When Lili finished her workout, it felt like everyone was staring at her.
Because they were.
It took her longer to finish the group session than anyone else, and the coach wanted the whole class to stay with her and encourage her.
Then the trainer and classmates came to Lili and said: "It's really great that you're training. It's good for you."
She understood that everyone was trying to be inclusive and nice. But deep down, Lili also knew she was chosen for her 300 pound frame. She felt incredibly confident.
So she never went back.
Ranjan had a similar experience. He was struggling with binge eating and was ashamed when his coach said, "Avoiding fast food is not that difficult." And "Unless you're running a marathon, there's no need to ever eat a bagel."
He gave up a 12-week group diet challenge for two weeks – even though he'd already paid in full.
Angele also spooked her trainer after months of great strides.
She originally signed up to feel stronger and have more control over her body. And while her trainer knew weight loss wasn't her goal, his compliment on how fit she looked was greeted with a blank look.
It turned out that Angele was grappling with the trauma of an attack that had taken place years earlier. Comments about her body were mainly inciting.
These coaching scenarios? They are all inspired by real customer stories.
The coaches who made these mistakes never knew what went wrong. Or how much pain they accidentally caused.
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But the reason for everyone is the same:
Many health and fitness professionals focus too much on weight loss and height.
If you feel like putting your fist around the screen as you read, listen to us: we're not suggesting helping clients lose weight is wrong.
Many of your customers will want to lose weight for a variety of reasons.
However, there is a difference between helping clients come to you for weight loss and assuming that all clients want to lose weight.
This is especially important to understand when working with clients in larger bodies – many of whom may or may not want to lose weight.
Most Important Thing To Know: Whether or not a client wants to lose weight, the way you talk about weight, body image and fat loss can affect or affect the coach-client relationship.
This affects how freely customers share information – and ultimately, whether they can be successful.
This is especially true for customers who:
Have trauma and / or negative feelings about their body or weight
are in a body that does not conform to the norm that their culture sees as "fit and healthy".
(FYI, chances are many of your customers will fall into one, if not both, of these categories.)
In this article you will find:
5 strategies for building strong, lasting relationships with clients of all sizes.
Dozens of resources that can help you understand customers on a deeper, more personal level.
What to say (and not say) to clients who are struggling with body image, guilt, and shame?
(Note: this article is not intended to “fix” complex problems such as weight stigma; however, it can help you avoid harmful ideas about weight, weight loss, and the importance of health.)
5 ways to respectfully support all customers – no matter what type of body they are in.
It is not a trainer's job to tell a client what their body should be like.
Here at Precision Nutrition we believe all of our customers:
Make up your own mind if this is weight loss or something else.
Earn to feel safe and supported when you share your goals and decisions with your trainer, regardless of those goals and decisions.
Benefit from learning how to improve your health – including options unrelated to weight or height.
Okay, how does that look in practice?
We'll show you.
Are we talking about body positivity here?
But not really either.
Originally, the body positivity movement was a safe place for people in the most marginalized bodies – people who are treated as "other" because of their appearance.
These days, you might associate the term "body positive" with Instagram photos of people highlighting their cellulite, stretch marks, and stomach rolls.
Ironically, these types of bodies are especially popular with people in relatively healthy, conventionally attractive bodies. In other words, the movement has been co-opted by the mainstream.
It is for this reason that some of today's activists, especially those in the nutrition and fitness worlds, are using terms such as liberation, body neutrality, and anti-diet instead.
If you are interested in learning more about weight stigmatization / bias movements such as health at any size, how fat phobia is intertwined with other "isms" such as racism or skill awareness, and other related topics, this article has boxes to explore more resources for.
# 1: Give the empty slate treat to every customer.
See if you can see what goes wrong in this coach-client interaction.
Martha is a 48 year old woman. She has always lived in a larger body. Over the past year she has struggled with chronic back pain. She believes making some changes to her exercise and eating habits could help, so she contacts a trainer she found on Facebook.
In the first consultation, Martha introduces herself in her usual lively, sociable manner. The trainer says:
"I'm so glad you reached me. In your email, you mentioned that you were dealing with back pain. I think we can definitely make some changes that will help! How much weight would you like to lose." "You are so wise to be proactive about this!"
Martha is completely emptied. This trainer will not hear from her anymore.
Why? Two big problems:
Martha never mentioned that she wanted to lose weight.
She said she was dealing with back pain, but that's all the coach knows about Martha's health.
What the trainer didn't know in this scenario was that Martha had been fighting with her weight for what feels like all her life. She has often felt too big, too bulky and too awkward in her body.
Now, in her late 40s, she is beginning to feel at peace with herself. After all, this body has been home for almost five decades.
So when Martha hears what this trainer has to say? She can feel those old feelings creeping back. She's frustrated, angry, and has had enough of people – like this young, genetically predisposed to get fit – provided she may not be happy with her body.
This is not just a beginner coaching mistake, by the way. Experienced trainers do things like that too.
Thanks to our cultural conditioning, many of us have hidden prejudices in this area. So it is important to be aware that one does not equate:
Weight with health
Desire to improve health, fitness, or eating habits with weight loss
Because when you are doing fine with your weight but someone assumes it's not you … or they imply that it shouldn't be you … it stings.
Even the most confident people will likely feel, “Wait, is my body okay? Am i alright ?! "Or even:" I was right. This fitness stuff is not for me. "
The takeaway: Don't assume that your customers want to lose weight.
Check your assumptions. Think what you don't know about your customers and how you can learn more about them.
Wait for them to tell you what they want.
Otherwise, you risk damaging your relationship – and causing pain to your client – before you even start.
Why is fat activism a thing?
… And why should you care as a trainer?
People in smaller bodies are often shocked to learn what life can be like for people in larger bodies.
For example, a client in a larger body told us that when she appears to be buying "junk" groceries at the supermarket, she will be prepared for comments from the cashier, other people standing in line, and even people handing them over to the freezer aisle .
And these comments? You can choose from "Are you sure you want to buy this?" to "better not buy the ice cream, fat."
If you are a normal size person reading this, that is, a person who can go into any store and find suitable clothes, you might be shocked to learn this actually happens.
Imagine if you couldn't buy your smelly ice cream in peace. Now imagine that this is the slightest prejudice that you experience every day. (Especially if you're also white, cisgender, and straight – so you're really not used to it.)
And when you are – or have ever been – in a larger body, you may be thinking, "Do people really not know this is happening ?!"
People in bigger bodies are discriminated against all the fucking time. We know this from real experience and research. For example, people in larger bodies are more likely to:
Get a lower standard of health care because their doctors are (consciously or unconsciously) biased 1 2 3
Receive fewer preventive health services and checkups, which can mean life-threatening health problems are not discovered in a timely manner 4 5
Avoid medical appointments because you are afraid of being judged or mistreated 6 7
Are wrongly ignored for jobs, promotions and educational opportunities 8 9
Dealing with mental health problems that may be related to discrimination. 10
These are just some of the disadvantages that people experience in larger bodies. And for black and brown people – especially women – racism is intensified. This is particularly true in the area of health care. 11 12
These problems are part of why body positivity, fat activism, and other related movements exist.
However, these movements are not just about helping people defend themselves against discrimination and stigma.
It is also about helping people to stop feeling ashamed – and as if they would never fit in – to actively feel proud of their bodies.
Not despite the size. But because they are big.
If the existence of fat activism doesn't quite suit you, think about it: what if society tells you that something is wrong with your body and that it is all your fault, no matter how you feel? In this situation, one of the most powerful things you can do is reclaim the narrative for yourself.
Learn more: Body positivity and fat activism
Learn More: Health Of All Sizes And The Anti-Diet Movement
Health of all sizes and the anti-diet movement both reject the idea that targeted weight loss is healthy and that weight and BMI are reliable indicators of health.
Both communities advocate making only changes to your diet, exercise regimen, and lifestyle based on non-weight-related preferences and quality of life improvements.
# 2. Dig deeper – even when a customer's goal is as simple as "I want to lose weight".
About half of Americans say they want to lose weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 13 (And this trend will likely carry over to other similar cultures.)
On top of that, some customers say that they want to lose weight simply because they think it's the only socially acceptable option for their body. Or because they live in a culture that tells them that losing weight automatically makes them happier and healthier.
Also, clients often have important secondary goals in addition to weight loss. For example, our Precision Nutrition Coaching clients are almost always interested in fat loss. But that's not all they're looking for.
On a scale of 1 to 10, customers typically rate the following as 9 or higher:
looking and feeling better (81 percent), which may or may not have anything to do with weight loss
Development of consistency (75 percent)
Maintaining their healthy habits (74 percent)
Gain energy and vitality (59 percent)
Over time, these goals can become more important than weight loss.
Talk to your customers to clarify their goals and motivations.
They understand that weight loss is not the only option available to them.
You get the information you need to help your customers succeed.
The following strategies will help you with this.
Present a variety of goals that are all treated as equal.
One way PN Master Coach Kate Solovieva normalizes all kinds of body goals: giving clients options.
For example, whether she's working with a 75 year old woman or a 25 year old man, Solovieva might ask, “What do you hope to achieve through coaching? Do you want to gain weight, lose weight, feel stronger, move around without pain, love the way you look naked? "
By telling your customers that they have a lot of different options, they'll feel more confident about telling you what they really want. You might even open your eyes to the fact that weight loss isn't the only way forward.
Ask this secret weapon question.
Here's an important coaching question for any weight loss client, courtesy of Krista Scott Dixon, PhD, Precision Nutrition Curriculum Director:
"What's the matter with you right now?"
Just ask and let your customer do the talking.
"Dieting is an A + way to avoid all of the other crap in your life," says Dr. Scott-Dixon. Sometimes when people find that they have nothing to fill the void, they opt to diet to help them feel better and more fulfilled.
Your client may reveal that they are divorcing, dealing with a sick parent, or are unhappy about their job.
Losing weight will not fix these problems.
So it is a good idea to …
Always ask why.
We often use an exercise called The 5 Whys with our clients.
It starts with a simple question: "Why do I want to change my eating and exercise habits?"
Then ask again why your customer finds an answer. And so on, five times, until you know exactly what is really behind your goal.
You can use this worksheet to get started.
This exercise helps clients overcome motivations that focus on comparing themselves to others.
Sometimes when people can't find a compelling reason to lose weight, they find that weight loss may not be what they are really looking for.
(And sometimes it's weight loss. That's fine, too.)
# 3. Understand that the body image exists in a spectrum.
“If you work enough with clients, you know that almost everyone has some kind of physical anxiety. It doesn't matter what shape they are, ”says Dr. Scott-Dixon.
As a coach, you can help people develop more productive, health-enhancing experiences in their bodies.
Why should you care? "We objectively know that the more you hate yourself, the worse your life is," says Dr. Scott-Dixon.
Struggle with body image:
Makes academic performance difficult (especially for women), which can affect future educational opportunities and chances of a dream job 14
Increases the likelihood of eating disorders, as well as eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, making everything food-related feels like an uphill battle 15 16
You may be afraid of dating someone or getting romantic with someone. (Remember: turn off the lights so they can't see you, or never talk about your romantic feelings for someone for fear of being rejected.) 17
Can make you feel generally bad (officially this is called “poor quality of life”) and difficult to go through the movements of daily living, including interacting with other people 18
Means you are less likely to exercise or be active, perhaps because the idea of going to the gym or moving your body feels very uncomfortable or intimidating 19
Increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem 20
Many people believe that criticizing themselves will help them change their habits and live better, healthier lives.
But constant self-criticism and "dejection" can make it much more difficult to adopt healthy habits.
For example, clients in larger bodies who are also struggling with body image sometimes say that they are uncomfortable entering gyms and other fitness or wellness areas. Often it's because they don't think these spaces are for people who look like them.
While some gyms are not particularly suitable for people of all sizes. However, with improving body image, finding a supportive gym and developing regular exercise habits can feel a lot easier.
How to respond to negativity in the body
You've probably heard a customer say something like:
"Ugh, I hate my fat legs!"
“I really need to lose this belly fat. It's disgusting."
"I hate my body right now."
What can you possibly say to make someone feel better?
According to Lisanne Thomas, Super Coach at Precision Nutrition, the most effective way to ask productive questions is to ask.
You could frame it like this:
"Can I ask you a question about that?"
If they say yes, move on to something like …
“Imagine your best friend / partner / child has just thought about himself. How would you react to them if they shared this thought with you? "
“Imagine someone talking to your loved one like this in your presence. How could you appear for your friend / partner / child to support and respond to these words? "
These questions can help people realize how unkind they are to themselves.
In a newer Facebook LiveChrissy King, a writer, public speaker, power lifter, and strength and fitness trainer shared her strategy for challenging what our bodies "should look like".
When faced with a comment like, "My stomach rolls are so gross," ask yourself what exactly makes them gross and what standard you measure by.
"This is not coming from a place of judgment or shame," King said. "There are no right or wrong answers. It's just that we take the time to really think about it. When we really sit down with our feelings, many of these things are not our personal beliefs. These are things that we are taught. These are things that we see socially. "
So it may be worth asking:
"What would it mean if you woke up tomorrow and didn't have that role on your stomach?"
"What would change in your life?"
"Would you be a better person?"
"Would you be a happier person?"
People may find that their answers surprise them.
Of course, you can't just snap your fingers and choose to love your body. So think of the body image in a spectrum.
On one end: negativity of the body or active aversion to your body.
At the other end: self-love.
And body neutrality or "meh" as we like to call it? Somewhere inbetween.
Here's the thing: we can exist on multiple parts of the spectrum at the same time. People are complex and body dissatisfaction and positive body image are not direct opposites. 21st
The goal, however, is to move towards the continuum so that we can spend more time in the areas of body neutrality and self-love than before.
Bottom line: you can't get a customer to love their body.
However, you can refrain from adding more negativity to another person's luggage.
And remember, complete body positivity and absolute self-love are not necessarily the goal.
"Getting to 'meh' is actually a pretty good goal for a lot of people," says Dr. Scott-Dixon.
Resources for self-love
Precision Nutrition Super Coach Lisanne Thomas often talks about self-love with her clients. “My role as a coach is to help a client love and take care of their body and do what they want with it,” she says.
While conversations about self-love can be helpful, sharing articles, videos, books, and more that "speak for themselves" can also help start a productive discussion or just stimulate thought.
Below are some of Coach Lisanne's most popular resources.
# 4. Use language as a signal.
Here is another coaching scenario to consider:
Your customer tells you that they ate half a liter of ice cream last night.
How is your stomach reaction?
Think about it. Then read on.
As much as possible, avoid saying anything that could put your customer to shame, recommends Solovieva.
Beware of answers that sound supportive but are actually criticism like, "Oh, that's a bummer. How did you get so off track?" Or even, "Don't worry! We all slip from time to time. "
"Customers always listen to you talk about things," says Solovieva. It helps them determine how trustworthy you are with their most difficult feelings and behaviors.
This is important in many areas, but especially with food. That's why Solovieva begins when a customer eats a late pint of ice cream:
"What kind of taste was that ?!"
She could ask any number of questions, such as "How are you this morning?" or "Did you like it?"
These types of open-ended, unbiased questions help clients feel comfortable talking about what's really going on on their minds.
Normalize all food options.
People cannot remember or appreciate what or how much they ate. 22 This is often the case when customers say they aren't eating too much (or too little) but still aren't seeing any results.
Or, there could be another reason why customers don't specify their food intake: They don't feel safe doing it.
And this can be conscious or unconscious.
Aware: Your customer doesn't want to tell you anything about his late pint of ice cream because he fears your reaction – and how he feels about it.
Unconscious: They underestimate their food intake because they want to avoid getting embarrassed if they eat 8 ounces (or thumbs) of cheese instead of the "acceptable" serving size of 1.
In either case, it will be difficult for you as a trainer to see what is really going on.
One way to normalize food choices, Solovieva says: Be open about foods that people think are "off-limits". (Kind reminder: there are no such things as "bad" foods.)
For example, you could ask:
“What do you usually have for lunch at work? Is it more like a salad or a sandwich or tacos? "
When talking about meal planning for the weekend you might say:
“What do you have for dinner on Saturday night? My family always has pizza! "
From there, you can still encourage customers to "make their meals a little better" by adding a side of veggies or increasing the protein content. However, if you normalize your customers' choices, you can meet them where they are.
Skip the body-shameful “motivational language”.
Many trainers fail to realize that certain phrases and cues can make people feel “less than”.
Here are some ways trainers can inadvertently signal clients that something is wrong with their body and what to say instead.
(Note: a lot of these pointers were often used for what feels like forever. So we don't criticize trainers for using them. We point out why developing your language will ultimately help your clients and your coaching.)
Model a healthy or at least neutral body image.
You give your customers an example. In many cases, they are looking for information from you about what it means to be healthy and fit.
Saying you are going to "shred" for the summer is probably not the best way to signal to your client that their body will be perfectly fine after the baby (or whatever type of body).
We're not saying you have to figure it all out yourself.
Indeed, it is common for trainers to:
feel ashamed or have a complicated relationship with their own body
Feel like a cheat when you don't fit into a certain body ideal
Worry that they don't look “good enough” to attract customers
have gone through their own body transmutation journey
have personally experienced living in a larger body (whether current or in the past)
Ironically, coaches who have gone through their own process to get to health and fitness after being ashamed of their bodies are often best qualified to really understand what clients are going through, emphasizes Dr. Scott-Dixon. This is a superpower in itself.
So, once you are comfortable, sharing your own body image journey with clients once you get to know them can be helpful.
By showing vulnerabilities, customers know they are not alone.
Also, people are more open and honest about their challenges when they feel like you can relate to them.
No matter where you are on the body's negativity towards the self love spectrum, be aware of the language you are using. This includes what you say about your customers, in your marketing collateral, and in your social media posts.
This is a great way to ensure that you aren't passing any of your own body image battles on to others – or reinforcing their existing ones.
# 5. Be trustworthy.
Trust is a key element in the coach-client relationship.
Here's the hard part: "You can't get customers to trust you," says Precision Nutrition Coach Jon Mills. "You have to be trustworthy."
How do you do it exactly?
The art of coaching is about being trustworthy by ALL of your clients, including those who:
are in larger bodies
have a disability or chronic illness
identify as trans and / or non-binary
are part of marginalized communities
come from cultures other than your own
You may be thinking, "I don't have such customers!" or "I don't really care about any of these groups."
The truth is, you probably do – even if you don't realize it.
Many disabilities and health problems such as ADHD and diabetes can be completely invisible from the outside. You don't necessarily know a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or race when you look at them.
And just because you don't currently have clients who are outwardly different from you in terms of height, race, gender, or any other aspect, doesn't mean you can't coach those clients.
What trainers need to know about intersectionality
We can't talk about weight stigma and bias without talking about race and intersectionality.
Intersectionality is a term coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. It refers to how social and political categorizations such as race, class and gender are linked to create both discrimination and privilege. 23
Crenshaw noted that when it came to discrimination, for example, the legal system wanted to know whether a black woman was being discriminated against because of her gender or race. There was no framework to understand how both could be at the same time. So intersectionality was born.
Intersectionality helps us understand that fat phobia and discrimination against racial, trans, queer, disabled and other marginalized bodies are closely related.
So it's great to be a size trainer. But this also means understanding that several aspects of discrimination and marginalization are mutually reinforcing and how this effect can affect your customers.
Learn more: Racism and Fat Phobia
Further information: Developing an intersectional coaching practice
It's not as hard as you think
You might be wondering: How can you become an expert in body positive coaching, training transporters, working with people with disabilities and anti-racism ?!
This can be a relief: you don't have to be an expert.
First, you can turn to numerous experts for help. Many of these activists have courses, books, and other resources as listed in the boxes of this article.
But what is more important, says Mills, is this:
Customers are experts in their own experiences.
You can usually learn from them directly.
That doesn't mean that it's their job to educate you.
But you can listen to and immerse yourself in the lived experience of the person right in front of you, suggests Mills.
"Often times, it isn't even that you really need to be included in your personal coaching experience. You just need to know that you are not going to devalue it."
We have work to do.
Many of us have hidden prejudices, body image concerns, and areas of our awareness.
In order to become more inclusive coaches, we must first lose the “fix it” attitude, according to Mills. We will not resolve weight stigma, racism, or any other type of discrimination by switching equipment at a gym or taking a class. (Although these can be good action steps.)
"When we're trying to fix problems, we're trying to get a sense of control," says Mills. "And to meet people where they are, you have to lose the desire to control things and to be open and receptive."
And meet customers where they are? That's the most important.
Click here to view the sources of information referenced in this article.
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If you are or want to be a trainer …
Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes – in ways that are tailored to their unique bodies, preferences, and circumstances – is both an art and a science.
If you want to learn more about both of them, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification. The next group will start shortly.