3 Part Series on Dietary Adherence and Appetite Management

This is the first post in a 3 part series of which we address the bigger picture in Dietary Adherence and Appetite Management.

Trainers miss the woods for the trees consistently when it comes to their clients.

Pushing people through high intensity sessions, giving them restrictive diets and high frequency training programs when that will solve absolutely none of their problems.

Usually people need exercise and better nutrition. That’s a given.

However, looking at the individuals lifestyle as a whole and addressing the limiting factors will usually lead to better results.

Something I see frequently and is all too common, “Here’s your training plan, here’s your nutrition plan. Speak to you in a week.”

Then the following weeks lead to failure, because the person hasn’t adhered to their diet.

“I’m starving. I struggle to make the right choices.”

A lot of the time, yes, the person just needs to make better choices. We know that.

However, factors in the background could be going on that make decisions difficult.

Appetite management is absolutely huge when trying to lose fat.

Adding in a management protocol, that doesn’t just address food intake is key.


There are three Extrinsic factors we look at mainly when dealing with our clients, that can negatively effect appetite.

They are: Stress, Sleep and Alcohol.

These aren’t the only ones, but for the purpose of this series, these are the ones we will address.


Today I want to discuss stress and how it affects appetite management.


Short term stress releases norepinephrine. This is the fight or flight response.

If we have a short term stress to the body, this can actually reduce our appetite and inhibit any thoughts of food.

It’s usually associated with a survival instinct. So in that situation the last thing someone would think about when running from a Woolly Mammoth, or whatever the hell creature they had in those days would be eating some beans on toast.

However, nowadays we sit on our backsides in office jobs.

Those short term stressors are usually associated with bad news, money, kid stress, arguments, anger and the like.

So you know, normal life!


Long term stress is a bit different.

This elevates the hormone cortisol. (This is about as sciencey as I get).

Long term elevation of cortisol does the exact opposite of short term stress to the body. It has been shown to elevate appetite if raised chronically.

Now, as we can see this unfolding, this can be absolutely key to appetite management and dietary adherence.

Types of stress that we can associate with long term are:








Training is quite a big one as a coach obviously.

Now as a coach, we can’t manage everything else a client has going on in their life. However, we can sit down and discuss strategies with them to help change things.

That’s something we do on a regular basis.

We certainly can’t manage relationships, work, family or money for example.

Training is something we can manage.

For example, you can get rid of the go hard or go home attitude.

You can change the training volume, bringing frequency or intensity down for a period of time.

Changing the mode of training can be very useful.

Finally, improving recovery with activity, mobility and other stress removal strategies are useful.

Quite often, we get met with a tonne of resistance from clients.

“I need to go in and train hard because it de-stresses me!”.

I get that want to de-stress and the sense of achievement.

However, what this will do to the clients overall appetite is ramp that right up.

So, they might handle the training well, but they will be all over the place with nutrition.

That’s bad news!

Clearly we don’t want them out of control with their food.

So getting someone to understand the bigger picture and change what they are doing for a while, is of utmost importance.

I know there will be a number of people reading this, thinking that it’s really just a way of babying someone and that people aren’t as fragile as they are made out to be.

Well, that’s fine, however in my experience, if you want someone to adhere and improve over a longer period, then this is important.

Food preference is changed in higher stress.

If you’re busy and stressed, with limited time, when do you ever head to the shop and go, “I think I’ll have that spinach and chicken salad.”?

You don’t.

Well you might, but that’s probably because you’re a fitness professional reading this.

A person who doesn’t do this, is your clients.

I know I don’t.

If I haven’t grabbed lunch and I’m stressed, I’m eating some easy crap that’s on the shelf.

Judge me all you want, but that’s the truth.

Numerous studies have indicated that physical or emotional stress increase intake of high sugar and/or high fat foods.

Emotional eating anybody?!


Countless studies have been done on emotional eating food choices. [1] [2] [3]

Women have been shown to be more prone to emotional eating than males, whereas men are more likely to turn to alcohol.


So, providing support around stress management is going to be of massive importance to some clients. We focus a lot on this.

Many different ways you can do this.

My personal favourite is to take training away, and to focus on a few things.

Food prep is always one.

Active recovery is another. Walking, swimming, cycling at moderate to low intensity. It will keep people active, without breaking them. The lower intensity shouldn’t stress the body too much and the client/person will be more likely to adhere to the diet.

Doing stuff that makes you happy.

This could be anything at all.

Even going to the pub.


So there you have it, the first part in our 3 part series on appetite management and dietary adherence.

Any questions, I would love to hear them.

Coach Dan








[1] http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sirpa_Sarlio-Laehteenkorva/publication/41413457_Emotional_eating_depressive_symptoms_and_self-reported_food_consumption._A_population-based_study/links/02e7e5175862f12205000000.pdf

[2] http://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2000/11000/Stress_and_Food_Choice__A_Laboratory_Study.16.aspx

[3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2044-8287.1998.tb00555.x/abstract






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6 Responses

  1. I have a question

    I feel I push pretty hard in the gym and find my life pretty stressful and exhausting. Most of the stuff I’m reading from you at the moment, I’m like…yep that’s me…but one thing I find different is that I will go to the gym on very little fuel and often eat a stupidly low cal salad after for lunch, mostly for the sake of eating. I could likely not eat after training…….seems I should be Hank. Is this a bad thing? For recovery etc?

    1. It’s all very individual. If you are feeling like you are exhausted all the time, I would be looking at strategies to make sure you’re not.

      If you don’t want to eat, then don’t force it.

  2. Dan

    This is a wonderful and easy article to follow, as a fellow fitness professional I want to say congrats on making it onto the PTDC’s best fitness articles of the week and I definitely look forward to reading the next 2 parts of this series

    The research was on point and Thanks for linking it in for others to take a look at.

  3. Hi Dan. Great article, using this to talk to some of my clients about. Do you have a reference for norepinephrine and short term stress causing a reduced appetite please? I did a google search and found some old papers about serotonin activation and reduced appetite as opposed to inhibited serotonin which all links into the reward system etc but just wanted something a little clearer to reference the part of short term stress and not eating if you have one please. Thank you in advance. Charlotte

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