Healthy At Any Size: Coaching Weight Loss Clients To Be Fit and Healthy


What’s your strategy for the healthiest holidays ever?

The fear of adding those holiday-midwinter pounds often drives people to the bookstore for yet another dieting best-seller. The desire for quick results is understandable and nothing delivers like a low-calorie diet. The infomercials promise miracles and we keep on seeking a solution that we know sounds too good to be true. Of course those same low-calorie diets are impossible to sustain us for the rest of our lives. The pounds usually come back. Our bodies just need more energy.

no-dietingThe truth is, diets don’t work. What does? Sustainable lifestyle improvement. Sorry, we can’t promise that this approach will be fast, but it will work, and it will last.

“Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier.” These words introduce you to the website for an organization and an entire movement known as “Health At Every (or Any) Size”. Linda Bacon, a nutritionist at the University of California, Davis, says this new approach came about “to halt “the collateral damage” — food and body preoccupation, self-hatred and eating disorders — that has resulted from the failed war on obesity. H.A.E.S. is based on the idea that “the best way to improve health is to honor your body,” and it supports the adoption of good health habits simply for the sake of health and well-being rather than weight control. (

Teaming up with Lucy Aphramor, a National Health Service specialist dietitian of Coventry University in England, they reviewed over 200 studies on weight loss and concluded that the evidence just isn’t there that dieting helps us attain and maintain healthy weights or healthy lives.

Perhaps our notion of our own “healthy weight” needs a total makeover. Instead of focusing only on what the scales tell us, how about looking at our overall wellbeing? “Bacon and Aphramor insist that adjusting lifestyle habits with an eye toward improving markers of well-being like reduced blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, reduced stress, increased energy and improved self-esteem — independent of any weight loss at all — is a far more desirable goal for people of all sizes to pursue.”

Pursuing being as healthy and vibrant as possible with physical vigor and mental and emotional peace of mind may be what trumps every diet out there. Weight obsession needs to be replaced with both individual awareness of what truly nourishes us on many levels, and the science that focuses on real wellness.

The Coach Approach

When a wellness coaching client tells me “I want to lose 30 lbs.” The first questions I ask are “What will your life be like when you succeed at losing that weight? What will your life look like? What will you be doing and enjoying that you’re not doing now?”

Far too often clients get into self-defeating thinking by seeing the “goal” as the number on the scales, and its easy for coaches to simply fall in line with this simple goal-setting approach. Until the magic number is attained it’s too easy for the client to minimize their weight loss accomplishments with a “Yes, but…” attitude. I will only be successful when I lose all the weight I’m trying to lose. Internal barriers to change are every bit as powerful as external. It’s time to explore better outcome indicators.

Explore with your client the best markers of improved health and well-being would look like for them. Would tracking improvements in the markers Bacon and Aphramor referred to above be smarter? Get an agreement from your client about what they would like to see improve and tie it to their motivation to be well. Help your client notice the richly motivating unforeseen benefits that show up as they make progress. Celebrate improvements such as reduced pain in the knees, better sleep, more energy, etc.

dont-forget-to-love-yourself-2When someone who has struggled to live at a weight that is healthy for them is told that weight loss is simply “calories in and calories out” it is insulting and dismissive of them as a person. We human beings are wonderfully complex and our life journeys are fascinating. Embrace your whole-client, just as you urge them to embrace themselves.

Dr. Michael Arloski is a psychologist, certified wellness coach and a certified wellness practitioner who is the founder and Dean of The Wellness Coach Training Institute where the very best in Wellness & Health Coach Certification Training can be found.