We all need food to survive, but some clients may feel so out of control with their cravings that they see food as a drug and an addiction. The types of foods that clients eat shape the way they look, feel, and ultimately, it can affect their health.

If foods high in sugar, fat and calories are consumed all of the time, people tend to get constantly tired and hungry. This is because these types of foods tend to spike blood sugar levels, which not only lead to weight gain but also leave people craving more food. These types of foods also have empty calories, providing practically no nutritional value. As fitness professionals, we should encourage our clients and members to indulge in foods that they like every once in a while, but we should tell them to be consistent with their other meals.

Although a certain percentage of peoples’ body types are hereditary, food can help people lose weight. Every time I tell a new client who is trying to lose weight that food is the most effective way, I usually get a bewildered look. I then ask them how many nutrition supplement products they have purchased over the years. Have they worked? How much has a client spent on them? It’s at this point that I have to sit down with these clients to explain to them how food can be used to lose weight and the importance of eating a balanced diet. I also have to instill in them that food is not a drug or an addiction, but it is necessary for life and should be treated with respect.

The types of foods that I direct people to eat starting with breakfast, lunch and dinner are: oatmeal, tuna/chicken with whole grain bread and chicken with vegetables. These meals should not exceed 500 to 600 calories. I then have clients eat two additional snacks during the day between meals. These snacks consist of 100 to 200 calories and can include fruits, whole grain crackers, nuts, etc. I instruct clients to eat once every two to three hours starting at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day. This gives them a 12-hour window to consume five meals and gives their bodies a 12-hour break from eating food. On a weekly basis, this equates to 35 meals. This eating plan lays the foundation to what clients should be shooting for to maintain their blood sugar levels, without exceeding their daily maintenance calorie levels. After following this plan, clients begin to realize that food does not have to be a drug or addiction. Instead, food is a very effective fat-burning tool.

However, eating five small meals per day can be very difficult for the client who is used to consuming large meals on a daily basis. It also seems like a very bleak outlook for the person who likes to indulge in the occasional pizza, cookies or potato chips. I always inform them that if there is a will, there’s a way. If clients are eating the recommended five small meals per day, they can indulge in three to four “cheat meals” per week. This equates to 90 percent compliance to healthy meals, with 10 percent freedom for junk food. Clients do not have to be selective when choosing their cheat meals as long as they are complying with their regular meals. This, in effect, adds fuel to the fire and shocks the metabolism into burning fat at a faster rate. It also gives clients a break from the monotonous task of eating the same healthy foods day in and day out.

I recommend clients to have a cheat meal on Wednesday (such as dessert), and then another cheat meal on both Saturday and Sunday night. There are many clients who like cheat days, but cheat days have the possibility of backfiring if too many calories are consumed at one time. Then, a client completes marathon cardio sessions to make up for the excess calories that they have consumed. Marathon sessions are not necessary for the average person who is trying to stay fit and can actually be a deterrent to maintaining an exercise regimen, so I advise fitness professionals to be watchful of a client’s cheat meal portion sizes.

We as club owners and personal trainers have to remember that there are people who truly believe that they have a food addiction. It is our jobs to show them through educating them that food can be used as an effective fat burning tool. We also need to give them a baseline of foods that should be consumed on a daily basis so that they have a little bit of guidance. Daily meal planning through your facility’s registered dietitian or computer software is also a good idea to keep people on track and to prevent them from resorting to fast foods throughout the day. Self-proclaimed food addictions are not a disease. It is an opportunity to become nutritionally proficient.

Rodney Wynn, founder of Wynn with Fitness, holds both a master’s of business administration degree and a bachelor’s degree in information systems management from the University of San Francisco. Wynn also is a certified specialist in performance nutrition. You can reach him at rodney@wynnwithfitness.net.