Fat Loss Is Not Linear

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Written by Online Master Coach, Kim Leggett

Losing fat is usually NOT a linear process. Some days and weeks your client may lose weight, while during others, they may gain a little bit. This is NOT a cause for concern! It’s NORMAL for body weight to fluctuate up and down. For example, you may be carrying more food in your digestive system or holding onto more water than usual. Women around their menstrual cycle will find they hold on to more water weight and may notice the number on the scale fluctuate.

When it comes to fat loss, as long as the general trend is going DOWNWARDS, no matter how much it fluctuates, your client will still succeed in losing weight over the long term. 

When it comes to coaching for fat loss, your role as coach is to help your client reach their goal whilst combating any metabolic adaptations and potential roadblocks that may come your way. The body is an incredibly adaptive machine and will fight your attempts to dial it down with every trick in the book. To be a great coach, you want to be going above and beyond for your client – looking for sticking points, sources of noncompliance and planning for plateaus ahead of time before they become a problem. Your average Joe coach will simply dish out calories and macros to the client without much else to their plan. 

So what should you be on the lookout for?

The biggest pitfall you want to avoid and may encounter is stalled weight loss. 

Let’s take an example. Your client is following a conservative deficit that reaps results for 4 to 6 weeks, then suddenly everything halts – Why? Even after diet breaks and refeeds, there has definitely been metabolic adaptation. Most coaches panic at this point but you need to be one of them! If you are monitoring and measuring your clients weight loss, body composition, activity levels and intakes you can make an informed decision as to how their TDEE has changed over time which should mean you won’t need to fine tune their calories by more that 5-15% to kickstart fat loss again. 

About 90% of the time, things don’t go to plan. This is simply down to every client genetic and metabolic makeup being different – hence why every clients fat loss journey is not identical. When fat loss starts to slow or stall – this is when it’s time for you to adapt as and when they happen. 

When your client is in a fat loss phase and they have a stall, it’s likely that they’ve just entered the low end of their maintenance range. They’re not going to need another 350 calorie drop or 500 calorie drop or 700 calorie drop or whatever it was to get back into a deficit. In fact, it’s usually only going to take a small calorie drop to bump them out of that maintenance range and get you back into a deficit. That’s why I say dropping calories by 5 to 15%.

Now, sometimes things happens and your client may go off track. An unplanned night out, a special occasion that leads to overeating, a stressful situation at work, a wine and cheese night – all of these things will delay progress which isn’t a good thing… But, your clients are also human beings. Humans make mistakes and it’s important to both you and your clients that you understand this. When your client goes off track, it’s your job to hold them accountable, but accountability only works if you also provide empathy.

You need to hold the client accountable but also empathise with them. You may say something like,
“I understand you were stressed and over ate. I understand because I’ve done the same thing before myself, but this is the goal you want. This is the way to get there, and the only way to do it is to do the work.”
That’s an example of me humanizing yourself to your client. So you’re creating empathy, but then you’re also creating accountability for their goals.

Things will be better with your clients if you are empathetic and hold them accountable. If you’re just empathetic, they’re not going to take you seriously, and they’re more likely to just do whatever the hell they want. 

One way to help hold clients accountable is to monitor as much as you can. If you’re getting regular photos, girth measurements, weigh-ins and body fat pinches, your client is more likely to think twice about the donuts at the next staff meeting. If they know you’re watching, it’s like you’re there with them. On the other hand, if you don’t monitor their progress or you don’t monitor it very closely, they will see that as space to do what feels good and that can further delay progress.

You may also run into instances when your client is saying they’re doing everything on point but are not responding well to the program.

There could be several reasons for this, for example:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor thyroid function
  • Stress
  • GI disorders etc.

This is where it’s best to encourage your client to seek help elsewhere if it falls beyond your scope. To be a coach, you need to be respected and nothing earns respect more than being honest with your client.

When it comes to fat loss, we’ve already said that it is not linear. As even as we slowly ramp down calories over time, we need to consider the metabolic adaptations we will encounter along the way. 

If we take a fat loss client who, every two weeks, we drop the target weekly calories to ensure we’re overcoming any reduction in overall metabolism – we are keeping them in a deficit in the most simple way. It helps keep fat loss going but the biggest short fall is severe depression of metabolism. By doing this you’re also sending the body signals that it needs to slow things down in order to protect itself from the stress of lower food intake. As an adaptive machine, the body will do everything in its power to REDUCE metabolic output as a result. Thyroid function will downregulate. NEAT will reduce. Overall energy will reduce. Muscle proteins will start to break down. 

It’s for these reasons that it is best NOT to run a linear model of dieting for 6 to 8 weeks straight. You’ll create MORE problems than you’re solving and potentially delay further progress and need to heavily reverse diet your client out of the metabolic hole you’ve just created. This is why a zig zag or Davoodi cycle will work best – which is where you take periodic breaks in a surplus to help mitigate excessive fat gain. 

Fat loss is not linear and to get results for fat loss – no system can be used forever. It’s best to keep an eye on biofeedback to ensure the client is progressing in the right direction but also be mindful of any metabolic pitfalls and adaptations that could come their way before they occur so that the appropriate measures can be implemented to help keep the body in the most optimal position whilst getting the client to their goal. 

Want to learn the science behind the macronutrients, so an in-depth look at your proteins, carbs, fats, water & how they affect the body depending on the client, goal & a variety of other factors? Enrol into the Performance Nutrition Coach Certification Bundle (includes Level 1 & 2!).


  1. CHFI. (2020). Performance Nutrition Coach Level 1. Clean Health Fitness Institute. 
  2. Layne, N. (PhD). (2020). Science of Nutrition. Clean Health Fitness Institute. 

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