Updated: Jun 6
When I ask new clients (that have worked with coaches in the past) about why they didn't continue that relationship/diet/method, their answer usually falls into one of two categories:
(1) They didn't get results
(2) They got results, but they weren't "sustainable"
And herein lies the Coach's Paradox: the work it takes to get the level of results (fast, dramatic) that most clients say they want IS indeed unsustainable; yet the actually sustainable approach most clients also say they want moves too slowly on the "results" end to drive long-term adherence.
Let that sink in a bit. And then let's talk shop.
See Exhibit A: Ultimate Performance. They're a fine gym; a solid personal training product; and one of the best-known names in the business. But make no mistake: what they deliver - quick, get-shredded transformation results - comes from extreme caloric deficits, very rigorous training (both 3-4 hours in the gym and multiple hours outside in the form of steps/cardio), and a take-no-sh*t approach from their trainers (you track, log, record, and 'fess up to every bite, sip, step, nap, and poop you take throughout the 12-week program).
And for the record - I'm not just calling out Ultimate Performance. I am also talking about the F45 Challenge, the UFIT Clean & Lean, or really any other short-term, high-restriction game that focuses most of its effort on speed and less on sustainability. I also include coaches/programs that simply drop your calories down to near-zero, give you an incredibly restrictive list of food choices (no gluten, dairy, red meat, grains, caffeine, etc etc), or work you so hard in the gym that you end up starving, exhausted, and injured - that is definitely not sustainable.
Now let's consider Exhibit B - and while I refuse to call out colleagues by name, let's just say there's a coach in my circle that's known for a Gentle, Holistic Approach to weight loss. She refuses to keep scales in her office. She offers homeopathic powders, meditation scripts, and yoga routines as cornerstones of her program. There's no quantitative tracking or monitoring in her process; only qualitative feedback measures. And while many of her clients love her, they rarely lose a significant amount of body fat or gain any notable functional strength.
"Sustainability," then, in the way that most clients intend it, lies somewhere between hyper-restrictive, no-carb-no-booze-chicken-breast-and-greens-HIIT-daily types of programs that DO work - though only for a short while, until they break you - and feel-good, you-do-you-no-stress types of coaching that DON'T really deliver results - but aren't destroying you, either.
So what's my take?
If you want "sustainable results," you must first commit to two things: patience and effort.
The "sustainable" patience part comes from starting as you mean to go on, with small, consistent steps, to establish a strong foundation upon which you can build proper, long-term habits. This is why doing CrossFit workouts with a weak core, running a bunch of miles on a leaky pelvic floor, or trying to slash calories with an eliminate-everything diet is only going to backfire. You're putting the cart before the horse, wellness-wise, and trying to shortcut your way to results that your body won't be able to hold on to - often ending with frustration and a period of rebounding.
The "results" with effort part comes from understanding that lifestyle changes are a process, and to paraphrase a well-known quote - if nothing changes, nothing changes. You cannot keep drinking a bunch of alcohol, eating primarily takeout and restaurant meals, half-a*sing your workouts with sissy weights (or worse - skipping workouts altogether!), or sleeping 4 hours a night and expect your life - or your body - to change. There is a level of discomfort associated with any change, but to get cliche for the second time in this paragraph (ha) - do you prefer the pain of discipline, or the pain of regret?
Here's a list of what I consider non-negotiable in striking a sustainabilty-results balance:
you must have an accurate and trackable understanding of your food intake, and be able to consistently achieve 100g of protein per day
you should have 1-2 "go-to" healthy meals that you can execute with no stress or fanfare, and make sure you're eating those 80% of the time
you need to take at least 7500 walking steps per day, every day, aiming for 10,000 when possible
you must prioritise a system that works for you to get at least two honest, full-body progressive strength sessions per week, whether that's self-motivating to learn how to lift weights yourself or putting aside some money to attend a class or hire a trainer
you need to create an environment that allows you to get the maximum possible restful sleep, whether that means eliminating screens in the bedroom, sleep training a child, or having hard conversations with a partner who has a different rhythm from yours
you must take a cold, hard look at the habits that are consistently coming between you and your goals (alcohol, cigarettes, late nights, work events, stress eating, weekend bingeing) and be willing to address them with specific action, not just intention
and you must give yourself grace when the above things just aren't happening, due to illness, injury, or heck, even just personal choice - and commit to staying in the game and getting back on track without self-flagellating or falling back into old habits
A truly "sustainable" process doesn't favour restrict-binge diet cycles, overwhelmingly exhausting workouts, or quick fixes - but it does demand attention to basic meal preparation and nutrition literacy, some level of time or money invested in workout planning/equipment/instruction/execution, and a realistic adjustment of priorities (sleep, hydration, stress management, work hours/expectations, etc.) to actually see results.
If you've been spinning your wheels in the weight loss game for a while now, bouncing back and forth between restrictive diets and intense workouts and softer approaches that just don't deliver - it's time to take the matter into your own hands with some good old-fashioned discipline, smart habit strategy, intentional program planning, and dare I say - solid coaching to help you truly transform - once and for all.