A short-term weight-loss or nutrition program—such as a 10-week lifestyle reboot or a 4-week diet detox—can be a great way to expand your business and add an important revenue stream. 

However, simply putting “nutrition and weight-loss coaching” on your usual list of services won’t get you customers, say industry experts. The trick to success is packaging these services into a one- or two-month program that allows you to easily engage clients and help them change their lives, all while enhancing your cash flow.

Below we’ll discuss the benefits of running a short-term food- and lifestyle-focused program, as well as how to structure the challenge, how to time it correctly and how to get clients. Read on to learn about improving trainee results, retention and your bottom line, all while staying within your scope of practice as a fitness professional. 

The Upside to Food-focused Programs

Being food-savvy is undeniably important for achieving results. But clients are unlikely to sign up for run-of-the-mill nutrition appointments, says longtime industry veteran Donna Krech—the Lima, Ohio–based founder and CEO of Thin and Healthy’s Total Solution.

For years her company offered an ongoing weight-loss membership at a premium price. “But several years ago, we added four-week [weight-loss] packages. The results in our club were like nothing we’d ever seen before!” 

Krech correlates this with her experience as an industry consultant. “In every single instance where we’ve [consulted with a club that was] simply offering a dietitian or coach available for weight-loss or nutritional counseling [appointments], the program has failed to bring financial success to the club or personal success to the member.” 

In contrast, short-term nutrition programs can offer significant revenue with minimal financial risk, say our experts. Here’s how to do it right.

Setting up a Successful System

A program should be short enough that the commitment is neither overwhelming to your busy clients nor too wearing on the instructor(s). However, it must be long enough to ensure profitability and for customers to see some results, with three to 10 weeks being typical in the industry.

Short-term programs typically include nutritional seminars, guided workouts, a structured support system (such as accountability meetings and/or a private Facebook page), weigh-ins, and program launch and/or wrap-up events (such as an end-of-challenge celebration dinner). 

Some also include “homework” for participants, like a food journal or prescribed workouts to complete on non-gym days (daily 30-minute walks, for instance). Some challenges are structured as competitions—often based on who can lose the most weight—while others are centered solely on the personal goals of each participant.

Here are some successful examples of each:

Quick Kick-starts: “4Weeks2Fab” is a relatively strict nutrition program at SparkFit studio in Mechanicsville, Va., that is designed to help members and outside customers get a wellness jump-start or break a plateau, reports owner Julie Stubblefield.

Another SparkFit program is “6Weeks2Sexy,” a less-strict, introductory program that helps clients lose a pants size in six weeks. The focus is on fat loss, sustainable change and lifestyle enhancements. 

Both of Stubblefield’s offerings include weekly information sessions, access to closed Facebook groups for ongoing support, recipes, meal plans and a food journal. Stubblefield is the only trainer, and programs typically run with 20 participants. The program fee ranges from $97 to $297, depending on the scope (program only or program-plus-training).

A Team Weight-loss Challenge: “Lose Dat” at Franco’s Gym in Mandeville, La., is a 10-week weight-loss program. Teams of up to 12 participants train twice per week with a trainer and three times per week in specialty group workouts. There are end-of-program prizes for winners, and for the top trainers.

“During weekly weigh-ins we discuss the week’s workouts, obstacles the client may have, workout alternatives, go over nutrition journals and generally help each other out with any of concerns or problems,” reports fitness director and ACE Certified Personal Trainer Emily Ruffino. The program currently costs $599 plus a registration fee of $35.

“The program is designed for weight loss, and includes nutrition seminars, grocery-store tours, one-on-one nutrition sessions, nutrition webinars, personal-training sessions and a variety of complimentary group-training classes,” says Ruffino. The “Lose Dat” program constitutes 40 percent of the gym’s personal-training revenues.

A Personal Body-shape Challenge: The “Drop Two Sizes Challenge” (formerly the Skinny Jeans Challenge) is an eight- to 12-week challenge at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif., says owner Rachel Cosgrove. 

The emphasis is on changing one’s body shape via guided workouts, nutrition coaching and accountability meetings. Clients focus on fitting into their clothes more easily, rather than just on dropping pounds.

Participants receive a nutrition journal and food tips, and prizes are given to everyone who successfully completes the challenge. A wrap-up celebration reinforces trainee success stories.

Cosgrove teaches fitness professionals around the world to run the same challenge. She notes that her book, Drop Two Sizes (Rodale, 2013), contains her entire system, and can be used as a day-to-day reference for trainers and clients who wish to partake in a similar program.

What About Scope of Practice?

Eating journals, nutrition tips and shopping advice are all helpful when coaching someone through a weight-loss focused program. But industry guidelines generally agree that a fitness professional’s scope of practice should only cover food basics, such as the information publicly available on MyPlate. (You can also read more about ACE’s position on this topic here.)

Can Your Program Enhance Your Membership?

A nutrition challenge can be a great way to recruit new members, say our experts. Include a non-member price for prospective clients who want to participate in your short-term program, but structure the challenge to provide them with an easy opportunity to become an ongoing client.

For example, the “Lose Dat” weight-loss challenge at Franco’s Gym includes select workouts from the gym’s ongoing group exercise schedule. This simple step increases the likelihood that non-members will feel comfortable enough to join the gym after the program ends, says fitness director Emily Ruffino.

Similarly, at SparkFit Studio, “6Weeks2Sexy” participants are required to train at the facility, even if just on the temporary six-week provisional agreement, notes owner Julie Stubblefield. And by including non-member participants in the camaraderie and fun of your ongoing fitness offerings, you provide them with a reason to stick around.

Only a physician or registered dietitian (RD) should offer complex recommendations such as detailed menu plans, dietary advice pertaining to disease management (medical nutrition therapy), or supplement recommendations

Here are two ways to work within your the limits of your expertise, but still deliver weight-loss results.

Option 1: Stay Within Your Scope 

Structure your program around the type of general nonmedical food tips you can provide. Also consider furthering your own knowledge with a relevant certification such as ACE’s Weight Management Specialty Certification. The course includes exercise program design ideas and behavior-medication strategies for clients whose primary goal is shedding pounds. 

Additionally, the ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialty Certification helps fitness pros learn to effectively communicate the principles of good nutrition and food preparation, the importance of nutrients, how to read nutrition labels and choose meals that facilitate weight loss or enhance sports performance.

Option 2: Outsource for Expertise 

Network with an RD who can provide specific meal plans and grocery lists, and review client food journals in detail during your program. Referrals are especially important for clients who have pre-existing medical concerns, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. (A list of RDs in your area can be found at www.eatright.org.)

Online expertise is another option. ACE Certified Professionals receive a service fee discount at Evolution Nutrition, a web-based application that gives you the ability to recommend meal plans developed by qualified RDs. Using a client’s gender, height, weight and goals, Evolution Nutrition provides you with meal plans with the appropriate calories and macro- and micronutrients for individual trainees, as well as sample shopping lists and portion guidelines. 

How Can You Get Clients to Sign Up?

Besides the usual promotions (via your facility, website and social media), here are some effective ways to entice customers to join your program.

To jump-start your first-ever challenge, use employees, family and friends as participants, says Cosgrove. This will create buzz, and provide you with before-and-after photos and testimonials to promote the next round of the program.

Next, create exclusivity by only offering the program a few times per year, says Stubblefield. This boost interest and enrollment. “January/February, April/May and September/October are all prime times on the calendar for nutrition challenges,” she notes. Additionally, make sure members know that space is limited, Krech adds.

“Finding another business with your same target market to partner with works great,” says Cogrove. “We always partner up with a local clothing store that [donates] $100 gift certificates to each person who successfully completes the challenge. They market to their audience and together we end up getting local press.”

Finally, encourage clients to invite friends and family members to participate, says Stubblefied. “If enrollment is lagging, holding an information session about a topic (sustainable body change, hormonal imbalance or another point of pain for clients) to generate interest and the opportunity to sell the program face-to-face.”

Real World Solutions

To get clients eating right, a food-centered, short-term program works far better than generic food-coaching appointments, say our experts. “We have found that giving our members a specific time period to commit to [a body-shape challenge] definitely increases participation,” says Cosgrove.

After all, as a fitness professional, you have spent many hours studying weight-loss techniques. Isn’t it time to leverage that knowledge to enhance your own bottom line?