalent of approximately 3,500 calories. Let’s consider the following example to put that in perspective. Let us say someone requires 1,200 calories each day in order to maintain her current weight and has eaten a hearty breakfast, a light lunch and a large dinner that together represent about 1,900 calories so far that day. Now let’s say that for a snack, that person opts for a non-fat yogurt and a banana, which together equate to about 300 additional calories for the day. When we look at the numbers, we see that this person has consumed 1,000 calories more than what she needed to maintain her weight. By repeating this pattern for one week straight and changing nothing activity level, it’s likely this person will have gained something on the order of two pounds.

The inverse is true, also: Creating a calorie deficit can lead to weight loss. Assessing the caloric needs of your clients is an important tool to help them to reach their fitness goals. It is possible to estimate caloric needs by using the method below.

Estimating Caloric Needs

1. Estimate your basic energy needs by multiplying your current muscle weight (in pound) by 10 if you are a woman and 11 if you are a man. Note that this formula does not take into account age.

2. Determine your activity factor value: Very light = 0.2; Light = 0.3; Moderate = 0.4; Heavy = 0.5

3. Multiply your basic energy needs by the activity factor value that you determined.

4. Determine the number of calories you need for digestion and the absorption of nutrients. (The activities of digesting and absorbing nutrients account for about 10 percent of a person’s daily energy needs.)

5. Total your calorie needs. Sum your BMR, activity and digestion/absorption calorie needs to get your total calorie needs–the amount you need to maintain your current weight. BMR calories + activity calories +absorption calories = total calories

What about Fad Diets?

Regardless of the name, the marketing material or celebrity spokesperson advocating it, fad diets all have one thing in common: they create a shortfall of calories. They are designed, in some way, to lower the amount of energy consumed on a daily basis. Over time, this can lead to weight loss. Explaining this to your client takes the mystery out of not only dieting, but acquiring proper eating habits.

Diet Analysis

At this point, you are nearly through your coaching session and you might feel as though you have fulfilled your professional obligation to educate your client.

Now for the answer to the inevitable question: “Are all of these diets bad?” Well, what is the answer? The promises made by diet promoters are often compelling but they are also all too often inflated. When counseling a client, it is important to try to avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. Instead, ask the client a few questions about the diet to empower her or him to reason and draw up conclusions of her or his own.

Some sample questions to ask are:

  • Does the diet ‘guarantee’ quick weight loss or lasting results?
  • Does it make promises that sound too good to be true?
  • Is the diet a cure-all for every single condition you’ve ever had?
  • Is it healthy and nutritionally sound?
  • Does the diet follow the principles of variety, moderation and balance, or does it advocate cutting out one food group in favor of another?

Helping to empower a client to take ownership of his or her own health is perhaps one of the greatest satisfactions of being a personal trainer. Knowledge is indeed power.


These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or with questions or for more information.