A couple of days ago a client whom I haven’t seen for years came into my studio to talk about starting private yoga sessions with me. It was wonderful to see him after so long and I love his energy. He began to tell me what he had been doing as far as exercise since I last worked with him. To my surprise he had discovered yoga (YAY!) and had been taking private yoga sessions for a while until the yoga teacher left the area and referred him to another yoga teacher. This new teacher, he decided, wasn’t for him. He went on to explain that the reason he didn’t want to work with the new yoga teacher was because she was fat. My jaw nearly hit the floor. It took everything in me to not retort and defend the teacher he had decided to leave. I wish I would have said something but instead I sheepishly smiled and took a very deep breath.
My client is not alone in his thinking. In fact one of the scariest parts about returning to personal training after my second round of in-patient treatment for my eating disorder was dealing with the unspoken physical standards fitness professionals are expected to embody and the risk of these standards sending me into another relapse.
The image what of health and fitness are supposed to look like on a person is deeply embedded into our psyche. (Kids in PE class are being scored on their BMI as part of their physical fitness testing for crying out loud.) And although study after study proves that you can be fat and fit, culturally we are very far from accepting it. Which is why I wanted to share with you the 3 myths of the fat trainer.
Myth #1 -You cannot trust a fat trainer
With the majority of people having a fitness goal that includes altering some physical part of their body (usually to look like the unrealistic images displayed on the glossy pages of any major fitness publication), they want to know that the trainer they hire can help them reach those goals no matter how unrealistic they may be. And how could a fat trainer possibly know how to transform a client into a super model if they themselves don’t look like a super model?
There are so many layers to this myth… so lets start with setting unrealistic physical goals or more importantly, setting goals that only lead to frustration, body hate and inevitably, falling off the exercise wagon. The truth is, goals that involve hitting a certain number on the scale, body fat percentage or reaching a clothing size, are pretty much a guaranteed failure. And even when the unrealistic goal is met, 97% of the time it’s not sustainable and the body returns to its physical place at which it’s most comfortable (which, I hate to break it to you, is usually not the same shape or size as the photo shopped model on the cover of Fitness magazine). Therefore, goals of physically altering the size and shape of ones body by means of exercise are not the best to begin with if one is at all concerned with a having a positive relationship with ones body. I recommend setting goals that involve behaviors and feelings; feeling good, strong, energized, pain-free coupled with a goal of moving in ways that bring you joy X amount of times a week in order to reach that desired feeling on a consistent basis (think quality of life mentally and physically).
The second layer to this myth is the level of prejudice that’s involved with this belief. By concluding that a trainer, yoga teacher or Pilates instructor cannot not properly perform their job because you consider them to be fat is pre-judging their intelligence and capabilities before you even work with them and get to know them. The truth is you have no idea the amount of education, training, experience and expertise a person has simply by looking at the shape of their body. Period. End of story.
Myth #2 –Working with a fat trainer is not motivating
Another multi-layer myth; lets start with why fitness professionals become objectified and an aspirational image in the first place.
One of the worst parts about working in the fitness industry is the sad fact that most fitness professions use their body as a commodity and leverage it to gain business. And while I understand that sex and aspirational marketing sells, at the end of the day, how much respect does a trainer really have for themselves when they understand that their clients’ main reason for signing up with them was because they looked hot in their marketing photos?
Successfully working with a fitness professional (and staying positively motivated) means developing a serious relationship where trust, integrity, reliability and authentic support all present. None of which require a six-pack or a professional swimsuit photo shoot.
Myth #3 –A fat trainer won’t be able to give me proper nutritional advice
Yet another multi-layer myth; lets start with the fact that fitness professionals are not licensed dieticians. Yes, they might have graduated from an online nutrition course but they are not registered dieticians (the highest level of education and training you can get when it comes to knowing your stuff about food). Most trainers are not qualified to help people with serious health conditions and it is outside their scope of practice (not to mention irresponsible) for them to believe they know it all about nutrition. Every body’s nutritional needs are different and most of the time, trainers will give each client the same nutritional program to follow (cut out these
‘bad’ foods and eat more of these ‘goods’ foods) which again is irresponsible and only demonstrates their lack of knowledge of how food works in the human body.
The second layer to this myth is the assumption that if someone is fat they’re practicing unhealthy behaviors when it comes to their food choices. This belief is also incredibly ingrained into our brains. From the earliest of ages, we are taught that if we put the “bad” foods into our bodies rather than the “good” foods, we will ultimately pay the price and wind up fat. We ingrain this belief that we wear our food on our thighs and a single bit of a “bad” food will show up on or body the very next day (thin moment on the lips…). We learn to see fat as a marker for someone’s health when, again, study after study is disproving this.
One of the most beautiful things about our diverse culture in America (and even around the world) is that it is exactly that- diverse. And not only does that go for race and ethnicity, but also size and shape. Healthy bodies come in many different shapes and sizes and the size or shape of a person is not a reliable method in determining ones nutritional habits.
The over riding point however with all of these myth busters is how someone eats and/or exercises in their own life is not a reflection nor a determining factor on their ability to successfully train or teach others to move their bodies and/or feel good in their body. And may be even more importantly, their habits iare none of your business in the first place.
Why is this so important for clients to understand?
Because with the unrealistic expectations of what a trainer “should look like” in order to be a successful and effective fitness professional comes the increase of eating disorders, body dismorphia and preoccupation with food and weight. All of which take up a ton of brain space thus inhibiting them to do their job effectively not to mention live their life in a more peaceful and self-loving way.
So the next time you happen to catch a glimpse of a trainer, Pilates instructor or yoga teacher that doesn’t quite match the images you have been brainwashed with from advertisements for protein shakes, high end active wear or exclusive fitness studios, remember nothing about their health, personality, ability or intelligence is being revealed through their size. Just like you, they are simply a human being on a planet, in the dark, hurling through space and we all deserve the respect of not being pre judged (or judged at all) by our size, shape, ethnicity, clothing choice, hair cut, skin color, etc.