Could this one training mistake be damaging your chances of success?

Could this one training mistake be damaging your chances of success?

Today I would like to talk about a mistake that I see people make every day: training for weight loss.

As a personal trainer, almost every single person I talk to have a notion that they would be happier and more confident if they could lose what they feel is excess weight (more accurately, fat). Given my chosen profession I would be mad if I said that losing fat is a rubbish goal, but I do see it another way; I believe the fat would come off (and stay off) if the goal were redefined.

The problem comes when we equate being in shape with being happy. At this point I could get into a massive discussion about happiness and what it is exactly, but that conversation is so subjective it would be entirely pointless. I prefer not to talk about happiness but about mood, self confidence, self esteem and how we feel about ourselves.

If you are on any social media site you will have seen picture after picture of tanned, toned bodies and the motivational captions that accompany them. These people have thousands of followers wanting to be like them, wanting to know how they did it. They must be so confident because they are in fantastic shape right?! We have become an outward looking nation, a nation obsessed with image and the material. The fitness industry capitalises on, and benefits from that obsession knowing that in reality most people who diet or train to lose weight gain that weight back.

How many times have you seen your friends grab that bit around the middle and say “if only I could lose this!”, or just say “I need to lose x amount of weight for y event!”?

How many times have you done it yourself?

I’m of the opinion that when someone trains for mood they are far more likely to reach or exceed their fat loss goal but even if they don’t reach that goal, they will still find themselves healthier in the long term. Mental health is a huge part of overall health and while most personal trainers know that exercise makes us feel good, they either neglect to talk about it without assigning it to a physical outcome or forget it altogether.

I’ve observed a few differences between training for weight loss vs. training for mood:

Focus on training for weight loss 


  • You can define clear goals
  • When you reach your goal you will have a sense of achievement and pride
  • You may receive positive feedback from friends and family
  • Chance of developing long term healthy habits
  • You may engage in more social activities if you participate in a new sport or exercise group


  • Your self esteem and self confidence is tied to whether you achieve those goals or not, failing has emotional consequences
  • You may put yourself through training that you don’t enjoy
  • You may punish yourself if you don’t make it to a training session
  • You are dependent on scales and measuring to define your success
  • It is easy to become obsessive about training and eating habits
  • If you stop, you will gain back all the lost weight
  • High chance of yo-yoing
  • Isolation from friends and family who are not supportive

Focus on training for mood


  • Every session is centred around you feeling good and enjoying it
  • Noticeable reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Doing something you enjoy encourages more exercise in the long term
  • You may receive positive feedback from friends and family
  • Noticeable increase in self confidence from a focus on you achieving something every session
  • No risk of guilt as a result of underachievement
  • Weight loss is a side effect
  • Improved health is a side effect
  • Relieves stress
  • You may engage in more social activities if you participate in a new sport


  • No clear measurement of progress
  • You may become dependent on exercise as a coping mechanism

Clearly there are benefits to both sides, of course there are, but as I said before, most people who set out with weight loss as their main goal will either fail to stay motivated; or reach their goal and then slip backwards once they have nothing left to motivate them to keep training.

Would you rather be 2 stones lighter next month, but the same weight this time next year? Or just 1 stone lighter this time next year?

I have seen lots of people lose significant amounts of weight in a matter of weeks but then gain more back once they stop because they restricted themselves too much or tried to change too much too soon and they haven’t formed sustainable habits. Sustainable habits take time and those who succeed with their weight loss quite often form habits because they feel good and are enjoying what they do.

So why not start with that first?

The best thing about training to improve your mood is that you are not limited by feelings of inadequacy or failure.  As with any training you will need to consistently practice at it, but if you do something because you enjoy it, you are much more likely to succeed. The first thing to consider when you are doing something to get slimmer, fitter or healthier is whether what you are doing makes you feel better about yourself day to day. The rest will follow.


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