What I Got Wrong As A Weight Loss Coach

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There’s advice that I’ve given that I really cringe about now, because I know how wrong it is. Part of what I wanna do is now get the message out about what actually works for weight loss in a practical way, and also in a lack of deprivation way, because it shouldn’t have to be about suffering.

Maybe I kept people from having long term results by focusing too much on the short term.

I’ve been in this field of weight, loss, coaching, fat loss, coaching, personal training (whatever you wanna call it) for over 20 years now.

I first started in a gym as a personal trainer in the year 2000 when I was still a student in sports science and sports therapy in England.

Nutrition Fads Have Come And Gone

And I’ve seen a lot of things happen in the industry as well.

I remember the low fat craze and the low carb phase and Atkins. And now we’ve got keto and intermittent fasting.

Only Eat Certain “Weight Loss” Foods

One of the biggest mistakes I used to make is telling my clients to eat just certain foods. So there was a time where I used to do meal plans and they had things in there like chicken breast and broccoli and asparagus and sweet potatoes, because those were probably about 10 years ago.

Everyone’s like, oh, only sweet potatoes don’t have any white potatoes. What’s actually interesting is that you’ll see a lot of fitness competitors and bodybuilders who still have plans that look very much like this.

A client came to me because she wanted to learn weight loss in a different way, from what she’d learned in the past. Because she’d had been a fitness competitor at one point now she was a mom and she wanted to learn something a little bit different for her life in order to maintain her weight and stay lean. She showed me the plan that she had prior to that. It was that very typical bodybuilder plan where it was oatmeal in the morning and then some fruit or something. And then of course there was white fish in there because salmon has too much fat.

Traditional “Cutting” Diets Aren’t Necessary For Most People

Those are very common, sometimes called cutting diets for bodybuilders and physique competitors.

Essentially it’s a calorie deficit so that your body is burning off more calories than you’re taking in with food. That means that your body’s going to use its internal storage of energy. And that’s your body fat.

Now these type of meal plans can help you lose weight as long as you can follow them.

So if you’re the kind of person who is very organized and you carry your food everywhere, and you’re able to follow that for the long term, then you’ll be able to lose weight on that. But like most of my clients, the average lawyer or CFO is not gonna be able to follow that for a long time. They have to go to lunch meetings. They might have a dinner where there is steak and wine and maybe some chocolate cake involved. So they don’t necessarily want to pack their food in a Tupperware container for the rest of their lives.

And I think giving people unrealistic expectations that this is the only way that you can lose weight. If you follow this meal plan and only eat these particular foods. Well, that’s not how weight loss works.

Adding Treat Foods To Your Plan

You can eat the steak, you can have the chocolate cake, and you can have the wine. Maybe not all at once and maybe not in large quantities. But all of those things can actually get you to lose weight as long as you stay in a calorie deficit.

So basically I gave people plans that were inappropriate for their lifestyles, and I didn’t take that into consideration. And now what I do is that I look at what my clients are currently eating and I evaluate what little thing we can change. That’s going to make the biggest impact on that. Person’s caloric intake. What can we cut out? Or what can we add?

That’s going to make this diet a little bit better. And then gradually over time, we make other changes as we see the results of that.

So it’s a very gradual process of learning to lose weight and it’s education as well, rather than just throwing someone, a meal plan and saying, Hey, follow this. And you’re going to lose weight. And I guess we can use that old cliche. If you give someone a fish, then they’ll eat for a day. If you teach someone to fish, then they’re going to be able to eat for their life.

And that’s the way that my philosophy and my coaching has changed now. So I kind of feel like a short changed the people that I trained 20 years ago, but most coaches and personal trainers when they start out. They’re not that good.

Completely Cut Out “Junk Food”

Other bad advice that I’ve given is to completely cut out junk food.

Now, first of all, I don’t even call it junk food anymore.

I call it treat foods because I like to keep a positive connection with food. A lot of people don’t have a great relationship with food over time. I didn’t, it took some time to get out of that and finally learn to love food again and not be scared of it. Not feel guilt about food. And that’s a key part of long term success with weight loss is just having a solid relationship with food where you can enjoy it. And it doesn’t cause you pain in that way. So treat foods or junk foods. If you still must.

You know what I’m talking about, right? The highly processed refined foods, not just carbs, they also have a mix of fat. So pizza, ice cream donuts muffins, let’s go to some savory French fries, chips, waffles, pancakes, cheesecake.

Cravings Intensify If You Deny Yourself Foods

When I told my clients to give up those foods, it intensified their cravings for those foods.

All of a sudden it was the forbidden fruit and all they would think about was having it. Then there was another phase with cheap meals and that was a whole other thing that I also don’t agree with anymore. Maybe I’ll talk about that in another video.

If you eliminate a food that you really love, like for me, it’s ice cream or chocolate, you’re only going to experience an intensification of those cravings for that food.

I would go weeks or months without having any of those foods just through sheer will and discipline because yeah, I can do it. I can do it. And I got to the point where I was dreaming about foods.

My Experience With Food Cravings

At one point, I did an elimination diet. This was actually for digestive issues and not for weight loss, but I remember that not being able to have those foods really just maybe completely obsessed with food in general, I would have dreams that I was at a buffet and all those foods I wasn’t allowed to have were there and I would start eating them.

And in my dream I’m like, oh yeah, these are great. So good.

And then I wake up and I’d be in a panic at, oh my God, I just ate something I wasn’t supposed to eat. And that is not where you wanna be with food.

Letting Go Of Food Guilt

So now I encourage my clients to eat their favourite foods in small quantities when they really want it also completely without guilt, because guilt does nothing good for you. For most people, when they feel guilty, they feel bad about themselves. Then they feel like eating for a lot of us.

That’s the thing you feel bad. You want to eat. There’s that association with food making you feel better. So if you make yourself feel bad about how you’ve been eating well, that doesn’t actually solve the problem.

I Made People Feel Bad About Their Food Choices

And this kind of goes into another thing that I’m quite embarrassed about because I think sometimes I made people feel bad about their choices.

Losing weight is not about discipline or being the most motivated person in the world. It’s more about having the right strategy and kind of working around all those little psychological quirks that we have as humans.

Because when I look back the type of people that I used to coach, these are hard working, intelligent, focused, motivated people. They just didn’t have their nutrition and exercise on point. They were certainly not lazy or lacking in discipline in other areas of their lives. Many of them worked 70 or 80 hours a week.

And quite frankly, as a typical single 20 something personal trainer, just starting out, I didn’t have the right to judge these people who were so much more successful financially and in their lives in general than I was. And they had families and responsibilities that at that time, I don’t think I could fully comprehend.

How Becoming A Parent Changed My Point Of View

Becoming a mom eight years ago now made a big shift in my mind because I realized, well, I realized how much time I used to have as a single person, without a child.

A lot of us, when we become parents were like, oh my gosh, we felt like we were busy. But now we’re busy plus.

So I was busy as a trainer in my twenties. I was studying, I was working. And I was competing in karate. So for a certain period of time, I was training three times a day as well. So I was busy, but I had control over that time in a way that I don’t anymore. And not recognizing that other people have responsibilities that are different.

I still often see memes about how we all have the same 24 hours in a day.

Yes we do. But that doesn’t mean that we all have the same amount of responsibilities in those 24 hours. I’ve had clients who have four kids or five kids or people who travel constantly for work. You have to be respectful.

I was young. There wasn’t the same kind of awareness of what might be happening in the lives of my clients. I feel bad that I didn’t recognize their needs because good coaching should not be about me, imposing my will and giving directions. It should be meeting people where they are and making modifications that work for their lives. Now it’s completely different. It’s all about recognizing that person and their needs.

Looking Down On Those Not Living “The Fitness Lifestyle”

There was also a time when I think that I looked down on people who were not part of this fitness lifestyle.

I guess I got in with a group of people where everything was about fitness and nutrition. And they tend to look at people who are, you know, focused on their careers or their families as like, oh, well, you should do that, but you definitely should always prioritize your fitness and prioritize your nutrition to a certain extent.

I agree that your fitness and your nutrition is going to affect other things in your life. So if you have more energy, you eat well, you’re more healthy. Then you feel better. You spend time with your family. That’s more active and your life looks a little bit different.

Not Everyone Is Focussed On Fitness

But I had to realize as a coach, that fitness and nutrition is not the center of everybody’s universe. And it shouldn’t be.

Because how are we gonna have graphic designers or city planners, architects, people who focus their lives on something completely different. And that’s really okay. That architect might wanna learn how to improve his fitness a little, or he might want to improve his diet a little bit so that he can lose weight. But he doesn’t necessarily wanna blow up his entire life in order to do that. I don’t think I realized that while fitness, nutrition, health makes an impact on everybody’s life, to some extent it isn’t the focus for everybody.

Sometimes people just want a particular result without turning their lives upside down. And that’s what I work towards. Now, giving people small bits of advice without changing who they are, you don’t need to become a fitness person in order to succeed at weight loss.

You can be a spectacular, successful lawyer and lose a bit of weight all within the context of your own life. So that’s the kind of more gentle approach that I take now.

I Dismissed The Importance Of Cardio

And the last thing that I feel quite bad about, I dismissed cardio for a long time. So I kind of did cardio early on during my karate years. And then I got into the weight training and the body building. So eventually I kind of pushed myself over to the side where it was, you only need weights. That’s all you need for fat loss. That’s only all that you need for your heart, because it is true.

Like there are certain types of weight training. If you’re working in circuit style, peripheral heart action. You are keeping your heart rate up and your heart doesn’t really care what you’re doing as long as that rate goes up. So what your body is physically doing, doesn’t really impact the health of your heart. As long as you get that heart rate up and maintain it for a certain period of time, then you’re going to get those cardio benefits.

The “Dangers” Of Cardio

However, I think I over exaggerated the dangers of cardio as well. Like doing too much cardio. Yeah. You burn off your muscle. If you’re doing tons of cardio and that’s like, you know, on a couple hours a day, yeah. If you’re gonna be a marathon runner competitively, you’re not going to maintain your muscle mass levels. But for the type of people that I work with cardio on a regular basis, 20 to 30 minutes, just three times a week has some caloric impact.

Although I don’t wanna overstate how much cardio does in terms of calorie burn and getting you into a calorie deficit. Because really your nutrition is gonna be 80 to 90% of your result when it comes to weight loss.

Benefits Of Cardio

Cardio contributes to the quality of your life. How you feel. It enhances your energy levels. It makes you feel mentally better.

Especially if you choose something that you really enjoy. And I think I came to it from the angle that people are always saying, oh, everyone should run in order to lose weight or to be really fit well, you don’t need to run. There are a lot of other ways that you can get your heart rate up. That might be more enjoyable for you. So I really enjoy mountain biking. I’ve gotten into that fairly recently and that definitely does some work in terms of heart rate.

But I had gone from the fitness culture where it’s like, you have to push, push, push, and run and that’s how you’re going to get fit.

And then I kind of swung all the way, the other way, where it’s like, nah, you don’t really need this. It’s not important.

Why Cardio Is Important

Cardio is a valuable addition.

And research actually shows that the combination of weight training and cardio and nutritional changes. So a calorically restricted diet is the ideal way for you to achieve long-term weight loss.

What I recommend now is a much more balanced approach.

Do some weights. They’re really important.

Do some cardio. It’s really important.

Make sure that you make enough of a calorie decrease in your diet in order to put yourself into a calorie deficit. So in terms of weight loss, your nutrition is going to have the biggest impact. But cardio and weights also contribute to that healthy lifestyle.

My More Balanced Approach

And that’s much more what I’m about than I was before. Even when I work with people who have quite challenging goals in terms of getting quite lean, getting a six pack, then I still want to give them an approach that is more moderate in nature. So it’s not a six pack in six weeks. It’s let’s work on gradually getting to the leanness that you need perhaps over three to six months.

Then you can maintain those abs for a longer period of time because you know what it takes to get there. And we haven’t done anything too drastic.

Most coaches, as well as most YouTubers, you’re gonna see have their particular thing that they’re really into. And that’s what they’re going to push on their audience or their clients. Now I try to keep a much more open mind in terms of who’s coming to me.

What kind of information do they need from me? Can I give them advice that makes sense for their situation?

Things I’ve Learned Over The Years

It’s not just about me creating another person, just like me, who does exactly the same thing. It’s about helping people modify their lifestyles.

So after more than 20 years, I really think that in a lot of ways, I’ve got this down, pat, I work with so many people that I’m aware of all these natural variations in terms of personality, types, and dangers that you can get into, if you give a particular kind of advice. So I’m very careful about what I tell people now.

And it’s as much mental as it is the food that you’re eating and the exercise that you’re doing.

Ivana Chapman

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 8-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training, chocolate, mountain biking, and ice cream...not always in that order of preference.
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