I want to talk to you today about Caroline, whom I’ve worked with before. I’ve even written about her and used her feedback as a testimonial.
She’s one of my favorite people because she’s made a truly life-altering transformation.
Caroline didn’t just lose fat and get in shape. While we worked together, she changed her relationship with food. Her physical transformation was a result of overcoming a life-long pattern of binge eating.
I was really proud when, after what we’d accomplished, we parted ways. After all, I like my clients to be independent. I even commended her on her “victory.”
…but that was a mistake.
I wasn’t properly dealing with the complexity of most forms of disordered eating.
Rarely do you “defeat” behaviors or thinking patterns like that; instead, you learn to successfully manage them. Old demons may disappear, but they never leave completely.
A powerful trigger, like stress or other emotions, or just large life changes, can bring those demons back up from the depths.
After we parted, Caroline struggled with old patterns. She gained back a lot of weight.
I initially developed disordered eating habits that are pretty similar to what many dieters struggle with. I ate super “clean” and was very strict with my eating all week long, only to dive face-first into a mountain of junk food on the weekends. Come Monday, I felt terrible about myself and vowed to be even stricter with my eating that week. But I always eventually ended up back in the same place.
In retrospect I can see that the development of my eating disorder was closely tied to a perfectionist streak and an inability to effectively deal with stress. I have a tendency to do way too much and not take care of myself. I was trying to work 14 hour days, train hard, and have an active social life – while running on empty – and it was taking a huge emotional and physical toll on me. When I did mess up or fail to live up to my expectations, I felt terrible and would punish myself with a binge.
We started working together again late last year. Progress was slow at first, but we were on track. But—speaking of those stress triggers—you can imagine what something like COVID-19 and the shutdown might do…
Like millions, Caroline was locked out of her job, her gym, and her daily routine. She was suddenly lost..
So, with that in mind, a lot of our focus was on finding structure and balance.
Here’s what we did:
- Daily outdoor walking. This wasn’t even really cardio, per se—just getting some outside fresh air. (No, “going for a walk” isn’t as sexy as a complicated HIIT protocol, but there are cognitive and emotional benefits for this that are especially important when stress levels are high. It also provides—you guessed it—structure.)
- We built workouts that could be done with a few bands and bodyweight. That was the equipment she had on hand. As a fitness pro, she was used to a full gym and it was hard to make limited-equipment workouts feel like the “real thing.” One of the benefits of having a coach and specific protocol is it gives you that sense of having a set plan and a purpose.
- She included her boyfriend in her workouts to make training time into relationship-building time. Two for one. Again, this is about finding new structures for a new normal. In terms of her relationship, she wasn’t exactly about to have a weekly “night out” date night at a fancy restaurant every week.
- We followed a simple, repeatable meal plan that also worked in options: a weekly cheat meal she could share with her boyfriend (see above), OR space for if she wasn’t happy with how she’d hit the meal plan. (For example, she sometimes couldn’t get a hold of fresh good food due to COVID-related stock issues, and sometimes it was easier to make a substitution “chicken wings” and call it the cheat meal for the week.)
This was all working well. That doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. There were a few binges—a few steps forward followed by a step back here and there.
That’s how progress with this stuff happens.
So… what’d we do?
Well, for one, we DIDN’T beat her up. We failed fast and re-grouped, and I reminded her that the Covid situation is STRESSFUL.
When it comes to something like a binge, the worst thing you can do is beat yourself up and get caught in an endless cycle of bingeing and guilt trips. (You can imagine how a cycle like that can get worse if, for example, you add “purging” in there with guilt cardio or something like that.)
There’s a delicate balance to strike.
A coach provides accountability, but a half decent one doesn’t miss the forest for the trees: simply “beating up” a client for bingeing is never, ever helpful, and it’s especially not helpful during an extraordinary situation like the pandemic shutdown.
Here’s Caroline again:
There were a lot of emotional and mental issues fueling the binging that I had to hash out in therapy and will probably be working on for years. But beyond that, I still knew I wanted to get lean again and actually sustain it.
That’s where Bryan’s coaching has made all the difference for me. He has a no-bs approach to the fundamentals of getting lean, but he also emphasizes all the other lifestyle stuff that many coaches ignore. We recognized that focusing on stress management and building sustainable habits was absolutely essential to keep me on track. If I tried to do too much or ignored warning signs, I could easily end up back in my old habits. I appreciate that Bryan sought a balance of easing me back into this process while still calling holding me to a higher standard than I would have done by myself.
And here’s what she reported in a recent check-in:
Side note; today is 63 days without a binge. That is tied for what I did last summer when we did that shorter diet, which is the longest I’ve gone without a binge probably since 2016 when we first worked together.
Can I guarantee she’ll never binge again? Hell no.
(*In fact, let me pause to add, just so I’m crystal clear: I’m not a registered therapist, and I don’t play one on the internet. You can see above that Caroline is also seeing a therapist in addition to the fitness coaching. There are times when I myself will suggest a client seek out that kind of support, or I’ll turn down a prospective client if I can’t provide what I think they need.)
As her coach, here’s what I can do:
- I can be there to support her.
- I can provide routine and structure, simply in the form of regular check-ins and coaching feedback.
- I can keep an eye out for less constructive behaviors or thinking patterns.
- I can work with her to create other, healthier coping mechanisms and behavior patterns that fit with her particular circumstances and lifestyle.
- I can make sure that her actual training programs and meal plans aren’t so restrictive that they’re actually contributing to the mental and emotional challenges.
These are all things anyone who calls themselves a coach should be doing.
A coach provides support, structure and accountability—even when life has swept your own routines and structure out from under your feet.
Here’s the progress we’ve made:
If this pandemic and the shutdown has made sticking to your diet harder for you, I can help. I can provide programming you can do at home that’s actually effective for your goals, but more importantly, I can provide support and accountability for your lifestyle. I’ve never really just been about prescribing sets and reps, but that’s now more true than ever before.
One of the advantages of working with clients for years and years is that you notice patterns, both in terms of where people struggle and how they succeed.
Or, to put it another way:
All those things you’re struggling with?
Like, right now?
You are not alone.
I know. I’ve worked with enough clients to see it. I’ve seen them go through the same challenges.
I’ve also seen that there are simple strategies and structures that will help you get back on track and actually get sustainable results.