I don’t stress about my weight or about losing weight, because I’m at my goal weight. And that’s new. It’s really nice. I don’t stress about my clothes not fitting… except I do, because they’re too big.”Sarah, April 2021
My online client Sarah has been working with me one-on-one for a year, and we decided to celebrate our one year “trainiversary” with a blog post, because she’s been maintaining amazing results! Plus, you’ll see from her narrative that it’s not just about weight loss – her mindset, habits, and systems have totally transformed, too!
How It Started
When she first reached out to me, Sarah was a 32-year-old speech pathologist in Florida with a wedding in less than a year. She was a smart, accomplished person with a wide range of interests (including being an excellent knitter!), but exercise didn’t make her list of hobbies at the time.
She was also about to move halfway across the country to Missouri to start a new job.
Oh… and the pandemic and just started.
In other words, it wasn’t a calm, quiet year for Sarah. But she was ready to make a change and lose about 20 pounds, and when she started reading Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before” and then happened to find my Rubin’s write-up of one of my blog posts, she reached out to me.
Sarah says, “I had difficulty sticking with something for longer than a few months. I did a lot of BeachBody stuff, and I would do really good for like, the three weeks or six weeks of the program, and then it would be over. Or, I miss a workout, and then because I miss the workout, I would think: ‘I’m not doing it correctly, so I’m not going to do it at all.’ So it was being too Type-A. That’s a trend in many areas of my life. I don’t like doing things I’m not good at, so I just don’t.”
Because of this tendency to avoid the discomfort zone (a common pattern among many of my clients!), Sarah’s activity had dwindled at the beginning of the pandemic. She used the Apple Watch to monitor her steps, but she noticed that she wasn’t ever able to “close the ring” on her watch because she wasn’t moving enough. Without formal exercise and with lockdown ordering her to work from home, most of her daily activity consisted of walking from her bedroom to her home office to her kitchen.
Even though she wanted to be more active, she struggled with exercise motivation. She valued her health, but she didn’t know what to do for exercise, and – like many people – she got bored when exercise got too repetitive. Time was also an issue – as a full-time clinical practitioner with a fiancé and dog at home, she didn’t have a surplus of time for fitness in her schedule.
But when Sarah reached out to me, I knew almost from the start that she was going to be successful, because of the personal qualities that she exhibited.
- She valued her health. This is not something I can transfuse into a client. “I have this overall desire to be healthy, so I think that’s helpful. I know these are things that I want to do because they’re good for me.”
- She was good at following directions. This is essential for online training, since it has a lot of accountability but is still very independent. Referring to Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” from “Better Than Before,” she says: “I’m an obliger. I’m great with external motivation. I do well with a schedule.” (Side note… if you take Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz and you turn out to be an Obliger, you’re going to relate very much to Sarah’s story!)
- She had great follow-through in her job and other parts of her life, and I knew she was just waiting to unleash this potential for her own health. This is also a very common pattern of my most successful clients – they just need to connect the dots to self-care, and then they’re unstoppable.
Plus, she was getting married in less than a year! Even though I don’t want clients to get into a “shedding for the wedding” mindset (that ends when the wedding’s over), there’s no doubt that being the center of attention in a formal gown is a major motivator.
When we got started, I recognized Sarah’s obstacles – time being the biggest one, but also the danger of overdoing it and burning out. So, like I do with many of my clients, we strategized for long-term success and started slow. I gave her three strength workouts per week that were 30-45 minutes, with walking on the other three days of the week. We also created some basic calorie and macro goals for her, and then watched her progress over the first few weeks and made small tweaks to make sure that she was consistently losing weight. We changed up the workouts every four weeks, and talked on the phone every two weeks.
Thee overall structure that I envisioned for her was this:
- Months 1-2: Get initial weight loss going (5-10 pounds), get conditioned to exercise
- Month 3: Maintenance for move and new job
- Months 4-6: Lose last 10 pounds, get stronger, improve sports performance
- Months 7-10: Bulking cycle, get way stronger
- Months 11-12: Fat loss, de-stressing
- Ongoing: maintenance
Sarah says about the first few weeks: “It was very reasonable. It felt very doable. ‘You’re going to do your weight training three days a week, and the other days I want you to walk.’ We’ve slowly made it harder and harder as I’ve gotten more fit, but it was easy to digest at first. It wasn’t, ‘Okay, you’re going to do a HIIT workout every single day, you’re only going to eat 1,000 calories, and we’re going to bust that fat off!!!’ In our first conversation, when you told me what we were going to do, I felt very confident like, ‘Okay, I can do that.'”
And… she did it.
She started seeing results, and despite the fact that we were in the middle of a global pandemic and that she moved halfway across the country two months into our program, she didn’t let anything stop her.
Sarah says, “In the past, if I had moved across the country (even after being very consistent with working out for two months), that would have been a perfect time for me to ‘take a break’ and then not get back on. ‘Take a break’ turns into 3 or 4 months. You helped me tailor those weeks to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do short workouts, bodyweight only, because you’re not going to have your equipment, you’re not going to have your furniture,’ and you helped me get through all those things, and I don’t think I ever missed a workout.”
She added, “The main thing that still surprises me every day is that I have not gone a week without working out in a year. And that’s incredible. That’s not something I could ever say before. So that’s amazing. And every month, I’m still surprised at myself. I’m still going. I’m still doing it. I still feel like doing it. I haven’t quit.”
Sarah completed her major move, got set up in her new job, and we started gradually stepping up her workouts. Even though most of my clients come to me wanting to work on weight loss and nutrition, my goal is to get them out of their exercise comfort zone and feeling great about their accomplishments. So I started training her for 5K’s and convinced her to buy a pull-up bar, and we kept gradually turning up the heat on her exercise.
“I would say, ‘No, you’re crazy. Doing pull-ups and running?’ And then I ended up achieving these goals, and I didn’t think that I could.”
Fast forward to late 2020. Sarah had run a bunch of 5K’s, was looking amazing, and had achieved her 20-lb. weight loss goal well before the wedding. I knew that meant something great: we could take the focus off fat loss for awhile, increase her eating dramatically to put on more lean muscle tone, and still have time to do a quick fat loss cycle right before the wedding. Getting out of weight loss mode is so incredibly important for metabolic (and mental) health when someone’s lost a lot of weight, and I was honored that Sarah trusted me with that process. Because I get it – if you’ve just lost 20 pounds, adding in more food can be scary.
But again… she did it! “You really helped me plan months in advance for the wedding. We went through kind of a ‘bulking’ period so that we could then lean out for the wedding. And that was cool, too, because that’s not something I would have felt comfortable doing on my own. There were very detailed parts that you helped me to do. The other thing that was so great about having you is your knowledge about nutrition and exercise and how they go together and what to eat when, knowing what’s best for specific to my height and age… that’s not something you can get from BeachBody.”
She maintained her weight and focused on heavier, stronger workouts, and then a few months before the wedding, we dialed her nutrition back into fat loss mode and focused on de-stressing and finding the right balance, and dropped a few more pounds of fat.
… And the results speak for themselves.
Now, Sarah is happily married, training for another 5K next month, and easily maintaining her 20-lb. weight loss even though we’ve increased food again (because I’ll say it again: you can’t get stuck in weight loss mode or you’ll burn out physically and mentally). Currently she’s strength training twice a week and running 2-3 miles three times a week.
But Sarah’s transformation goes far beyond weight loss. I also saw huge changes in her mindset around body image, weight loss, and lifestyle.
She says, “The biggest thing for me was the all-or-nothing, perfectionistic mindset. You have helped me to change it from ‘on-track/off-track’ to ‘taking a detour,’ or being ‘pretty good most of the time.’ And that ‘good’ is better than ‘nothing.’ Just being mindful of that’s been really good for me. You don’t have to do a HIIT workout to be healthy. You can walk. You can do yoga. You can do other things. I appreciate that you never pressured me. You encouraged me to do some things that I was afraid to do. But you never gave me workouts that we knew I wouldn’t like.”
She also found balance around nutrition:
“I think that’s another thing we can go back and say that I’ve learned, to be a little less controlling about food, and to be a little more relaxed in situations where I’m not in control of the food. Because before, I would have felt like I was ‘dieting’ and I couldn’t go anywhere because I couldn’t be in control of what we were going to eat. Somehow, I was able to navigate those times better, and I think it was because I knew I was consistent most of the time, so when we did have that occasional outing to do something fun, I felt like I could relax with my plan.”
Sarah’s Tips for Success
If you feel like you’re in the same boat as Sarah in terms of lack of motivation, here are her secrets for success:
- “This seems almost too basic – but schedule your workouts. Put it in the day when you’re going to do it. That really helps me with my mindset – knowing all day (and on my way home from work) that I’m going to go home and change into my workout clothes and do my workout. Whereas, if it’s not, I don’t do that, and who knows when I would exercise. I would talk myself out of it or make excuses. If it’s scheduled, then you’re more likely to do it.”
- “Watch or listen to something fun when you’re working out. I’ve always done that with my walks and my runs, but recently when I started to really not want to do my weight training workouts, I started watching my favorite YouTube stuff and that’s really helped me. I want to watch that stuff anyway, so I think, ‘I might as well get my workout in while I’m watching it.'”
- “Loosely plan meals and snacks. I pick out a few meals for the week, and I don’t necessarily plan each dish – especially dinner. But I at least have some options, and the planning happens on the shopping end. I make breakfast easy – that’s one I got from you and it really works for me. I don’t have to think about it. I have two boiled eggs and toast, or my Kodiak waffles. I don’t have to stress or worry about it. I know how many calories it is.”
The last ingredient in Sarah’s secret sauce was certainly accountability. She points out what is unique about online training:
“Even though you’re my personal trainer, we’ve never done a workout together. Our time is talking. And that is the most valuable part of this. That is the most valuable part of our relationship to me. Sometimes, we do ‘counseling,’ and you prepare me for difficult times. So that’s been very, very valuable, to help me navigate those things. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that’s not a big part of having a personal trainer at the gym. They’re training you on the equipment. We always said, ‘Let’s not just talk about workouts and nutrition, let’s talk about what’s coming up and what might be a struggle in the next few weeks.'”
Sarah has now reduced her support to one call per month, and is tackling new goals on the horizon!