Leadership from Weight Loss Providers
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Anyone that has had a "bad boss" knows that there is a fine art to leadership. A boss that is too controlling can be stifling, and one that is too lax can make it seem like there is a rudderless ship. Both situations have the potential to cause anxiety because we are not sure what we should be doing. The same amount of "art" is involved in counselling people though weight loss. If a weight loss provider does not get the right amount of leadership for the right patient, there are not likely to be a lot of results.
An example will suffice. A while ago, a nutritionist referred a young patient to me. The patient seemed inordinately intelligent and seemed to be complaining about the fact that everyone around her was trying to control her diet - from her family through to the nutritionist who sent her to me. Knowing that the nutritionist was trained a long time ago, I said "Listen, some old-school nutritionists are trained to believe that anyone with a weight problem has poor boundaries regarding food. So they tend to be overly strict and set those boundaries for everyone, even if it turns-off a lot of people who feel that the nutritionist is overbearing." The patient appreciated the fact that for the first time, someone had realized that being too strict with her was not the right approach to take with her.
However, I heard an equally concerning tale on the opposite spectrum of the scale. A very prominent weight management physician indicated that he is often asked "How much weight can I expect to lose?" or "What do I have to do to get the weight off?" His response was "Listen, this is a journey that you are going to take on your own, and what you will have to do and how much you will lose is a mystery, and we will just have to see what happens." If you are a patient that likes structure, or truly has no idea about how to lose weight, that response can create a lot of anxiety, especially if you expected to have a lot of structure provided to you, and especially coming from a medical doctor. While the doctor's statement is actually TRUE and while he should be applauded for being so straight-forward with his patients, it can cause anxiety as well.
As you can imagine, what I think works best is a customized approach for every individual, in that the amount of leadership provided by a weight loss expert varies based on the needs of each client or patient. Success in long-term weight loss, like success in anything, comes from a sense of confidence, or a sense of "Hey, I've got this" or "Hey, I'm going to get through this". The psychological approach to weight loss is to build-up a patient's internal psychological resources necessary to make these statements about themselves. If I am too strict the patient will not learn these on their own, and the same if I am not supportive enough.
The reason this is important is because, much like any endeavour, weight loss is going to involve failure, setback, struggle and literally dozens of decisions along the way. One of the inherent problems with the weight loss "industry" is that it is just that - an "industry" that runs on profit. There is a very strong motivation among weight loss providers to say that they have the only solution you will need in order to keep you coming back. Similarly, those trying to lose weight cling to a fantasy just one solution will work for them so that weight loss will be "easy".
Good leaders know that nothing is easy, decision making is an imperfect science, failure will always happen and that change is the only constant.If I don't teach my clients how to engage these skills, then I am not teaching them to lose weight. An approach that does not recognize how much support a client needs in these areas is only doing a disservice to them. Unfortunately, most weight loss providers don't teach these skills, and maybe that is why the success rate is so darned low.