This article is brought to you by ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association)
As a health and fitness professional, you spend your days sharing tips related to diet and exercise. Your primary mission is to help others create a healthy life. Yet, many clients still struggle to meet their fitness goals. Why?
Developing a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy. It’s even harder for those who’ve had not-so-healthy habits for a long period of time. How do you help clients overcome these challenges so they can enjoy lasting results? The first step is actually more mental than physical.
Get Their Brain in the Game
Before you even start to talk about healthy eating or discuss a regular exercise routine, it’s important that your client’s brain be on board with the upcoming changes. If they are not mentally committed to losing weight, growing muscle, or otherwise improving their health, they’re not likely to stick with your suggestions for the long haul.
To learn how committed a client is, ask them to rate their level of commitment on a scale of 1 to 10. If they’re in the 8 to 10 range, you’ll have an easier time getting them to make the changes necessary. If they’re in the 5 to 7 range, it may take more work on your part. Anything lower and your training with them will likely be pretty short.
True behavior change requires a steely resolve to do what it takes to create a healthier lifestyle. This helps them overcome temptations and obstacles placed in their way. Though every client is different, here are a few ways to get their brain to support long-term lifestyle change.
A Visualization Exercise 
Top Olympian athletes use visualization to help them get the gold. This same practice can help your clients create a healthy lifestyle. Ask your client to close their eyes and visualize themselves as if their goal has been reached. 
Have them imagine that they are at their goal weight or picture themselves crushing their workout routine. Talk to them about how they feel when they do. Help them to see themselves making the necessary changes. This trains their brain to make changes more effortlessly in the future.
Talk About Why They Want a Healthier Lifestyle
What drove your client to come to see you? What makes them want to change their eating habits? Is their cholesterol too high or are they tired of not being able to fit in their favorite jeans? What has happened that they’ve decided that it’s time to increase their physical activity? Do they feel winded going up the stairs at home? Are they lacking the energy necessary to keep up with their kids?
The clearer a client is about why it is time to create a healthy diet or engage in a regular workout routine, the easier it is to make changes long-term. Having them write a list of all of the reasons they want to change can help clarify their goals. 
Encourage them to dig deep when creating this list. For instance, it isn’t enough to say that they want to increase their physical activity because they want to feel better. Ask them to explain what “feel better” means. 
Is the client looking to gain more confidence, lower their stress, or is it some other outcome they seek? The more you understand what it is they want from your personal training sessions, the more you can tailor a program that helps them meet that goal.
Make the Connection Between Mental Health and Physical Health
Creating a healthy lifestyle is about making physical changes to one’s daily routine. Yet, there is often a mental health component involved as well. 
Some clients seek out a weight loss program or workout routine because they know it can improve their mental health. Maybe they want to lower their stress or anxiety and know that exercise can help. Or perhaps they want to learn how to enjoy healthy food because carrying too much weight has resulted in low self-esteem.
Help clients make the connection between their physical and mental health. Talk about how limiting processed foods can lead to reduced anxiety. Share the ways in which strength training boosts mood in addition to building muscle.
Create a Daily Motivation Habit 
Another way to keep the client’s head in the game is to suggest that they continue to stoke their motivation by creating a daily routine that supports their fitness goals. Meditation in the morning can help them deal with the stress of making a lifestyle change. The less stress and anxiety they have during the change process, the easier it is to accept their new lifestyle.
Listening to healthy lifestyle podcasts on the way into work every day can also keep clients motivated. If they’re a reader, suggest that they follow a healthy eating blog or subscribe to an exercise magazine. The more they make healthy living a part of their daily routine, the easier it becomes to create a new healthy habit.
Once you’ve got the client’s brain on board, the next step is to address the behaviors that will provide a healthy lifestyle change. These generally fall into one of two categories: healthy eating and exercise.
Eating Habits that Support Lasting Weight Loss 
Some clients may have poor eating habits without even realizing it. Identifying these habits enables you to know what changes the client needs to make to their diet. Here are a few to ask about:
Do you ever eat due to mental health reasons, such as depression or anxiety? This question helps you identify if the client is an emotional eater. Mental health can impact their food choices. For instance, if they struggle with depression, they may use sugar as a pick-me-up. Knowing this upfront can help you come up with other ways to deal with these mental health issues. Suggest that they use anxiety as a trigger to take a walk versus going to the fridge. Talk about how chatting with a friend is a better way to deal with depression than eating a carton of ice cream. If their mental health issue is more severe, suggest that they seek the help of a counselor or therapist.
Are you a fast eater or a slow eater? The faster you eat, the more likely it is that you will take in too much food. Getting the client to slow down supports weight loss by giving the stomach enough time to realize when it has had enough. One way to achieve this goal is by setting a timer when they eat. Encourage them to make their meal last 20-30 minutes. This will help them achieve a healthy weight.
Do you multitask when you eat? Watching the TV or checking your email while eating makes it incredibly easy to take in too many calories. Before you know it, your food is gone, and your weight is on the rise. Change this habit by doing nothing else while eating. Focus only on the food. Pay attention to how it tastes and feels. This helps keep the calorie count low simply by being engaged in the eating process.
While popular diets can help clients develop better eating habits in the short term, long-term results are more about eating healthier food. Help clients understand that whole grains and fruit are good carb sources. Talk about how lean proteins supply energy and veggies are full of nutrients that improve health.
Making Physical Activity a Life-Long Lifestyle Change
Exercise is another lifestyle change some clients struggle to make. They may be all motivated in the beginning, following your aerobic and strength training program. Then they start canceling their training sessions. They have a million excuses as to why they can’t exercise. Before you know it, you never see them again.
How do you help them make exercise a long-term habit? Here are a few ideas to consider.
Talk to them about the kind of physical training required to reach their goals. For instance, if they want more muscle, their focus should be on strength training. If lowering their weight is their primary concern, cardio can help get them there. The more they are able to see how a particular activity gets them closer to their goal, the more willing they’ll be to make it a habit.
Set weekly and monthly exercise goals. When your goal is to get to a certain weight, you have an end goal in sight. Setting an end goal with exercise is a little harder because there isn’t always a magic number the client wants to reach. This is where weekly or monthly exercise goals can help. It keeps them motivated because they’re actually working toward something. Encourage an exercise goal that makes sense. For instance, maybe they want to exercise five days every week for 30 minutes at a time. That is a reasonable goal. If they want to exercise 7 days a week for 5 hours a day, you may want to talk about why that goal is unrealistic and could set them up for failure. Once you’ve agreed on a good goal, check in with them to make sure they’re meeting it.
Encourage exercise between training sessions. Creating a healthy lifestyle change involves creating habits both in and outside the gym. Encourage them to pursue their fitness goals outside of your training sessions. For cardio, they can walk, run, or cycle around their neighborhood. They can build muscle with relatively little home equipment. Bags of sand can stand in for hand weights. Bodyweight exercises don’t require any equipment at all.
It’s also important to prepare clients for obstacles that may threaten their training schedule. For example, sometimes clients overdo it and suffer an overuse injury. If this occurs, share a few exercises they can do while they’re healing. If they’ve overworked their legs, give them some arm exercises to do instead. Teach them how to work around their injury in a way that allows them to still reach their goals.
That said, if the injury is severe, it may require medical attention. Maybe they irritated their Achilles tendon, which is a common running injury, and home remedies aren’t alleviating the pain. In cases such as this, a visit to their doctor may be in order.


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