This is probably going to tick some people off but I don’t really care. I’ll get right to it:
PERSONAL TRAINERS DON’T PRESCRIBE MEAL PLANS.
“But wait… MINE does!” you say… Well, they are NOT SUPPOSED TO. Why? Unless you are also a registered nutritionist or dietician then you have no business prescribing a meal plan to someone. It is outside your lane as a personal trainer to tell someone exactly what to eat, and how much to eat, on a daily basis. Yes, this is happening – and it’s common. I hear about it a lot from people I talk to – about how ‘such and such’ writes meal plans, and it’s plastered all over some people’s websites.
Why is this a problem? A certified personal trainer prescribe exercise. That’s our main purpose. To be able to give clients a prescribed plan of exercise to promote their health and wellbeing. We DO also give basic, general nutrition advice but we are not supposed to write out a calorie for calorie plan for you because that isn’t our job. Likewise.. It isn’t your nutritionists job to write out an exercise plan. There is a huge difference between telling someone “whole foods like broccoli, sweet potatoes, oats, and salmon can be great alternatives to french fries, onion rings, and hot dogs” and “eat 1 cup of oats with 1⁄2 cup of yogurt for breakfast, and eat 2 cups of broccoli, half a sweet potato, and 4 oz salmon for lunch today, and 6oz steak, 1 cup carrots, 2 cups chopped spinach for dinner”. The latter is making a PLAN, and it can be very dangerous to a client, and is at the very least irresponsible and dishonest of the personal trainer to be doing that.
A lot can go wrong with writing a meal plan. Food allergies/sensitivities, severe caloric deficits or surpluses, nutrient deficiencies, etc. Followed long-term especially an improper meal plan can lead to health problems like hormonal imbalances, eating disorders, excessive weight loss/gain, poor body composition, etc. Without knowing a more complete health profile, including mental health (particularly a history of an eating disorder) you can’t safely prescribe a meal plan and the training a personal trainer has isn’t tailored to deciphering this information.
So why do some trainers do this?
There are several possibilities that happen, and that I’ve observed.
This type of trainer prescribes meal plans because it makes them money. Plain and simple. It’s another service they can add to their toolbelt to sell. People wanting training often want meal plans too. To capitalize on this demand they step outside their lane and offer meal plans themselves – either personalized or generic one-size-fits-all.
This trainer is similar to the one-stop-shop but the intent isn’t focused on financial gain but instead focused on the desire to ‘help every way they can’ or ‘go beyond the call of duty’. Good intentions they may have but ignoring the risks involved isn’t very compassionate either.
The Smoke and Mirrors Trainer
What’s a nearly guaranteed way to simply “lose weight”? Eat less, or as a trainer I look up often says, “Shut your mouth”. You don’t even have to TRAIN to lose weight. You CAN lose “weight” by simply eating less calories than you need. So when the TRAINING IS LACKING in skill, and the exercise you are being prescribed is simply stuff to make you feel tired, and make you sweat, or even if it’s so unchallenging it does nothing in reality.. If your trainer is having you eat at a 1000 calorie deficit every day you are going to lose WEIGHT, and that will be the ONLY reason you are losing weight. This type of trainer is the most dangerous of the bunch because they are often very aware of what they are doing. They prescribe the meal plan as part of the whole “package” and mark “weight loss” as the primary goal with little regard to BODY COMPOSITION. They say you have results because the scale dropped and you look thinner, often as part of a challenge like 10-12 weeks, they claim quick results and post lots of before and after photos of clients after their short challenge. They claim it’s the training.. But the training is whacky, and sometimes dangerous – 75 year-olds doing squat jumps and medicine ball slams in session #1 anyone? These are the trainers that get people hurt. Their clients rebound quickly from their “weight loss” once the meal plan/challenge ends. It doesn’t produce a healthy lifestyle.. It only produces a short term crash diet with a hefty price tag, a mountain of guilt, and a headful of misinformation… and another set of before and after shots to promote someone’s 12 week challenge to the next potential client.
The Unqualified Guru
This might be a certified trainer, or it might just be someone who gave themselves a title like “Life Coach” without any formal training. It worked for them, so it will work for you – right? Maybe, maybe not. They might have great intentions and want to help, or they may just want to get money quickly without any investment in getting proper training/information first. Either way, it’s best to find reputable sources to entrust your health to. Not only is this type of trainer not a nutritionist, but they aren’t really even a trainer either. Be forewarned. This type is the wild west.
A trainer prescribing a meal-plan to you, especially one that does so upfront in the beginning, should be a giant RED FLAG. It’s good to have a basic understanding of general nutrition, good practice like teaching someone meal-prepping tips, sharing a recipe, encouraging healthy food choices, and discouraging some obviously unhealthy nutritional practices like binge eating, overconsumption of alcohol, etc. A good trainer will give you that without a meal plan. Fun fact:
for us NASM CPTs.. it’s against our code of ethics to prescribe meal plans.
Any NASM trainer prescribing meal plans is either A: not really a NASM CPT as they say they are (aka. Lying, fake), or B: is doing so knowingly breaking their code of ethics, knows the dangers, and is doing it anyway (aka. Not looking out four best interests).