One Thing Stopping You From Losing Weight

The problem is food. And drink. It’s the whole package. What you eat, how you eat, when you eat, why you eat. The one real thing from stopping you losing weight is your nutrition. But how do we know that?

What we’ve learned

Our clients have Strategy Sessions with a coach each and every month. The aim of these coach-client meetings is to discuss progress from the past month, to then establish a new and updated strategy for the next few months. How have they progressed towards their goals? Has it been great progress, average progress, or no progress at all? Plus the key question of WHY.

There are a few key areas that we, as coaches, will want to focus on: Sleep, nutrition, movement, mobility, mindset, relationships, meaningful work.

After completing hundreds of Strategy Sessions, we’ve seen a pattern emerge. Here’s a not so subtle hint (at all) …it’s their nutrition!

Nutrition is nearly always the problem

But here’s the next discovery we made. See if you can guess what the most common answer to the following question is, ‘So Jane, what’s your nutrition like, how’s that going?’.

Have a guess, we’ve got time …

You’re probably right, because you’d probably say the same thing …

‘Yep, it’s generally pretty good, I just need to eat a few more veggies’.

Knowledge is not really the problem

When we briefly quiz our clients on what makes them think that their nutrition is ‘generally pretty good’, the answers are often fairly sound. We’ve learned that the majority of people have a reasonable baseline level of knowledge when it comes to good nutrition.

So if knowledge isn’t the problem, what is?

Knowing how to APPLY knowledge is the problem …plus everything else

The realm of nutrition coaching is vast. It’s not as simple as ‘just eat less food and you’ll lose weight’. We often talk to our coaches about peeling back layers of the onion when they talk to their clients. People are incredibly complex creatures and we don’t know what’s going on underneath the surface unless we have a chance and the patience to ask questions, lots of questions.

From asking questions, we can begin to unravel the mystery of what’s going on, which means we can then form a strategy for progress and success.

Our current struggle as coaches

Nutrition coaching isn’t mainstream, it’s not known about or talked about. People are surrounded by food their whole lives and the internet has a limitless amount of information on how to eat well. This makes it very difficult to persuade people that important enough to invest in.

Is it as simple as eat less and move more? Yes and no. The question is, HOW can you eat less and move more? The moving part is fairly easy, but believe us when we tell you, the eating less part is NOT EVEN CLOSE to being as easy.

So why is this a struggle for us as coaches?

Well, because people think they have a ‘generally pretty good’ idea about nutrition and how to succeed, nutrition coaching isn’t viewed (yet – maybe in 5-10 years) as being a service that warrants investment. It’s much harder to start somebody on £120 per month nutrition coaching than it is on £480 per month Personal Training, you can trust us on that one.

This is because Personal Training is (and has been for a long time) recognised as a service that helps get people into amazing shape, and it certainly can. But there isn’t a single training program that can outwork a bad diet.

Tell me this, have you or your friends heard of Personal Training before? I’m sure that’s a yes. Next question, have you or your friends heard of nutrition coaching before? Doubtful. It’s not really a known thing, but it’s arguably more important.

Sarah’s (made-up) case study

Sarah flops down into a chair in our office.

“Ugh,” she says. “I just feel so disgusting.”

She grabs a handful of flesh at her waist. “Look at this. Muffin top. Gross.”

As we had suspected, this young woman has come to us for help losing fat.

We run through her nutrition intake forms and checklist.

  • Her body fat is the low end of average — 20%. She’s 5’4″ and 125 lb, with a BMI of 21, smack in the middle of the “green zone.”
  • She’s reasonably active, but not over-active. She exercises more or less every day, doing a mix of cardio and weights, for about 45 minutes at a time. Or she’ll ride her bike to work, a casual 20 minute ride one way. (“I tried body pump ’cause that was supposed to help lazy sloths like me,” she explains, “but 6 am press-ups, no way! I guess that explains my lack of abs.”)
  • She’s an omnivore with a reasonably varied diet, although we can see some room for improvement in food choices. Still, decent start.

All just about right for general good health, yet a few things don’t seem to add up. For example, she hasn’t gotten her period for two years, even though she’s only 25.

She says she’s been trying to lose weight, and has gotten frustrated. She’s become increasingly focused on trying to diet, but says that she never manages to go longer than a day or two restricting her intake.

“I always start out with good intentions, but then I screw it up,” she laments. “It’s like, someone brings cookies into the staff room, or whatever, and I have to have one. I’m such a pig.”

This makes her feel bad, and she finds herself increasingly fixated on thoughts of food, cooking, and eating.

Despite “failing miserably” (so she says) at losing weight, she keeps trying. She reads a lot of nutrition blogs and fitness magazines, looking for the secret ingredient or eating plan that will help her get lean.

“I’m always thinking about dieting,” she says. “Even though I suck at it and almost never do it. Every time I eat something, I think about how I shouldn’t be eating it. It’s like a routine for me. But I eat the food anyway. I think maybe I have no willpower, or something.”

Sarah has trouble sleeping. Sometimes she feels wired at night and can’t sleep. Other times, she wakes up too early, around 4 am, feeling anxious, and can’t get back to sleep.

She’s also worried about her lack of menstrual cycle. Her doctor wants to put her on birth control pills.

After Sarah broke her wrist in a minor fall, her doctor ordered a bone density scan. Her skeleton looks like that of a woman two decades older.

She’s visited a naturopath, who ordered some hormone tests, including a 24-hour cortisol panel. She’s brought them along.

We take a look at Sarah’s test results.

  • Her oestrogen and progesterone are very low. This explains her periods.
  • But her FSH and LH are normal, which tells you that she’s not menopausal. (High FSH and LH are a sign of menopause, as the pituitary cranks up production orders to compensate for reduced ovarian function.)
  • Her thyroid looks normal.
  • Her cortisol profile is weird — much lower than it should be in the morning, and higher than it should be at night.
  • There’s some evidence of heightened inflammation and poor glucose control.

Though she’s only 25, Sarah’s insides look a lot older than they should. This is a stumper. She doesn’t have any of the standard risk factors for amenorrhea, such as:

  • low body weight
  • low body fat
  • vegetarian/vegan diet
  • chronically insufficient energy intake
  • excessive exercise

She’s now discreetly poking her belly with one hand, feeling its texture. She frowns to herself. We have the sense that this is probably an automatic gesture for her.

“Am I doomed to be a fatty forever?” she says, only half-joking.

Instinctively, you want to say Sarah, you’re not fat, but you know it doesn’t matter.

Before we very briefly look at Sarah’s Case Study, it’s important to know that Sarah has a reasonable level of basic nutrition knowledge and think’s her nutrition is pretty good.

So …what’s the problem?

Cognitive Dietary Restraint (CDR)

CDR reflects the perception of limiting food intake in an effort to achieve/maintain a perceived ideal body weight. In essence, it’s when people (often affecting women more) are constantly thinking about how they look, about weight loss and how what they eat and drink is affecting the image of themselves. Stressful.

This shouldn’t be confused with being on a diet, where there is a specific and focused plan of action to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight.

To cut a lot of information short, many studies have shown that people with high levels of CDR:

  1. Experience consistent plateaus to weight loss progress
  2. Age faster internally
  3. Have high blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease
  4. Experience more disturbances to their menstrual cycles

To put it very crudely, the stress that Sarah is experiencing in a chronic fashion, not to be confused with general life stress, is having a very damaging effect on her health.

As a coach, we can help Sarah by listening to her story, identifying the problem and exploring different possible solutions.

Without a coach, Sarah will likely remain this way for the rest of her life.

Nutrition is so much more involved than you might think.

Bedford, J. L., Prior, J. C., & Barr, S. I. (2010). A Prospective Exploration of Cognitive Dietary Restraint, Subclinical Ovulatory Disturbances, Cortisol, and Change in Bone Density over Two Years in Healthy Young Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 95(7), 3291–3299.

Bedford, J. L., Linden, W., & Barr, S. I. (2011). Negative eating and body attitudes are associated with increased daytime ambulatory blood pressure in healthy young women. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 79(2), 147–154.

Bedford, J. L., Linden, W., & Barr, S. I. (2011). Negative eating and body attitudes are associated with increased daytime ambulatory blood pressure in healthy young women. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 79(2), 147–154.

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