Should You Work With A Dietitian to Help Weight Loss Clients?

Achieving a good level of fitness requires a combination of physical activity and healthy eating. So what happens when half of that equation is beyond your professional remit?

'I’ve come to you because I want to lose weight.’

Sound familiar? With over 60 per cent of Australian adults overweight, it’s pretty standard fare for most personal trainers. While putting together a fitness plan for these clients is your forte, challenges can arise if they have chronic health conditions or ask you for nutritional advice or a meal plan.

Some clients who come to you seeking weight loss will need to be referred to their doctor or exercise physiologist first due to chronic health conditions or injuries such as heart conditions, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, thyroid conditions, sleep apnoea or breathing problems, fatty liver, osteoarthritis and joint or bone problems. But once they have been given the go ahead to exercise and have returned to you, what do you do about their diet? After all, we all know that achieving a good level of fitness requires a combination of physical activity and healthy eating.

The Position Statement by Fitness Australia states that the Fitness Professionals Scope of Practice does not include the provision of nutritional advice outside of basic healthy eating information, and nationally endorsed nutritional standards and guidelines. We all want to do everything we can to help our clients reach their goals, so how can we help them lose weight if we can’t give them a weight loss meal plan?

The diet dilemma

While you may direct them to get some general nutrition advice from nationally endorsed nutrition or health websites, tailored meal plans should be compiled by qualified nutrition experts like dietitians. Accredited Practicing Dietitians are experts in medical nutrition therapy and weight loss, so if your client is serious about maximising their results, and their budget allows, it is worth working with one. As an added bonus, building a relationship with a dietitian can also result in increased referrals for both of you.

Why refer your client?

Sustainable, healthy weight loss requires more than just ‘going on a diet’. As a dietitian, I frequently see clients who have tried every diet under the sun, yet gained more weight over the years rather than successfully lost it. You may have experienced the same phenomena in your clients.

Why is successful weight loss and maintenance so hard? There are many reasons:

  • Overeating and large portions sizes. Most people eat too much in one sitting or during the day. Some reason that if they eat healthier options they can eat more. Great if it’s low kilojoule vegetables, but it’s often not.
  • Lack of activity. Life has become increasingly sedentary. Most people have desk jobs, which involve hours of sitting. By the end of their long sedentary day most will say they have no time or energy to exercise.
  • Eating behaviours. Non-hungry eating, eating mindlessly, eating quickly and not savouring or acknowledging the food eaten are common eating behaviours that can lead to weight gain.
  • Hunger. Whether it’s due to habit, food choices, boredom or simply not remembering how it actually feels to be hungry or that it’s OK to feel some hunger, many people are simply too hungry to stick to most diets long-term.
  • ‘Diet’ mentality. When someone is ‘on a diet’ they often feel as though it’s restrictive, depriving and something that they only follow temporarily before returning to their old ways (and hoping that, by some miracle, the weight stays off.) In reality, permanent healthy dietary changes need to be made during weight loss to help maintain weight in the long term.
  • Time restraints. Many people feel like making healthy meals is too time consuming, and not a priority. They need to learn how to make healthy meals that are satisfying and don’t take too much time.
  • Less home cooking and more take away meals. By cooking meals from scratch you can ensure you get more nutrients and fewer kilojoules/calories. People are cooking from scratch less and less, and eating more take away and pre-prepared meals these days.
  • Snacking. Whether it is during the day, in front of the TV in the evening or in the middle of the night, uncontrolled snacking can lead to uncontrolled weight gain.
  • Poor food choices. Opting for less nutritious food usually comes about as a result of hunger, time restraints, limited nutrition education, tiredness and emotional issues.
  • Confusion. There are a lot of unqualified self-styled nutrition experts these days. Coupled with clever marketing and mixed messages from the media and it’s no wonder people are confused about what to eat. Is bread good or bad? Should I eat nuts? Does ‘low fat’ mean I can have more…?
  • Lack of sleep, stress, medications, health conditions. These are other things that can also affect weight loss or even lead to weight gain. All essential to consider.

So, are you ready to work through all of these issues with your clients? You may be able to access some nutrition information or sample meal plans, but long-term success requires more than that.

When you renovate a house you don’t get the plumber to do the bricklaying: for optimum results you get a team of professionals, all of them experts in their fields. To help your weight loss clients get the best possible long term results, it is wise to work as a team with a dietitian and, when necessary, the client’s doctor. This doesn’t mean you’ll lose your client, but rather that you and your client’s team can work together to provide the best service, and consequently, the best health and fitness results.


Gloria Cabrera is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and personal trainer with Nutrition Savvy. Her passion is food, nutrition, fitness and helping people make permanent dietary and lifestyle changes. nutritionsavvy.com.au