This week, I’m honored to welcome fellow coach and author, Kevin Mullins, to the show. In this episode, we talk about the steps we need to take to find more wins in our health journey. There’s a lot here about the way we view our health habits and how to see perceived failures as success along the way. Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
Calories in, calories out. That’s all that matters for weight loss right?
Assuming we can remove things like stress, emotions, hormones, environmental factors, social events, and this funny thing that’s somehow intertwined with them like…our brains.
As of this writing, I have 97 clients. 25% of those clients are currently on medication for depression, anxiety or both. Another 5% are currently seeking the help of a therapist but are not on medications. Another 15% are currently working through major traumatic events such as: divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a job and/or transition in the workplace.
When you take these variables, any of which can be affecting you in a variety of combinations it makes actually hitting those caloric goals that much harder.
It’s why you’re beginning to hear more trainers and coaches talk about the importance of mindset, the importance of healthy habits, the importance of having more than just one coping mechanism when your go-to is food.
It’s also why JUST exercising doesn’t solve the problem and neither does JUST dieting.
Everything you do for your health starts from the foundation of how your mind perceives it.
Your mind determines whether you will or won’t eat something.
Your mind determines whether you will or won’t hit the snooze button before getting up to train in the morning before work.
Your mind is the one precious commodity that so many people feel they can forget about and then they wonder why they can’t see better results on the scale.
Here are 10 tips for getting your mind back in the best place for weight loss success:
Talk To Your Doctor
If you’re anything like the 25% of my clients who are currently on medication for depression/anxiety, you may want to start by determining if those medications are known for contributing to weight gain. If so, talk to your doctor to see if a change in medication or dosage is a possibility.
If you happen to see more than one medical professional, such as a general practitioner and a psychiatrist, make sure that each is aware of all medications you’re currently taking as particular combinations of pharmaceutical drugs can not only affect you mentally but can have different effects on your hunger signals.
2. Curate Your Social Media Feed
We are in the age of photoshopped bodies, filters, and highlight reels. It can be difficult to comprehend what’s truth from fiction. Block, remove and unfollow any person, business, or newsfeed that doesn’t make you feel better about yourself.
If you find yourself powerless around delicious foods, you may need to permanently or temporarily unfollow food websites and unsubscribe from recipe mailers if they only serve to make it harder for you to stay on your plan. This may include asking your friends and family to not share recipes with you that can trigger negative responses.
3. Talk To A Therapist
I’d love to say that enlisting the help of friends and family would be enough support for you to overcome a counterproductive relationship with food. You may need to spend some time talking with a licensed therapist so you can develop new coping mechanisms that don’t have calories attached to them. In some cases, it may be beneficial for you to see a specialist qualified in working with individuals who suffer with eating disorders.
4. Focus on Quality Sleep
When you’re tired, you don’t have full use of your cognitive abilities. A tired body is also a hungry body and what do we want to eat when we’re tired and hungry? Highly processed foods.
Utilize better sleep habits by limiting your access to electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This includes phone, tablet, laptop and even television.
Make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible (and slightly cool) to give yourself the best opportunity for a good night’s sleep. In addition, try to keep yourself on a similar sleep schedule throughout the week, going to bed and waking up at roughly the same times each day.
5. Tame Your Racing Mind
If you’re anything like me, your mind races constantly. You’re thinking about the next task you have to execute on, the next conversation you need to have, the next bill you have to pay, etc. Since different tips work for different people, put your focus on short, prioritized task lists (3-5 items might be the maximum per day). You may also need to consider a “brain dump” journal. This is a place where you can write out all of those racing thoughts and give them space to breathe. Doing this at night before you go to bed can also give you the ability to let your mind slow down before drifting off to sleep.
6. Just Move
While your diet is the most efficient way to control your weight loss, getting yourself moving may be the most effective stress reliever so you can focus on your diet. Depending on the person, this could be a power-walk, lifting weights, increasing your total steps per day, or yoga. It may take consistent movement and a steady schedule you can count on to know that you have an outlet not only for your body but for your mind.
7. Forget About The Joneses
Did you happen to see this year’s Super Bowl halftime show? Chances are, even if you’re not a football fan, you either saw the performance put on by Shakira and Jennifer Lopez or you saw pictures. It was arguably the biggest conversation piece throughout the following week. And while both women put on great performances, you invariably got the unfair comparisons. “Why can’t I look like that at 50 years of age?” We tend to forget about the genetics, the lifestyle, the commitment level and, in some cases, the cosmetic surgeries that celebrities get to look amazing 365 days out of a given year.
For the rest of us mere mortals who don’t dance for a living or have to be camera/stage ready every day of our lives, we have to remember that our life is just that. Our life. Not only is the comparison unfair, it’s unrealistic unless you’re willing to forego the life you have for someone else’s. Unfortunately, we spend too much time worrying over how to look like other people even if it’s not a celebrity but our neighbor, Susan.
Time spent agonizing over someone else’s body is time not spent focusing on the one you’ve got and all of the amazing things it’s capable of (despite your thoughts to the contrary). When you take the time to learn what your body can do and be versus what it isn’t, you can stop spending the mental energy wondering why you don’t measure up to others.
8. Choose Your Circle Wisely
When you hear the belief, “you are the sum total of the five people you spend the most time with”, listen carefully. It holds a lot of weight. Consider the people you spend the most time, do they lift you up or pull you down? Do they help make you a better person or keep you second guessing yourself and what your potential is? You can’t pick your parents or your siblings but you can decide how much time you spend with them and the influence you’ll allow them to have on your health. Surround yourself with people who give you the room and the feedback to be the best version of yourself.
9. Have Outlets For Frustration
I spoke previously about using movement to help your mind. That does work for a lot of people but, like many things, it can be taken to extremes. In my case, I’m fortunate to have playing guitar, reading, singing, writing and playing with my boys as ways to help me forget about my stresses. If weight loss is your goal, have things in your life that you can fall back on that don’t require food to give you pleasure or relief.
10. Forgive The Imperfections
I talk about this a lot with my clients and I won’t stop talking about it. No matter how you’re trying to improve your health, no endeavor will be perfect and no time will be the perfect time to begin. The progress you want is not linear and you will have moments where things don’t go as planned. Anticipate this with the plan of action being that it is normal and not a sign of weakness. Some days are great days to focus on self-improvement and some days there just isn’t enough left in the tank. This makes you human. We all, coaches and clients alike, go through this. The sooner you can forgive the missteps, the easier you can get back to strategies that work more often than not.
As you work your way through this list on the areas that make the most sense to you, ask yourself which of them are getting you closer to (or taking you further from) your goals. Not every tip will make sense right now in your life. However, you may find some obstacles creep in that were not problems before.
There is no fool-proof road map to success. We all are working through different challenges and different perspectives that inform how we react to those challenges. There are a host of reasons why you can’t stay focused on eating in a deficit or you haven’t found a better way to incorporate whole foods into your diet instead of dashing through the drive-thru. Revisit this list of tips to refresh yourself on what might be distracting you from greater weight loss progress.
Dr. Gillian McKnight-Tutein has been both a face-to-face and online client of mine over nearly a decade of work together. In this client spotlight, we talk about what that history has been like together, her motivations for change, how she has used pain to help steer her back to better health and what her support system is like. If you’re currently on a weight loss journey, this episode is highly recommended listening. Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
Many years ago, I attended a nutrition seminar hosted by a professor who had been running some weight loss trials on clients in efforts to reduce risk of Type II diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
He had seen significant success with a diet comprised of approximately 40% protein, 40% fat, and 20% carbohydrate.
I was so impressed with his results and his confident delivery that I asked several of my weight loss clients if they would be interested in experimenting with something similar to see how well it worked.
At the time, I had a fraction of the clients I do now but I did have some willing participants.
Since I don’t have a degree in dietetics, I can’t “prescribe” a plan to clients. I can offer suggestions, I help design meal templates but I can’t make any promises of what a diet can or cannot do for a client beyond weight loss and general performance.
However, at that time, I was seeing really great results with this breakdown of macronutrients.
There was just one problem.
None of my clients could sustain this diet.
All of the clients who succeeded at losing weight with this plan, regained most (if not all) of the weight back.
I put a lot of the blame on my shoulders for that. I never “taught” them how to keep the weight off. I only taught them how to lose it.
To this day, I still have some of those clients and they still talk to me about going back to it so they can succeed (or fail, depending on your viewpoint) on it again.
It would have been easy to stick to my guns with this diet. My clients saw great results, I just needed to be more proactive with the long-term view of it.
What I haven’t told you about is all the clients who didn’t succeed on the diet. That would have been over 50%. When I say, didn’t succeed, I mean they didn’t lose any significant amount of weight.
As the years continue to roll by and I continue to work with more and more people, I find myself inching further and further away from most diets.
You see, for as alluring as it might be to make a new weight loss client “go Keto”, I just can’t do it.
Nor can I encourage them to do intermittent fasting, or pull a dietary 180 and go vegan.
It isn’t because those diets don’t work, every diet works when you follow it.
It’s because I cannot replicate the success rate of any one diet for all of my clients and the long-term view is (almost) always suspect.
Most troubling to me, is the clients who dig their heels firmly into the dogma of whatever diet they’re seduced by despite the fact that they haven’t seen noticeable AND sustainable success on them either.
Let me clarify: I do have clients who have seen tremendous success going vegan. I have others who have seen great success on Whole30. This is truly great news. Until you fast forward 6 months down the road and many of these same people are right back where they started, just like the clients of mine who tried that diet I learned about all those years ago.
This isn’t a knock on any one diet.
Because for each diet, there is a select group who do magnificently on it. They are not the norm. They are the exceptions.
But you wouldn’t know that if you get your dietary advice from social media. It’s an echo chamber and if you need to find people who salute the Keto flag, by God, you’ll find them. They’ll be so proud that you’ll wonder how Keto could ever fail you.
Until it does fail you.
Then you’ll wonder what’s wrong with you that in trying to keep up with the KetoJoneses that you couldn’t succeed too.
For the record, there’s nothing wrong with you. You may have picked the wrong tool, used it at the wrong time, or just didn’t follow it to the letter.
There is another point worth mentioning.
If you started your weight loss journey today and you decided that Whole30 was the diet you would embark on, you would likely lose an admirable amount of weight.
Maybe you’d double the time on it and stick with it for a full 60 days.
Then, the wheels start to come off, as they invariably do and you flounder for a bit. You try to go back to Whole30 but it just doesn’t do what it did before. It loses its novelty. It loses its power.
You have to make a choice. Do you cling tighter to the diet that served you so well initially or do you change course and try the next diet?
Sometimes, the tool you pick initially does not serve for the entire course of your weight loss journey and you have to realize that you need something different now.
This is okay.
Just because intermittent fasting helped you lose your first twenty pounds, doesn’t mean it will help you with the next twenty or the thirty after that.
And as you’re experimenting with the nuances of each diet, ask yourself:
What am I learning about myself?
Learn the factors that make a diet succeed for you:
-Are you eating the right amount of calories for your goal?
-Are you recovering well from your workouts, sleeping restfully and not too irritable?
-Do you feel bloated often? What foods OR combinations of foods make you feel that way?
-Are you consistently sticking to the plan you picked for yourself or are you constantly taking dietary detours?
-Does this diet plan fit within your lifestyle including work, home and social life?
-Do you feel in control of your food decisions or is your home/work environment plagued by foods that make you feel powerless?
I can tell you this, no diet can teach you how to feel when you eat. Because no diet understands feelings and many of us eat based on emotions.
No diet truly understands your life and course-corrects in real time to modify itself for your needs.
These constants remain:
To lose weight, you must be in an energy deficit.
To maintain weight, you must be eating equivalent to what you burn on a daily basis.
To gain (true) weight, you must be in an energy surplus.
The diet that you can sustain is the one you have spent the time understanding how to make it mold to your goals, your life and your particular set of challenges (we all have those).
So, if you’re frustrated when a diet that once worked (or in theory SHOULD work) but is no longer having that magical effect, it may be time to divorce yourself from it and the dogmatic beliefs that come with it.
I have the privilege this week of welcoming Ted Ryce to the show. Ted is a fellow coach who has worked with A-list celebrities and other high performers in the world and now coaches clients exclusively online. He also hosts the Legendary Life podcast. In this episode, we talk about the traumatic past that Ted has lived through and what he’s done to overcome those tragedies to be the coach he is today. Ted offers some strategies that work for his clientele and a perspective not frequently covered on this show to date. Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
I spend a lot of time in different groups on Facebook tailored to other fitness professionals. As you can imagine, there’s a range of tenure between them (beginners and veterans) as well as a vast assortment of training styles (group exercise, one-on-one training, sport specific, etc). One question I seem to come across with more frequency than others is over client acquisition.
Because social media is the monster that it’s evolved into, there is an overabundance of ” business coaches” who are now advertising their services to help fellow trainers generate more leads than they ever knew what to do with. I’ll reserve some of my more candid opinions by saying, some of these coaches are worth their weight and many, many, many more are not.
However, the same basic conditions apply now as they have throughout history: develop better, trusting relationships with others and you stand a better chance of having a sustainable model for generating new clientele.
I thought I would sink my teeth this week into giving you a free resource to help.
Before I go any further, what I’m about to discuss below can work for nearly any service providing industry. You may have to decide how and to what extent you want it to work for yours (assuming you’re not a personal trainer) but I will tailor the message to others like me.
Please also note, nothing I’m mentioning below is of the “get rich quick” variety. If you follow similar steps, it can take weeks, months or years to achieve what we have at RevFit. I can tell you, it was and has been worth the time and effort.
When I started Revolution Fitness & Therapy (RevFit) in the spring of 2009, nearly 11 years ago, I knew no one. All I knew was that the economy had recently tanked in the U.S. in 2008 and I was damn near out of my mind to make a go out of starting a business.
I started with the lowest hanging fruit I could aim for and I introduced myself to every neighboring business in my plaza. I picked up my very first client just from that first set of introductions. Then, I started going to other businesses in the area and introducing myself to let others know that I was taking on new clients.
I priced myself as low as I could handle just to get people in the door. I wanted more people at an affordable rate so I could get results, gain experience and hopefully get them telling their friends and family about me.
It was slow going at first. I met a lot of really nice people but I wasn’t bringing in new clientele in droves.
I realized early on that print advertising was not working for me. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend and what little I was putting into marketing was not generating new business for me. I needed a low to no-cost option that would net a bigger return for me.
B2B (Business To Business) Networking
I was told about a local networking group that was for fellow non-competing businesses and business owners to refer clientele to each other. I knew that if I could get involved in a group like this it could be monumental for me. I had tried going to Chamber of Commerce events and other networking functions but it was simply too many people for me to try to connect with. I am, at my core, an introverted person. The more people I have to connect with, the harder it is for me to do so.
I knew I needed a more intimate circle to work within and when it became possible for me to join that smaller networking group, I knew I had to make the best possible impression.
If you’re just starting out as a trainer, you may not have much of a clientele roster to work from. Like me, you may need to just get in front of people so they can learn as much about the person you are before they decide to part with their hard earned dollars and invest time and energy with you.
I made a vow to myself to give as much business to others as I possibly could. Sometimes, I did so out of my own pocket. Sometimes, I had to listen to the needs of family, friends and clients to see if I had a viable, trustworthy resource to send them.
For instance, one of the members of my networking group was in insurance. He was able to work with several different insurance companies to shop the best rate for home and auto insurance rates. I went to him first to see where I could save money. Once I saw that he had saved money for me, I got my family over to him as well. Not only was he able to save my family money on insurance rates but I had the added bonus of picking him up as a client. Win-win-win. (Thank You, Mike M.)!
There was also a member of the group who handled credit card processing for small businesses. I had him quote me on rates for what his company would charge to service my business. At the time, I was using a company with a low up-front cost but very high percentage rates per transaction. My friend in the group gave me a quote with a higher up-front cost but a lower percentage rate per transaction. On an annual basis, he saved me so much money as my business continued to grow. He also became a client. (Thank you, Brandon H.)!
I was a member of this group for about 2-3 years before I realized I had essentially hit my relative ceiling for referrals. Throughout that time, I gained tens of thousands of dollars in business not only from members who decided to train with me but from the people they referred to me as well. This was an incredible avenue for me to build my business. I still utilize many of the core members of this original networking group for services even though I haven’t been a member in nearly eight years.
The Unlikely Success of Free Speaking Engagements
As you’re developing your expertise within your given field, you’re likely to come across an opportunity to speak in front of others. I was given a chance like this when the husband of one my clients asked me to come and speak for 30 minutes to a group of junior high students who were about to start high school the following school year. He wanted me to teach them some basics about exercise (with a little bit about nutrition).
I knew I wouldn’t get paid to do so but I liked being offered the opportunity to speak. Since most of my working time was spent within the four walls of my studio, I knew that the only way I could meet more potential clients was to simply get out there and be in front of them. I was allowed to hand out some flyers as well with the hopes that maybe one of these students (or, even better, their parents) might be interested in training with me.
In that first class, a young man (Jack V.) took my flyer home to his mom (Jeanne V.) and she called me the next day to set up a consultation. As a result of working with her, I got to train her husband (Gregg), her son (the one who got my flyer) and their daughter (Jamie). Also, through knowing the family, another gentleman was referred to me (Grant M.). Through him, I got to train his wife (Margot) and both of their sons (Craig and Ian). He was also the guiding referral for another ten clients! All of this came from one free speaking engagement that lasted 30 minutes. (Thank You, Mark O.)!
I will caveat that this kind of scenario doesn’t happen all the time. I’ve given many free speeches that just ended with more practice for me and absolutely zero new business. This is still a win. The more comfortable you can become with speaking in front of others, the better. You can never get too much practice fine-tuning your wisdom in front of a group of strangers.
The Astonishing Zero Cost Power Of Social Media Networking
Several years ago, I started posting pictures of my clients. Initially, there was little rhyme or reason in what I was doing. I just wanted to highlight some weight loss success or show off one of my clients hitting a new personal record. Sometimes, it would just be a picture of someone doing something cool like battle rope sprints or a prowler (sled) push.
Over time, I did start to find a groove with not only what I enjoyed posting (new member introductions, weight loss, and personal records) but I had the added benefit of willing clients who allowed me to tag them in the pictures as well. This opened me up to what author Bob Burg called a “sphere of influence”.
By tagging my clients, their friends could see the great things they were doing at the studio, perhaps get inspired with their own fitness journey, and sometimes, ask questions about us: “Where are you training?”, “How do you like it?”, or “Can I come check it out too?”
Of course, not every client wants to be posted and we are 100% okay with that. For those who are comfortable with having their hard work and success bragged about, we’re happy to brag about it because we know how inspiring it can be.
Even though you have an option of paying to boost your posts on social media, we haven’t needed to do that with client success pictures. The more they accomplish, the more we get to post. The more we get to post, the more their sphere of influence can see what they’ve been doing to succeed. This is a win-win for all parties involved and it’s the best free advertising I’ve ever come across.
Find Complementary Businesses To Help Generate Leads
When I first started, I had an idea to reach out to some local hair salons and spas. I knew that anyone who was looking to improve their self image via hairstyling, pedicures/manicures, and facials would likely be interested in improving their physiques as well. I wasn’t wrong about that BUT I was wrong in how I originally approached it.
I tried to drop off some containers with our business information on the front and with the notion for clients of the salon to drop in their business card and be selected for a free personal training session. In all honesty, the containers didn’t look great so I didn’t get a lot of leads from this.
What I did learn was that I needed to focus on one salon (not several) and develop a working relationship with that salon. This proved to be a huge step in the right direction for me. I gave a generous discount to the owners and staff of that salon and let them know that if they referred their clients to me, their clients would also get a discount. (Thank You, Kristie W.)!
This gave me a much better working environment to start from. Get a stylist in great shape, get them talking to their clients about us, and let the power of networking take over from there. I also utilize this salon when I want to give gifts to my clients. I rarely have a female client who doesn’t have an interest in a pedicure/manicure, facial or a massage. Having a great, mutually beneficial working relationship with my neighboring salon has been pivotal to my business.
Become The Person With The Resources
Over the years I’ve had this business, one thing I’ve tried to always be great at is having great resources.
-Need a great realtor? I’ve got that (several, actually).
-Need a great banker? Let me connect you via email.
-How about a plumber, a computer repair person, a financial advisor, a CPA, a handyman, or an attorney? I’ve got you covered. How would you like me to make the introduction?
In fact, I’ve only been stumped twice. One time, a client of mine needed an audiologist. I literally had no one to refer to. However, now that I know my client had a great experience with their audiologist, I know where to turn. I also had a client ask about a resume building service. I didn’t have an exact resource for that but I was able to refer something close that could have sufficed.
When you work in a service industry, you can never have too many contacts. Yes, you may have more financial advisor friends than you know what to do with but you may also learn over time which of them is the most trustworthy, dependable and worth investing your money and investments with.
Ultimately, the business you want to build as a personal trainer is built on trusting relationships. You not only have to find ways to connect with people that work well for your personality but you also need to be available to give resources out when your clients need them.
Know Your Brand Ambassadors
I’ve been very fortunate that throughout the years I’ve had my business, I have had several clients who knew how to spread the word about us. It wasn’t just that they told their friends and family about RevFit, it was the fact that when they did, people listened.
It’s important that you recognize the efforts of these brand ambassadors. They care not only about the experience you’re giving them but they care that your business continues to thrive. Of my current clientele, I can easily shout out the actions of: Cherie E., Tatsyana H., Brandon H., Chris C., Ned P., and Shon C. as people who spread the word far and wide about training with us.
As a result of clients like the ones I mentioned, my business has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Sometimes, it’s come when I’ve least expected it (that’s always appreciated too)!
Find Your Niche And Spread The Word
I am a middle-class, white, heterosexual, married male. Why does that matter? Well, if you are of a certain ethnic background (African-American, Latino, Indian, etc.) or if you align with a particular sexual preference (LGBTQ+), I cannot recommend more that you involve yourself in networking groups catering specifically to those demographics.
When you become the go-to person in those group for your field, you are opening up a goldmine of business for yourself. Often, people feel they can trust others of like mind, background, or preference. This won’t always be the case.
We proudly cater to everyone of any color, religious belief or sexual preference. We always have and we always will.
I was recently speaking to a fellow trainer who was trying to build his training business. I mentioned the idea about talking to a neighboring hair salon. But I also asked him if he had ventured into any networking groups that cater specifically to gay men.
He had not.
I told him: “You need to find a group like this. You are knowledgeable, trustworthy and you share the same interests. Be THE trainer available to that group.”
As someone who was never going to thrive in a “Here’s my business card, let’s trade” type of environment, I had to find more intimate circles to work within. I love being around people but I also need time to recharge my batteries so that I can engage again the next day.
Nearly every thing I’ve done to build my business to where it is today came as a result of patience, consistency and making sure my clients got good results. It’s also been huge for me to focus on what I can do for others before I could ever expect (or desire) them to do for me.
So, before you sink thousands of dollars into a business coach, see which of the tactics mentioned above work for you. You don’t have to be the neighborhood socialite to build a successful personal training business. However, you do have to make sure that anyone who can know about the great work you do knows it and keeps you top of mind when someone they know needs a trainer.
Want to see more proof of the power of better networking? Take a look at the picture below. Left to right, I’ll tell you how these people found me:
Bill K. (was referred to me by the esthetician at the salon I referenced above, Cherie E.)
Charlie H. (his mother heard about us through mutual friends who train with us).
Kelvin and his wife, Jean (were referred to us by a client, Ryan U.)
Brandon H. (originally joined me from the networking group we belonged to. He was also the person who helped set up my credit card processing).
Shon C. (we met through having a similar bond in raising sons with special needs. In the past year, Shon has sent more business my way than any other client. Thank YOU!)
Eric M. (he found us through a drive by in our plaza).
That means 6 of the 7 people you see below came to us through networking.
It is EVERYTHING to your business and we are grateful to service them.
This week, I welcome the debut of Amy Kubal to the show. Amy is a Registered Dietitian with a strong background in Paleo, autoimmune, ketogenic, digestive and kidney health, athletic performance, eating disorder, weight loss, and figure/bodybuilding diet and nutrition counseling. She specializes in distance consulting and has a passion for helping others discover how powerful good nutrition can be. In this episode, we cover some problems with trend dieting, thoughts on therapy for eating disorders and how to live with the diet that works best for your life and goals. Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
It’s a number heard so frequently and with so little context that many times, women who are trying to lose weight don’t know if it’s the right way to turn or the wrong one.
I’ve even had some exceptional female coaches on my podcast who criticize the number, claiming it’s too low.
It would be easy for me to cough up some general stats about this as it pertains to my clients but I see 1200 calories come up so frequently in my consultations that I decided to dig deeper and go right to the source.
Some background: I currently train (online and face-to-face) 94 clients. Of that 94, 55 are female (approximately 60%). Of that 55, 48 are with me for weight loss.
I went through every file of these women to check the parameters that dictate where someone might fall to lose fat mass. In case you don’t know the factors involved it’s: age, gender, height, level of daily activity and ratio of fat to lean muscle mass.
There are a multitude of algorithms on the internet designed to help you understand how many calories your body needs just to maintain its current weight and keep your health optimal. Anything less than that number would contribute to weight loss, anything more would contribute to weight gain (if consistent over time).
What did I find? I found that of the 48 women who are currently training with me for fat loss, 12 of them will lose weight on 1200 calories a day (1500 calories at maintenance with a 20% reduction) and an additional 11 will lose weight on 1300 calories a day (1600 calories at maintenance with a 20% reduction). That means that nearly half of all the women I train are on the lower end of a given spectrum for weight loss. I should note that MOST (not all) of these clients qualify as sedentary.
If we remember that all numbers are estimates, there may be some room to wiggle but perhaps not much.
However, let’s zero in on those 12 women who are at 1200 calories a day to lose weight. What do they have in common? For frame of reference the age gap between these women was as young as 22 and up to 71 years of age. They each had about 100 pounds of lean muscle mass. Most of these women are sedentary but a small handful are on their feet most of the day (the way you might consider a teacher or hairstylist). They had a median weight of 150 pounds.
What differentiated the women who need 1200 calories to lose versus the ones who need 1300 to lose? By and large, the women who could lose (at approximately the same rate) who were allotted 1300 calories either had more lean muscle mass or they were more active. When I say active, I don’t mean how often they exercise, rather how active their actual daily life is in comparison. Bear in mind, it seems silly to be squabbling over a 100 calorie difference BUT if you’re dieting, you know how much you appreciate having a 100 calorie buffer.
I was asked by a client once if she could just stay at her 1500 calorie maintenance and just train harder/more frequently. The answer: it depends.
Yes, in theory, you could train harder to lose weight but it’s incredibly difficult to quantify caloric burn even with some crafty and expensive trackers that we wear on our wrists. These are estimates and the body will adjust to your cardiovascular expenditure. So, over time, you’ll have to work harder, longer, faster, or higher to burn the same amount of calories.
This is why we try to focus on “intake” for weight loss as the priority rather than how many calories you “think” you burned in boot camp.
For the record, I don’t like telling a client that 1200 calories is the number to aim for. As you can see, 25% of my clientele is facing that number and another nearly 25% isn’t far off.
I should also add that any person on a fat loss program should embark against any number with skepticism. Could you lose fat mass at 1500 calories a day? Try it. See what happens. If you’re not losing, dial down by 100 calories and watch your trend.
The females I train who are allotted the most calories are either the ones who weigh the most (by comparison to the median 150) or they have substantially more lean muscle mass. A larger person by comparison needs more energy to keep the body functioning at an optimal level. As an individual loses fat mass, calories will need to come down gradually over time because a smaller person requires fewer calories to exist.
I also have to mention that menstrual cycles, hormonal fluctuations, lack of sleep, abundance of stress, medications (anti-depressants, anti-anxieties, blood pressure meds, etc.) and environmental factors can make it hard for any woman to diet.
To this point, there may be times throughout a given month or training cycle when you should not be at a deficit because of the stress it places on your body. For some women, they need to be at maintenance or slightly above during their menstrual cycle.
If you’re constantly training for an endurance event (marathons, obstacle races, etc.), if you’re a competitive athlete (soccer, basketball, lacrosse, etc.) if you’re frequenting HIIT classes, boot camps or CrossFit, it’s likely that 1200 calories is too low for you.
You may find that on your days of high activity, you’ll need to spike your calories up to 1400 or 1500 so that you don’t “bonk” during your intense training time.
It’s important to note as well, since some women claim they cannot lose weight at 1200 calories, to determine if their food tracking is on point. It can be very easy to overshoot (especially if you eyeball food or if you eat out at restaurants often).
The other concern is for the woman who eats 1200 calories a day Monday through Friday and hits 2500 on Saturday. This is common. This can also completely undo an entire week’s progress.
1200 calories is not a one-size-fits-all suggestion. It’s a one-size-fits some. In my case, it’s approximately 1 in 4. That may be different if you compare my clientele against another coach’s clientele.
If you’re a woman who is trying to make 1200 calories work for you, I offer my general recommendations based on the stats/averages I’ve referenced above:
-aim for approximately 100g (roughly 400 calories) of protein per day
-aim for 20-25g of fiber a day
-aim for no less than 25-30g (roughly 225-370 calories) of fat per day
-stay well hydrated, get quality sleep and utilize any stress reduction activities you can
As with any dietary plan or strategy, it may be beneficial to start higher as opposed to lower within a deficit to see how your body adapts. 20% of a reduction from maintenance may be too aggressive for some women.
Most importantly, listen to your body. Take notes. You know yourself better than anyone and ultimately, your body will let you know what’s working and what isn’t.
I should also finish with the kind note that the calories it takes your neighbor to lose weight may not be the same as yours. Perhaps your best friend can lose weight at 1500 calories a day when you need to be at 1200. There are a host of reasons why this might be. Maybe she’s more active in a given day than you (exercise, at work, level of non-exercise activity thermogenesis or N.E.A.T. for short or the way she metabolizes her choice of foods).
It’s my long and short way of saying that 1200 calories a day may be exactly what you need for fat loss success, it could be too high and it could be too low. Each person will have to decide that based on their own set of circumstances.
Below is our very own Jessica, hitting a new personal best of 325 pounds. Should she elect to drop weight (not necessary in my opinion), 1200 could be a goal she’d aim for.
I’m honored to share the time this week with returning guest, Mike Doehla of Stronger U (Episode #165) and the Revolutionary You debut of Jay Woith of Macros Inc. Both of these guys oversee two of the largest nutrition coaching companies I’ve come across and I knew we would have a great conversation about what we see with our clients. We cover a ton of ground in this one as we talk about calorie expectations, the problems with comparisons, why you need to be self-aware when it comes to your food tracking and more. Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
When Kelvin first started working with me, he and his wife had already seen some weight loss success on a version of Weight Watchers. After our initial consultation together, I was able to give him some more pointed insight into caloric goals, macronutrient targets and some thoughts on double tracking against the WW points system.
He did see some more weight loss occur but it was fairly slow coming. After several months working with us, he got his wife Jean training with us as well.
Jean went through a similar consultation but since she is not only female but a smaller person in comparison to her husband, her numbers were invariably different.
We got through the 2019 holiday season together and Kelvin and Jean asked to sit down with me to revisit a weight loss plan so they could both reach new lows together.
They have both been kind enough to let me use their specific information to highlight some major differences when it comes to couples being successful together at weight loss.
I try to always be mindful to say that dieting in and of itself is stressful enough. Having a supportive spouse can be the difference between succeeding or not. The fact that Kelvin and Jean are on the journey together is a really big deal.
Kelvin is in his early 50’s, weighs approximately 210 pounds and has approximately 155 pounds of lean muscle.
Jean is younger than Kelvin (withheld for privacy purposes), weighs approximately 150 pounds and has approximately 100 pounds of lean muscle. It is important to remind the reader that women typically carry more body fat than men, a factor that not only affects hormonal differences between the sexes but can affect ability to lose weight as well.
Comparing the daily activity of each, Kelvin is more sedentary and Jean is on her feet more.
In comparing caloric needs between the two, Kelvin can consume approximately 2500 calories to maintain his bodyweight and Jean can consume approximately 1500 to maintain hers.
Since weight loss is the goal for both, I gave them each a guideline of roughly 15-20% to reduce their caloric needs by.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s look at 20% to compare both.
Kelvin can eat approximately 2000 calories a day and Jean gets approximately 1200 calories a day. Before I go much further on this, I do want to give the disclaimer that they could lose weight on less of a deficit, it would just be at a slower rate.
For conversation’s sake and to highlight some important numbers, I’ll stick with the 20% deficit.
A point to make is that if we use the reference point of 3500 calories per 1 pound of fat, if Kelvin does nothing but change his diet, he will lose 1 pound of fat per week (on average). It will take Jean almost 12 days to lose the same 1 pound.
Of course, we need to consider any additional activity (calories burned) to help expedite weight loss. The caveat I always give is that it is far easier to control intake than it is calories burned. This is why you hear the adage “You can’t outrun the fork”. To be honest, yes you can outrun the fork but you’re not going to like it…
Let’s continue to consider calories for a moment and just compare what meals might look like between Kelvin and Jean. If you split their days up into three meals, Jean could theoretically have three 400 calorie meals. Kelvin by comparison could have three meals just shy of 700 calories each. That’s significant.
This is where I start to see some degree of dietary resentment set in between the sexes. Kelvin gets to eat significantly more and will drop weight faster. This is just one of those unfortunate harsh truths about weight loss between genders.
My advice to them both was to start by getting the diet as predictable as possible. Assuming they can both eat the same types of foods with little variation it would take a bit of practice to nail the portion sizes down and then meal prep/planning can become more automatic. As weight starts to come off and portion sizes become more realistic in line with goals, more variation can be introduced.
Should Kelvin and Jean decide they want to go out for an evening at a restaurant, they could theoretically eat less throughout that particular day so they have more room within the allotted calories to eat out and still try to remain in a caloric deficit.
Since the two of them met with me a couple of weeks ago, their routine of food tracking has already reflected in weight loss for both.
Words I would give to any couple trying to lose weight together:
Be Supportive. As mentioned before, weight loss is hard enough as it is. If you have a partner who tells you they support your goals but they come home on Friday with your favorite Oreos because you had a tough week, that is not support. It’s sabotage and it’s not helpful.
Plan A Dietary Break. Some people can white-knuckle their way to their weight loss goal. They are not the norm. Get on the same page with your partner about when you will take your first scheduled dietary break. This could be a weekend or a week or two weeks even. This is where you spend the agreed upon time to eat at maintenance before you embark on the next cycle at deficit. Ask each other if it is a 10 pound goal, a pant size, or a timed cycle. In other words, will you diet for 4-weeks and break for 1-week?
Know How To Communicate Through The Process. Because dieting is stressful, it’s important to set the guidelines for how you want to stay on path together. If your eating gets a little bit sideways, how do you want your partner to communicate that effectively for you? No one likes a nag but sometimes we all need a gentle nudge in the right direction. Learn those words and that unique vocabulary together so that your inner petulant child doesn’t rebel and head to the pantry.
Stop Buying The Trigger Foods. If you know that your partner can level half of a pizza in 2 minutes flat, it’s probably not “safe” to keep up Friday’s pizza delivery service. Some sacrifices have to be made if you want to keep the progress moving. These are not necessarily long-term solutions, but make a pact about what foods you can control versus what you can’t. I talk more about trigger foods here.
Celebrate but don’t gloat. Did you drop a pound this week? Congratulations! Maybe your partner was flat or they went up a little bit. Know how and when to mention that your progress is moving the direction you want. This complements #3 in learning how to communicate when one of you has “good news” and the other doesn’t. These things are temporary especially if you have to consider things like menstrual cycles which can invariably affect the way the scale reads.
Below is our RevFit power couple, Kelvin and Jean. They’re learning how to win together. You can to.