If you are considering becoming a nutrition and weight management specialist, then you’ll definitely want to read this career guide on the weight loss industry and how exercise professionals can make a meaningful and ethical difference to it.
The weight loss industry is a multi-billion-pound industry that continues to grow year-on-year as the world’s population, especially those in the West, continue to get fatter. The UK diet industry alone is worth an estimated 2bn annually. Given that around 55% of adults in the UK try to lose weight each year and that the average number of days that people stick to their fad diet is only 19, there are no shortage of customers for weight loss companies to market their products to.
Sadly, a significant portion of the weight management industry is fundamentally flawed, either because of a lack of central regulation, poor education about healthy eating habits, misinformation about effective weight management strategies, and aggressive lobbying and marketing from food manufacturers that continue to be permitted to sell products that are energy dense and nutrient deficient. To add insult to injury, there are an endless array of nutritional products, services, diet plans, books and weight management clubs all promising the be the quick fix that those who have become overweight or obese so desperately crave.
It’s important to underline the fact that there are no quick fixes or easy wins to losing weight and keeping that weight off! Like any other pursuit in life, ‘to have anything you have to be willing sacrifice something’. In reality, most people need to be willing to give up their old lifestyle, the foods that they have habitually eaten and the emotions and behaviours that have given rise to why those foods were eaten in the first place. It’s a long road and one that requires those that embark this journey to be wholeheartedly committed to it. Motivation will surely help to get the journey started, but ultimately, it’s discipline that will keep that person making progress.
Education is also crucial because there is so much misinformation about effective weight loss strategies. In today’s technologically advanced world, most people turn to the internet for help with their decision making. Of Google’s 88 billion search queries every month, millions of these relate specifically to losing weight, with “how to lose weight fast” being the most popular question being presented to doctor Google. The global popularity of this search term also illustrates that most people believe, or at least hope, that effective long-term weight loss can be achieved quickly – which it can’t!
The internet is a wonderful and remarkable creation that has the potential to allow information (accurate and false) to be delivered rapidly to the masses. The websites and webpages that are displayed on Google’s search engine results page, or SERP, aren’t necessarily the most accurate or trustworthy either, as is often what the unsuspecting Google user often believes. But instead, they are the websites that have the best digital marketing strategies, or search engine optimisation (SEO) methods to be precise. You’ll also notice that there are always a page or so of adverts that you need to navigate before you even get to the search results!
Did you know:
“How to lose weight” is a search term entered into google, almost 7 million times (6,600,000) every year. That’s about once every 15 seconds on average.
So, now that we’ve cleared that up, what’s the solution? We’ve already said that education perhaps one of the most important factors because people need to be able to make their own ‘informed’ decisions about what foods they can eat, and what they should probably avoid. The process of losing weight can be likened to getting an education – after all, you wouldn’t expect a student in reception class to be sitting their GCSE’s at the end of the year! There are lessons that must be learned, skills that must be developed and this process cannot be rushed. Fundamental to the students success is great teacher and role model, which is where a good nutrition and weight management coach will be worth their weight in gold.
If you are a qualified nutrition coach that wants to pursue a career in weight management, then it’s safe to say that there are no shortage of people that desperately need your help!
Unlike other nutrition professions, like Registered Dieticians or Nutritionists for example, the career pathway is less defined. Most coaches and trainers complete a myriad of health, fitness and nutrition qualifications to allow them to practice as nutrition coaches. We’ve featured a handful of our nutrition courses and qualifications at the bottom of this article, although this list is by no means exhaustive.
Outside of training and qualifications, to become a weight management coach you will need to be well informed on all things exercise and nutrition, ensuring that you keep your knowledge and understanding up to date with regular CPD. You’ll also need to be a caring and compassionate individual that has a genuine interest in seeing your clients succeed.
Very often, your role as a weight management coach will take the shape of an exercise or nutrition counsellor, confidant and friend, helping your clients to explore new ways to change their old patterns of behaviour. Behaviour change is such an important part of any weight management strategy and so you’ll need to develop the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to facilitate behaviour change.
Like your clients, you’ll need to accept that the learning never stops and you should approach each client with a curious and inquisitive mindset. Only when you understand why a client behaves the way they do can you truly help them to overcome their destructive behaviours and habits.
From time to time, there will be clients that present with complex needs and who need specialist support from clinically trained professionals, like Registered Dieticians, professional counsellors, or cognitive behavioural therapists. In these situates, you must not hesitate to signpost or refer these clients accordingly.
Many personal trainers receive very little in the way of formal education or training when it comes to nutrition. At best, health and fitness professionals complete a nutrition-based unit embedded within their personal training course, which is typically assessed with a relatively short multiple-choice exam and a rather basic client case-study.
Outside of their basic nutrition training, most PT’s get their nutrition information from the same place as they people they are trying to help – the internet! Put simply, the blind very often ends up leading the blind!
Despite this, almost half of trainers are still offering nutrition counselling services to their clients (e.g. analysing the client’s diet, and providing specific dietary plans). At best, these practices result in low success rates for clients; at worse, these practices have the potential to cause real and lasting harm to their clients because what is being recommended isn’t entirely safe or appropriate for those specific clients.
Most of your clients will turn to you as a health and fitness professional for expert advice and guidance. Therefore, if you are working in the nutrition space then its crucial that you commit to developing an expert level of knowledge and understanding in this area so that you are fit to practice. You certainly wouldn’t get this from a standard personal training qualification.
You don’t need to go out and get a nutrition degree to improve your nutritional knowledge. You do however need to complete some formal training that leads to either a regulated or endorsed qualification. This way, you can demonstrate to the world that you have an appropriate level of knowledge and skills. This will also satisfy your insurers, who will be keen to ensure that you have sufficient qualifications to provide nutrition and weight management services to clients.
Completing a formal nutrition qualification will also help you to better understand the fundamentals of nutrition for weight management. Unfortunately, many people don’t want to learn fundamentals because they’re not that exciting. Instead, they tend to want to study the new, glossy and exciting content, like which nutritional supplements ‘might’ help a client to lose weight quickly?
It’s important to recognise that the fundamentals are the foundation that all nutritional knowledge is built upon. Without fundamental understanding, its hard-to-understand specific knowledge. For example, it’s very difficult to learn how to scuba dive, if you don’t know how to swim. Learning the fundamentals will help you understand how each approach works and help clients manage their weight. As legendary basketball athlete Michael Jordan states:
“Get the fundamentals down, and the level of everything you do will rise”
Every client will require a somewhat different exercise and nutritional strategy to help them lose or better manage their weight. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for others because we are each individual’s that respond physically, mentally, and emotionally differently to the same interventions. If you only have one strategy in your weight management armoury (e.g. calorie counting) and you use this with all your clients, it’s pretty safe to say you will have a low success rate and will soon develop a reputation for this.
Learning more about the science of nutrition, healthy eating, and how different foods affect our biochemistry will be essential if you want to develop a broader range of nutritional strategies. Ultimately, the more strategies that you have, the more likely you’ll be able to help more people to achieve real and lasting results. You may also want to team up with other trainers working in the same field so that you can share information about your successes and failures. This way you’ll have access to a wider number of case-studies to learn from. Remember, you can learn as much from a failure as you can from a success!
Many fitness instructors and personal trainers in the industry will simply regurgitate soundbites of nutritional information (e.g. eat less and move more), and use overly simplistic exercise approaches (e.g. put their clients on a treadmill in the ‘fat burning zone’). Not only are these approaches dull and uninspiring, they simply don’t work in the mid-long-term!
If you can develop a deeper and richer understanding of nutrition, healthy eating, wholesome foods, recipes, and practical ways to plan meals, manage cravings, hunger and emotional triggers that cause people to make poor food choices, you’ll soon find that clients will start to want to engage with you more. They will notice you and the results that you are getting with your clients, and this will make them more curious about your services. Afterall, your clients will literally be wearing your successes everywhere they go and their friends and family will take note. You certainly won’t need to pay to market your business!
We cannot emphasise enough that learning is a process that never stops. Of course, you need to complete the necessary training and education to demonstrate to your clients, employers, regulators and insurers that you have the minimum level of competence to practice. But in the business of nutrition, rarely will this be enough. You need to frequently read, take notes, observe and question the right people to ensure that your knowledge, understanding and skills remain current and up to date. This is what being a professional is all about.