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The secrets to long-term fat loss

As a personal trainer, you will appreciate that fat loss itself is often not the challenging part of weight loss for most of your clients but rather the maintenance of this weight over time.  As we know, a caloric deficit is what governs fat loss regardless of the macronutrient composition of a client’s diet1 but adherence to a diet is what provides sustainable fat loss. Adherence is simply your clients’ ability to stick with the prescribed plan over a given period and this should be central to any plan you devise. Prescribing a nutrition and exercise plan for a client without first considering their lifestyle and goals will reduce the probability of compliance. Having an initial consultation with each client to discuss their preferences and barriers to change puts you, as the personal trainer, in a much better position to understand what dieting strategy will work best for each individual client. Prescribing a one-for-all or “cookie-cutter” plan may achieve short-term fat loss but without lifestyle factors, goals & adherence, it could be a recipe for disaster! With this in mind, I have set out several points below that may be considered the secrets to long-term fat loss.

  1. Give autonomy to your client – With your guidance & within their calorie-restricted plan, allow your client some control over their food choices and give them flexibility within their calorie intake to facilitate going to social events. Self-regulation or giving autonomy to your client will give them a feeling of control and empowerment and studies have found it to be a powerful tool in long-term weight loss2.
  2. Avoid excessive food restriction – One of the common mistakes that clients make when you give them autonomy to make their own decisions is to cut out “bad” foods. However, it has been found that clients who experience perceived restriction may often be at a higher risk of future weight gain3 . Encouraging clients to incorporate some of their favourite foods into a varied diet can remove this perceived restriction and promote a better relationship with food.
  3. Set calories at the highest realistic amount – Extreme deficits may be appropriate in certain circumstances, however, for the vast majority of your clients setting calories relatively high, whilst still in a deficit, improves adherence and allows for greater flexibility. Dieting someone at higher calories has been found to be more effective for fat loss as it promotes greater adherence4. However, it is important to set them at a level that does not slow down fat loss to such an extent that your client gets frustrated. A 10-15% deficit in maintenance calories seems to be the sweet spot for the aforementioned flexibility and increased adherence.
  4. Put an emphasis on sleep – Although this may not be directly related to nutrition, sleep quantity and quality has an effect on fat loss. Sleep restriction has been found to increase appetite hormones and impair glucose metabolism, which may contribute to an increased energy consumption and therefore a reduction in fat loss5. By increasing the quality and quantity of sleep, your clients are more likely to exercise and eat better.
  5. Consider the type of method you use – Arguably, the most important factor in adherence is choosing an appropriate method of fat loss for each client. For example, if you have a client who is extremely busy, asking them to track calories may cause additional stress and subsequently reduce adherence. In this scenario, giving the client a list of high protein sources and asking them to include extra protein in each meal may be more effective6. Considering the lifestyle of each client and choosing the most appropriate method for him or her is crucial to long-term fat loss!

Considering clients on a case-by-case approach and implementing strategies that overcome any barriers to long-term behavioural change and adherence are key to successful fat loss. There is no method superior to another in every scenario but instead it is about understanding the client in front of you, implementing a strategy you think is appropriate and being dynamic in your ability to adapt and change throughout the process until you find a way that works for that client and gives them every possibility to change long-term!

Note: This article is supporting content to the Optimum Nutrition for Health and Performance course and is for educational purposes only. It does not reflect the opinion of Glanbia Performance Nutrition, nor is it intended for product marketing purposes.


  1. Johnston, B.C., Kanters, S., Bandayrel, K., Wu, P., Naji, F., Siemieniuk, R.A., Ball, G.D., Busse, J.W., Thorlund, K., Guyatt, G. and Jansen, J.P., 2014. Comparison of weight loss among named diet programs in overweight and obese adults: a meta-analysis. Jama, 312(9), pp.923-933.
  2. Teixeira, P.J., Carraça, E.V., Marques, M.M., Rutter, H., Oppert, J.M., De Bourdeaudhuij, I., Lakerveld, J. and Brug, J., 2015. Successful behavior change in obesity interventions in adults: a systematic review of self-regulation mediators. BMC medicine, 13(1), p.84
  3. Markowitz, J.T., Butryn, M.L. and Lowe, M.R., 2008. Perceived deprivation, restrained eating and susceptibility to weight gain. Appetite, 51(3), pp.720-722
  4. Frost, G., Masters, K., Kin, C., Kelly, M., Hasan, U., Heavens, P., White, R. and Stanford, J., 1991. A new method of energy prescription to improve weight loss. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 4(6), pp.369-373.
  5. Van Cauter, E., Spiegel, K., Tasali, E. and Leproult, R., 2008. Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep medicine, 9, pp.S23-S28
  6. Baer, D.J., Stote, K.S., Paul, D.R., Harris, G.K., Rumpler, W.V. and Clevidence, B.A., 2011. Whey protein but not soy protein supplementation alters body weight and composition in free-living overweight and obese adults. The Journal of nutrition, 141(8), pp.1489-1494