Overweight clients are caught in the trap of blaming themselves for their lack of success—all the while resisting taking responsibility for their choices and constantly searching for the next “best” program to come along. Without some key “thinking shifts,” they are destined to keep trying what doesn’t work. Your overweight clients can free themselves from repeating the same ineffective approach if you help them make three key shifts:
#1. Choose an 80/20 Approach Instead of All-or-Nothing
For eating behavior to change in lasting ways, the principle of flexible control should govern the change process, and rigid control should be discouraged.
So how do you establish flexible dietary restraint that leads to weight loss but does not create a surge in disinhibition, the emotional backlash that leads to yo-yo dieting?
You encourage an antidote to all-or-nothing thinking: an 80/20 approach that lets clients strive to make healthy choices 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time allows for intentional treats and missed exercise bouts and makes provisions for unintended splurges.
An 80/20 approach can be effective only when clients successfully
- let go of thinking that perfection is necessary (or even possible) for weight loss and weight maintenance;
- learn how to give themselves “real,” or guilt-free, permission to include controlled portions of treats as part of their weight loss programs; and
- develop a recovery plan to rebound quickly from their slips, by “letting go” of a slip when it happens and avoiding subsequent feelings of guilt and negativity.
#2. Seek a Supportive Community as an Essential Asset for Change
Going it alone is an unnecessary and, for most, unproductive approach to weight loss. External support increases adherence and improves weight maintenance. With your help, your clients can build a supportive network of professionals, friends and family.
People want real-time interactions with their support networks. This points to using social media to help clients stay on track. Access to 24/7 contact with peers allows clients to reach out for support any time they are struggling with low motivation or experiencing high temptation.
However, interaction with others who are engaged in the same type of healthy-lifestyle program is more valuable to people than an “open” social media experience like Facebook. The most beneficial thing you can do may therefore be to help clients come together in like-minded groups to share experiences, create goals and feel accountable—while still feeling safe and not judged.
#3. Strengthen Goal Setting by Creating a Vision for Change
Basing goals on each individual’s personality, strengths and restrictions versus established, “by-the-book” exercise prescriptions and formulas is important for overweight and obese clients.
A tool that can help clients set effective goals is the SMART technique (the acronym means making goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, rewarding and time-based). Setting goals that are simultaneously achievable and rewarding is particularly important in balancing fear of failure with concern that clients will lose interest. Keeping this balance in mind will help you moderate your clients’ expectations. When you support the notion that modest goals are still valuable goals, your clients have a better chance of setting realistic goals that they will nonetheless find motivating and exciting.
Another tool for identifying and setting goals is a wellness vision—a written picture of how you want your future to look: how you want to live your life, what you want to do, places you want to go and how you see your relationships, career, fitness, health and other important parts of your evolving life. Having a strong vision will help clients identify their goals and strategize how to achieve them.