The Secrets of Long-Term Weight Loss
Interview with Jennifer Ludington, women’s fitness and wellness coach
I first met Jennifer Ludington when she contacted me to be a part of The Freedom Body Summit, a web-based women’s fitness seminar that she organized. After speaking to her, I came away impressed by the depth of her knowledge and experience — she clearly understood that how personal training works in real life isn’t quite how the textbooks say it works.
Jennifer is a premier weight-loss, fitness, and wellness coach with over 13 years of experience coaching over 1,000 clients, including high performers, high-achieving professionals, and CEOs. She is committed to supporting her clients in staying and living on their business and leadership edge by utilizing physical strength, fitness, and nutrition as the tools to create lifelong sustainable wellness. Jennifer believes that living your life at your ideal healthiest weight is the number one business, leadership, and personal relationship key to success in life.
Jennifer is also a wife and mother, former elite fitness and yoga studio owner, fitness model, National Level Fitness competitor, endurance athlete, motivational speaker, and she founded a nutrition bar company designed for high-achieving professionals seeking to live their healthiest life.
Here Jennifer shares some of the things she’s learned — from working with her clients, from her fellow trainers, and from her own experience as a physique competitor — about helping women lose weight and keep it off.
What do you do, how long have you been doing it for, and who is a typical client for you?
I am a weight-loss, fitness, and wellness coach with 15 years of experience coaching and training high-performing men and women, high-achieving professionals, CEO’s and A-type entrepreneurs. I believe that living your life at your ideal healthiest weight is the No. 1 business, leadership, and personal relationship key to success in life. I am a wife and mother, former elite fitness studio owner, fitness model, yoga studio owner, National Level Fitness competitor, endurance athlete, speaker, and founder of nutrition bar company designed for high-achieving professionals.
I owned and operated a premier elite training facility in Boise, Idaho for over 12 years where I guided and taught the leading trainers in Idaho, as well as opened additional locations, a yoga studio, and pitched and sold protein bars to national chains such as Albertsons and Natural Grocers.
I have a unique take on the fitness industry after suffering in silence for over eight years, ridden with shame and guilt of massive eating disorders that affected my health. I felt I had to keep up with the social media unattainable images in the media. I believe that health is not always what the fitness and diet industry dishes out and is committed to bringing true health and wellness to an industry obsessed with external fitness perfectionism.
I have hosted and produced three online miniseries events featuring over 70 experts in the industry on topics ranging from learning to love your body to how driven high performers lose weight for life.
I have an online weight loss and fitness wellness coaching business and specialize in supporting high-performing entrepreneurs, CEOs and professionals stay and live on their business and leadership edge utilizing physical strength, fitness, and endurance.
After interviewing dozens of women’s weight loss experts, which pieces of advice did you hear repeated over and over by different people?
The most frequent message I hear time and time again is to enroll in a support mechanism to hold you accountable to your goals. This can be a community, coach, an online forum, or a friend. If you really want to achieve a BIG goal, then you must have a support system and someone who you trust as a reliable expert to pull you forward so you can level up your health, fitness, and ultimately your life.
All of the BIG audacious goals I have set in my life that I achieved were not done lone-wolfing it. Accountability, community, and mentorship have always been key for me and for my clients.
We all have knowledge, but that is not enough. Motivation is always wavering, so having someone to coach you through the breakdowns so you can have a breakthrough is imperative.
John’s note: Since she didn’t mention this, I do want to share one anecdote from The Freedom Body Summit that I found particularly striking. One of her guests had interviewed hundreds of fit women to find out how they stayed slim. She found two major, surprising commonalities. First, most of them ate only two meals a day. Second, they allowed themselves to be hungry for part of the day. In fact, they viewed hunger as a positive — a sign that their body was burning fat.
To be clear, you don’t need to eat only two meals a day, particularly if you don’t want to be especially thin. But at the very least, seeing hunger as an accomplishment rather than a biological emergency is an incredibly valuable shift in mindset.
Which revelations or pieces of advice most surprise you?
Honestly, I can say that I 100% disagree with counting calories. I feel like high performers that need to maximize their time and resources should not be utilizing an antiquated system. This is my biggest pet peeve. Lots of weight-loss experts focus on restriction and removing things from your life/diet. I take the opposite approach and put more good things into my clients’ bodies and lives in order to keep them feeling good so they can stay the course and go the distance.
What about a surprising piece of advice you heard from an interviewee that you agreed with?
I feel that some of the best advice I heard from experts on the series that I agree with is that intermittent fasting is a tool they utilize with their clients trying to lose weight. I agree with timed eating. I don’t believe that we need to eat five to six times a day as the bodybuilding world has programmed us into believing.
I feel this type of constant eating does not allow our hormones (insulin) that are key to helping us burn fat can be activated efficiently. If we are constantly spiking our insulin levels, it makes it virtually impossible to become a fat burner versus a sugar burner. I have in-depth videos where I go into more depth on this topic on my YouTube channel.
I feel that not only does it throw off our hormones, but this type of constant eating keeps us hyper-focused on food all day long versus the important things we really should be thinking about. Food becomes a distraction, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to eat five to six times a day, and I don’t want to carry around Tupperware all over town so I can stop and eat out of a plastic container.
Eating between 11 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. is ideal for me. I have black coffee in the morning and lots of water with electrolytes until late morning, then have a high-fat, high-protein meal. I am not at all hungry until around 5 to 6 p.m. when I have a similar meal but with added greens.
For women who want to lose weight, how much do you find they need to know what to do, versus having the habits and discipline to do it, versus encouragement and moral support, versus something else? Which is the biggest need for most of your clients?
The biggest need for support during a weight-loss journey is accountability. Motivation is wavering, as we see when over 80% of New Year’s resolutioners start strong, lose some weight, but by March are gaining it all back. Until a very solid, habitual fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle routine are firmly in place, a coach that holds you accountable is paramount to long-term success.
I feel that most people need coaching for at least six to eight months at the very minimum. The reason for this length of time is that, for most people, life will throw some curveballs at you in a six-to-eight-month period. Things happen — stressors, divorce, job loss, children moving out and going to college, etc. — and this is when they are tested and can have breakdowns. I have to coach a person long enough for them to be coached through a major life event so they can have a breakthrough.
For women who want to lose weight, which challenges do you think are most underappreciated?
For my clients that are women, they are perfectionists. This is the biggest challenge. Perfectionism is self-sabotage waiting to happen. Fitness is not all or nothing. Nutrition is not all or nothing. So when you have a bad day and end up at a drive-thru instead of letting it go, giving yourself grace and moving forward this can lead to the “screw its.”
And the rationale is that if I didn’t eat perfectly I may as well give up and go grab ice cream. This leads to not getting up the next morning for the workout because they feel they already ruined their goal. The all-or-nothing, self-sabotage, perfectionist cycle runs rampant with high performers. This is where coaching and mentorship through those breakdown can lead to massive breakthroughs.
John’s note: I second this 100%. This is an issue that every trainer in the world sees over and over again — it’s underappreciated by the general public, but those of us who coach people for a living see it as one of the biggest issues people have with regards to diet consistency.
Conversely, which issues or areas of weight loss — i.e. exercise, eating less fat, etc — do you think are less important than most women assume they are?
It depends on the goal. If it is strictly weight loss, then hands down exercise is not as vital as nutrition, sleep, hormonal balance, hydration, and stress reduction. This is a huge misconception for women.
You can’t out-exercise poor sleep, hormonal imbalance, and a poor diet. It will tax your adrenals and cause more cortisol that you won’t be able to clear, therefore cause more weight gain and more cravings. Movement is meant to be enjoyed and to create a strong mind, body, and life that allows you to engage in the activities and lifestyle you want; it is not meant to punish you and work off a bad diet.
Which diet mistakes do you find that women frequently make?
They don’t eat enough healthy fat. Hands down the first thing I do with women is to educate them on the endocrine system and hormones. Fat is the precursor for hormone production and regulation. Without it, we can gain weight, become moody, anxious, insomniacs and so much more. Fat is your friend, ladies.
What mistakes are most women making in terms of exercise? I.e., should they be doing more weights, a different kind of cardio, lifting heavier, training more often?
This is again dependent on their goals. If a client wants to be fit and healthy for life so she can keep up with her kids on the ski hill, then her workouts should be designed with that in mind. If a woman is training for race/competition, then their fitness program will be much different.
For the average woman that wants to create lifelong health and fitness, I recommend walking as much as possible — 12,000 steps per day to start, strength training with total body movement patterns three times per week, and then finding an activity that they enjoy that makes them lose their breath at least once per week. For example, I love to mountain bike, and that makes me lose my breath so I do that. In the winter I love to Nordic ski, and that allows me to lose my breath. Some women like Zumba. It’s all a matter of your preference.
People’s health habits are heavily influenced by the people around them — what are some ways women can surround themselves with healthier influences?
Environment is key. You are the sum of the five people you surround yourself with, and studies actually show you will take on those people’s mannerisms, tone, and even behaviors. This is important to remember when finding your tribe. We are in an era where we can literally surround ourselves with anyone we want. ANYONE. I tell women to find online forums, Facebook groups, etc., to stay connected to like-minded people.
I also encourage them to create a walking club so you can find others who are in alignment with your values. Another way is to look up podcasts of the people that have the characteristics of who you value. And listen to that podcast as much as possible. Go to retreats, two-day live events, and get involved with other women who will support you in your journey.
Don’t depend on your family, husband, or parents to always be the most supportive of your new healthy lifestyle. You GET to be personally responsible for yourself and finding a group that you can connect with and that will hold you accountable.
John’s note: In addition to Facebook, try Meetup.com.
You focus on single mothers a lot — what particular challenges do they face?
I was a single mom running businesses without support for years. When we are the sole responsible party of raising our next generation and focusing on doing our most important job, all while creating financial security and self-care, it can become exhausting and stressful.
I believe that single moms have less time for self-care, and they can have fewer resources available to them and, like me, suffer from isolation that can lead to depression. This is why I sponsor a single mom every quarter to ensure that they can not feel the guilt of investing in themselves. It is vital that our single moms have the opportunity to take care of themselves so they can take care of our future generations.
John’s note: Again, I can definitely confirm that “feeling guilty for taking care of yourself” is a common issue with women. I mostly see it with mothers, single or otherwise.
I’ve heard several coaches suggest scheduling daily or weekly self-care sessions. This can help, but it doesn’t directly address the guilt issue.
One thing I would recommend: Keep a to-do list of the things you need to do in order to fulfill your obligations to others, particularly your kids. As long as you’re getting the stuff on the list done, you can do things for yourself, guilt-free.
Do you think counting calories has at least some value over the short-term as a training exercise?
I think that portion control and the type of food we choose is a more viable and reasonable way to manage our needs. Spending time counting every calorie is futile. I feel that encouraging my clients to eat “high-performance grade fuel,” which is, my rule of thumb is, the best nutrition advice to allow for hormone balance, mental clarity, long-term success and weight loss for life. The “H” in the high stands for hydration. The “P” in performance stands for protein. The “G” in grade stands for greens, and the “F” in the fuel stands for fats. Hydration, plus clean protein, leafy greens, and healthy fats are key to long-term success.
Can you give an example of a workout routine you’d design for a typical weight loss client?
Yes, of course. I would program a fitness routine to encourage strength, body composition changes, and to feel better mentally and physically. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet, but you can sculpt a beautiful physique when you are properly nourished.
My program for most women looking to build a lean, toned, and shapely physique would include two days of HIIT cardio sessions for 15 to 20 minutes, three days of full-body strength training with five to six exercises that would be sequenced with very little rest between sets to increase their heart rate. The workout would be no more than 50 minutes. Then a 10-minute foam roll and stretch session after every workout.
I would also encourage them to get as much NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). This is walking, gardening, standing, housework, etc.
Can you give an example of a typical one-day eating plan for a woman who needs to lose 20–30 pounds?
I would recommend my HPGF protocol. Sticking with very strict meal timing windows. I encourage my clients to eat within an eight-hour window. Most people don’t understand that becomes so much easier when you look at it and see that eight hours are spent sleeping, and if you skip breakfast you have it already figured out. I would encourage them to drink at least 80 ounces of water per day, at the minimum, with electrolytes, eat a protein-rich midday meal with healthy fat.
An example of this would be two eggs scrambled with some green onion, spinach, and garlic and top with half an avocado and lots of pink Himalayan sea salt. Adding some smoked salmon is always a nice touch to this breakfast. You can also top with some full-fat Greek yogurt or plant-based unsweetened yogurt adds a bit of creaminess.
Dinner would be a palm-sized amount of grass-fed steak, wild salmon, or other protein accompanied with a large green salad topped with a small handful of walnuts drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add a cup of grilled asparagus or roasted cruciferous green like broccoli, kale, or Brussels sprouts drizzled with olive, pumpkin, or avocado oil and sea salt.
Which things do women who successfully lose weight and keep it off not have in common? That is, what do they not all need to do the same?
Cardio. This long-duration cardio is a myth. I do not believe in prescribing this for weight loss. If you are training for an endurance race, there is a proper training program where this is necessary, but most women don’t need to do the same. This is a variable that should be done only based on the goals of the client. For overall wellness I do believe that some cardio is good for your health, but most intentional exercise should be in the form of strength training
Is there a specific exercise — that is, an exercise in the sense of that food line-up I talked about, not in the sense of a gym exercise — that you’d recommend to people just starting out?
Yes it is all about creating one small habit per week that you can build upon. This becomes a game with my clients. We come up with one habit that they can start to implement every day that will allow then to build on the next habit. Small things that add up.
For example, after talking through my clients’ needs and goals, we uncover what the beginning habit will be and build on it weekly or sometimes bi-weekly. One of my clients needed to get more sleep. So we started with going to bed 10 minutes early every night and setting her alarm 10 minutes later. This grew to 30 minutes over the course of a month, and because she wasn’t as tired she was able to have the energy and mindset for afternoon walks.
Because she spent the afternoon on a walk, she wasn’t snacking in the house during that time and was able to stay on track with her eating window. Keeping her eating window and avoiding snacking, doing more walking and getting more rest allowed her to drop 25 pounds. Small habits create HUGE changes when they are stacked slowly on top of each other.