d. self-efficacyPeople who are overweight or obese have often tried to lose weight multiple times previously and may have doubts about their ability to successfully change their lifestyle and health. In fact, they may wonder if it’s even possible for them to lose weight. This article will explore how you can work most effectively with those clients and provide some strategies to help keep them motivated.

What is self-efficacy?

Self-efficacy is simply the idea that in order to be able to effect change, a person needs to believe that they are capable of achieving that change. Overweight clients with low self-efficacy are often drawn to quick fixes – like offers that promise being able to lose 5kg in two weeks. But often these sensational claims don’t work, and leave the client in the original weight situation plus interest, causing their sense of self-efficacy to spiral down even further. As a weight loss professional, helping clients to break that cycle is one of the keys to helping them achieve effective long-term lifestyle change.

Working with lofty goals

Often, clients who are overweight or obese tend to have large goals, such as losing 30kg in time for a wedding, a holiday or for a general health reason. And there’s nothing wrong with a weight loss goal like this – but as weight loss professionals, you can assist your clients to harness their self-efficacy by breaking that goal into smaller, achievable steps.

Those smaller steps are described as a microcycle, which might run for between 1 and 4 weeks. During a single microcycle, the client focuses on only one small, achievable change at a time. Put together, these microcycle goals can positively contribute to your client’s overall weight loss target and their sense of self-efficacy by helping them realise that over time, they do have the power to positively change their health and weight.

Why multiple changes at once don’t work

Despite the temptation, giving clients a few things to work on at a time risk making them feel overwhelmed. Often, clients struggle with the added complexity of multiple tasks and may perceive that improving their health is too challenging and give up altogether. Examples of small, achievable goals include drinking more water, eating an extra serve of vegetables per day, tweaking their regular breakfast, or starting a weekend outdoor family activity like taking a walk.

Here are five simple ways to help increase self-efficacy in your clients:

1. Introduce exercise in a fun and playful way. Shifting the idea of exercise from arduous ‘work’ to a pleasurable activity is important to establish exercise as a positive experience.

2. Take the time to explore with your clients what is behind their goals. For example, do they just want to lose some weight, or do they have a major life event coming up; is there a dream that they want to pursue, or some other reason that is motivating them to work with you now?

3. Celebrate the wins: praising achievements, no matter how small, can be helpful to reinforce the positive progress made by the client.

4. Set exercises that your client is able to perform – encouraging your client to attempt activities they cannot do will risk embarrassing or frustrating them, and result in lower self-efficacy.

5. Explore and build upon successes from other areas of their life or previous weight loss efforts: for example, where else have they overcome a challenge they faced? In their previous weight loss attempts, what has worked well for them? Consider how you can incorporate those answers into the current approach that you develop with your client.
Reference: Kovar, E. R. (2014). Building Exercise Self-Efficacy in Overweight and Obese Clients. IDEA Fitness Journal, (January), 84–88.