Overcoming Client Plateaus

I bet you that I can guess your number one frustration in working with coaching clients? It is helping them break through their weight loss and health plateaus.

One of the biggest struggles any coach will face is client plateaus. This can range from weight loss resistance to chronic digestive issues, to many more, but helping clients break through their sticking points will help set you apart from the rest of the field. Most coaches don’t have the right set of tools, let alone, the know-how to even begin to accomplish these tasks but, that is exactly what this page is about to change.

Table of Contents

What are the Top Underlying Causes of Plateaus

All health coaches fear the idea of not being able to help their clients through a rough patch or when they hit any form of a plateau. Whether it is the fear of a lack of experience or simply not understanding where the heart of the client’s problem is, client plateaus are definitely one of the top stressors for health coaches as every health coach wants to see their clients succeed. But let’s be honest, the failure to help clients get over something like weight loss resistance or eliminate any form of chronic bloating is probably the number-one reason why most clients end the working relationship with their coaches because they are no longer seeing the value in the relationship.

So, with that in mind, where should the health coaches of today go for the resources that will help their clients get over any of their plateaus? Well, besides having years of experience to fall back on and an arsenal of proverbial tools, the next best bet is going to be to learn from those who are more experienced or who have already been there and done that or to have a team around you that can help you as a coach in looking outside of the box. Or you can just roll up your sleeves and start to learn by just building up your own experience and just test the waters with your clients by changing some things up with any client who appears to be stuck. 

Therefore, with that thought in mind, let’s identify some of the biggest underlying causes that may be holding your clients back and that you may not even be considering, and maybe some of these will hit home with you as a coach and possibly shine some light on and show you a few new ways that you can attack things.

Problem number one is that many times, the coaches of today tend to not take in all of the surrounding variables with their clients, and often, they zero in on one potential problem that they think is holding a client back, such as their food quality or that they are not getting in enough movement each day or that they are eating too few calories, but in reality, a large percentage of client plateaus today are the result of multiple reasons. 

It is that very multi-faceted reason that can make it so hard for certain clients to get over any of their health plateaus, such as weight loss resistance, because they are myopically focusing on only one variable and missing so many of the rest. Or in very simple terms, there are many times that multiple factors are holding a person back from breaking past their plateaus, be it health, weight loss, or fitness plateaus. Now, I do not claim to have a crystal ball and know the true cause behind all client plateaus because many times they are just unknown, but there have been some way smarter people than me who have put together a few a pretty good lists of some of the most common reasons that can be holding a person back.

One list comes courtesy of the Canadian Academy of Sports Nutrition, and they have made the very smart point of stating that there are at least two or more factors that are involved in a person hitting a health or weight loss plateau and and as a result having trouble overcoming it. (1) They include the following:


  1. Failure to comply.
  2. Body adaptation, also known as metabolic adaptation.
  3. Body acidification. Things don’t work quite right when the body is too acidic.
  4. Insulin resistance.
  5. Leptin (the fullness hormone) insensitivity or resistance.
  6. Imbalances among leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin, and orexin. Basically, hunger satiety, fat-burning, and energy hormones and the main energy neurotransmitter.
  7. Micronutrient deficiencies.
  8. Dysbiosis. An overgrowth of bacteria in the body.
  9. Disordered metabolism of serotonin. The happy neurotransmitter as when serotonin is low, it causes a host of problems and is the main reason that people are placed on antidepressants or SSRIs.
  10. Overtraining syndrome, or let’s say, not recovering properly.
  11. Too Low of a Carbohydrate Diet. 
  12. Lack of exercise or failure to build muscle
  13. Low amount of movement each day.
  14. Undiagnosed medical conditions. This list could go on and on, but hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), blood sugar dysregulation problems, heavy metal toxicity, and early perimenopause in females’ s and andropause for males are just a few.

I will add in a few more from my experiences, such as:

  1. Food intolerances
  2. Unmanaged stress
  3. A clogged liver
  4. Environmental toxins
  5. Uncontrolled inflammation
  6. Lack of restful sleep
  7. Digestion issues (the physical and chemical breakdown of foods)

Now, that is a pretty darn good list to start with, and I could have probably even added in a few more, but that is not the point as I just want to give everyone a good list to start with. However, I would venture to say that even some of the most seasoned health and nutrition coaches in the world today would look at the above list and say WOW, many of those scenarios are way over my head and to that, I would say no way, I think that none of them are over anyone’s head because they are all conditions that are lifestyle-related and are most likely due to a person not sticking with a plan long enough or doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. 


Many times, the root of the problem needs to be identified, and I have a whole page on how to do exactly that on this site, but in most situations, all a client needs is just a new plan to follow and a fresh perspective on the problem and most importantly the willingness to put in the work.


And that leads us into the next potential cause of client plateaus. Clients not buying into your plan!

“How Healthy Are You” Questionnaire

Symptoms Are Clues to A Problem! Do You Know How to Spot Some of Most Commonly Missed  or Brushed Over Symptoms In Clients?


How to Get Clients to Buy into Your Plan

Just as no diet will work for every person, not every plateau is caused by the same issues as all people are different. But the cold hard facts about client plateaus is that many are the result of a client not being willing or ready to put in the work or to take things to the level that they need to be at.  When a client wants to get below 10% body fat, they better be ready to eat clean and regimented and exercise more than they are at the current moment. For example when a client wants to have better skin and not get bloated after meals, they better be ready for an elimination diet or something similar!


So, with those ideas in mind, as a coach, before you attempt to give all that you have to a client, you need to recognize where that client currently is on their motivation scale, and if they are not at a 10/10 in terms of motivation and drive, how are you going to get them to that point?


To start, you should identify where they currently are and slowly ramp them up or get them warmed up to the idea of the change and that they may have to make some possible sacrifices. Precision Nutrition actually did a great write-up on this topic and classified clients into 3 motivational categories:

  • Low compliance or a client who struggles to follow any program that is put forth.


  • High compliance, low results. A client who follows the program but tends to get below than expected results.


  • High compliance, high results. A client who follows the program and usually gets above than expected results.

Every one of the above types of clients will respond differently and will require different forms of motivation to get them on-board with your coaching plan, however it is possible for a client to transition from a position of high compliance and high results to high compliance and low results, but we obviously want to flip that scenario around for the better. Therefore, step 1 is going to be to identify which of the above groups that your plateaued client falls into and then use the appropriate means to show them the light or educate them as to your new plan of attack with them. If you can do that, then they will be much more willing to try some new things, and their eyes will be more open to what might be holding them back or what might be causing their plateau in the first place. However, many will fall into the high compliance and low results group. And if they do, that is where you as a coach will really be able to put what is shown on this page into action.


But how do you ensure that they get on board in the first place, and after that how do you determine what is holding them back? Well, there are a few aspects that really need to be focused on as health coaches put on the proverbial health detective hat:

  • Make sure that you are actively listening to the client.


  • Help clients understand that reaching a goal is almost never a straight line. 


  • Explain that some dietary and lifestyle factors may need to be tightened up.


  • With your help, get clients themselves to identify what they think are the holes in the current plan or where  any possible improvements in that plan can be made. 


  • Look at how to identify a client’s underlying cause of a problem.


  • Be ready to scrap the current plan and re-individualize a new program that is based on their symptoms and any possible underlying causes.
In starting with active listening, I know this may sound like something that everyone thinks that they do with clients, but in my experience, very few coaches really actively listen to their clients to the degree that is required but instead most coaches let their personal bias and personal experiences do more of the dictating of the tone of client conversations.

For example, if you don’t personally believe in vegetarian diets, do you always discount their use right away because of your own personal experiences with them? Or do you really listen to your clients and look to connect anything that is off, such as symptoms that relate to all possible health angles? Perhaps the high-protein diet that you have clients on is making their blood too acidic, and that could be possibly causing issues with their digestive enzyme production and the resulting digestive problems that they are having.


(2) Well, if that happens you might not know if you don’t first open your ears and just actively listen.


As active listening (3) requires that you be fully present in the moment with clients—and is not the same as just having a conversation with them—as coaches will need to first engage their clients and they can better do so by practicing the following methods:

  • Repeating what the client says to them in your own words. Many times, all that is needed is the clients last 3-4 words. 


  • Continuing to show curiosity about the client’s thoughts and feelings by encouraging further elaboration on topics that they appear excited about.


  • Using open-ended questions that will allow clients to answer and explore certain topics further.


  • Using metaphors as much as possible. Metaphors will make some of the more difficult concepts more understandable, but when using them, always ask the client to first explain them back to you before continuing.

Very Few People Are as Healthy as They Appear! Use This Quiz to Help Clients Realize What They May Need to Work On the Most!


“How Healthy Are You” Questionnaire

Symptoms of Plateaus to Be Aware Of...

What are some of the most common symptoms, both mentally and physically, to be on the lookout for with clients that can help you catch a plateau before one ever hits?


Well, the following list is a good place to start and be mindful of and if they  do appear with clients. If so, then sit down with that client and figure out if there is a trend that is forming or if they possibly just had a bad day or a bad week.

    1. Mental outlook and mood seem to be deteriorating. 
    2. You find that a client is comparing themselves to others more often.
    3. Clients report being more anxious than normal.
    4. They are having a hard time falling asleep at nighttime.
    5. They are reporting being tired more often, even after a full night of sleep.
    6. They are more often hungry.
    7. They are more irritable than normal.
    8. They have loosened up on their food tracking or on their healthy eating patterns.
    9. They are only focusing on one specific means of exercise. (Ex: cardio or low repetition only weight lifting).
    10. Their NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) has decreased, or they are just sitting around more each day. 

Laying Out the Long-Term Plan with Clients

The path to having optimal health is never a straight line although most clients seem to or would like to think that it is. Life throws challenges at every one of us in our own separate ways. That is exactly why it becomes so important that any good coach sell clients on the fact that having a coach by your side throughout your weight loss, health or wellness journey almost always requires a long term, sustainable plan. The reason in which this is so important is so the client knows what to expect and does not leave the working relationship with you the first time that they experience a low point, or the first time they lose their motivation and or the know how in terms of sticking through their progress stalls or when times get tough from them. Just like in life, if anything that is ever worth a damn then it most likely isn’t simple or if it was then everyone would be doing it. 

Therefore as a coach you must do a few consistent things with clients time in and time out such as: 

  • Be supportive 


  • Hold them accountable 


  • Lead by example 


  • Create plans that are realistic and sustainable 


  • Form a team with your client


  • Meet clients in the middle with their difficulties 


  • Periodize a plan so that it meets them as individuals and that  meets their needs.

All clients should be viewed as long term clients and all long term clients need a long term plan and that plan will need to be periodized if you expect the client to see the results in which they are looking for—whether the client is a high level athlete or a soccer mom looking to lose 40 pounds. Assume that they are committing to at least a 12-week or even longer of a plan in working with you as their coach. By doing so it will allow you to formulate your own plan for the client, that maximizes all of you skills and expertise as a coach.


There should be a rigid structure to the plan, but not so rigid that it pushes clients away. Below are some important steps that should be included in any solid client plan and or health journey. 

  • Periodizing the Plan 


  • Setting the Right Progression 


  • Making Adjustments Based on the Clients Progress 


  • Having Clients Buy in at Every Stage 

Remember the plan is only a piece of the puzzle and as a coach you have to also be intuitive in the moment and know when and how to make adjustments and teach your clients how to work through the hard times. Sometimes those adjustments may be on a weekly basis or they can be on a daily basis. Because if that doesn’t happen then a client will bail at the first sign of trouble and the failure will be on you as a coach as you did not get them fully onboard with your plan from the get-go. Always remember that fact!

Case Study: Judy

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Overcoming Client Plateaus (Part Two)

When you search on the web “how to break through a health plateau”, all you get is pages upon pages of how to overcome a weight loss plateau, but very few if any of those sources aim to show a person how to get over a poor health plateau.

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