As published on A Girl in Progress
Picture this. You’ve studied all the benefits of a PT plastered all over the internet so you decide to hire one yourself.
You’re excited. How could you not be knowing that there will be someone out there who will quite literally change your life? You don’t consider whether this person may change your own perspective of your body or whether they would trigger something inside of you to make you feel bad about yourself?
This was me – stripped down and standing on a scale in a cramped little office talking about the parts of me that I did or didn’t like.
“I’m pretty happy with my long legs,” I admitted, “it’s more just my belly that I’d like to focus on.”
She continued to scan my body as if I was a specimen. She couldn’t see that what needed fixing was beneath the skin, the muscle that I had neglected and the unhealthy fat that got a little too comfortable inside my stomach.
“I think your legs could actually use a lot of work,” she laughed and started taking down notes.
I instantly felt my stomach sink. My legs, long and thin were the only part of me that I was actually comfortable in. Who cares about the jiggly bits that hung off my thighs? Who cares if my bum wasn’t as toned as it should have been? The thing is, regardless of how I looked to a fitness guru, I was happy…until she had pointed it out.
That night I drove home wondering if I had been fooling myself by thinking that my legs were nice. I stood in the mirror and analysed every single inch below my hip.
“I saw the marks that I had once skimmed over, staring back at me as if I had been blinded by how vivid they were.”
I decided to reach out to my community to see if anyone else had felt the same and to my surprise, messages started to flood in about other women who were made to feel self-conscious by a personal trainer. One mentioned that her PT inspected her body and then told her “she was the most unfit person he had ever worked with and it would take a huge amount of work to get her back on track”.
Another woman said that she was left in tears when her personal trainer said she wasn’t “fat” but her body was “okay”. She was asked if she was happy with how she looked and when she answered yes the personal trainer was stunned. And lastly, two other women went through a similar situation where despite telling the PT that they were looking to work on a healthy lifestyle, the PT still encouraged weight loss and superficial goals.
Does the issue lie in that personal trainers could potentially be too focused on the body itself? Or is there perhaps a lack of education on body image and mental illness empathy?
Steph* (24) was left heartbroken when she was told by her personal trainer that she was using her complex mental illness and eating disorder as an excuse.
The Australian Institute of Fitness claims that “there is often a common misconception that focusing on healthy eating and exercise is always beneficial. While this mindset can be helpful at times, it is important to understand that many eating disorders themselves are in fact due to an over-focusing on these areas of a person's life, sometimes to make up for a lack of fulfilment in others”.
Steph* said that she had obsessive tendencies towards her weight and had reached a point where she was only eating 500 calories a day and still working out.
“I thought the harder I worked, the more I’d love my body, but really, it just made me hate myself even more.”
The Australian Institute of Fitness has many resources on training clients with eating disorders. They state that personal trainers tend to encourage individuals with an unbalanced diet to adopt a healthy eating or exercise plan, “what we fail to realise is that this often fuels the problem and can, in many cases such as that of severe binge eating, actually make the individual feel worse about themselves and therefore less empowered to facilitate the changes that need to take place,” they say.
When an individual is already compulsively exercising, positive reinforcement is needed towards loving the body how it is and focusing on improving our internal health, not so much how we look.
Kristy Wegert, founder of My Workout Buddy, began her personal training business with the intention of helping 65-year-olds and above get stronger. A year and a half into her business, a therapist had approached her and asked if she could assist with her clients in recovery.
Now, she works collaboratively with her clients’ therapist, dietitian, partner or parent in order for an overall healthy recovery. “I focus on the act of getting stronger. We don’t talk about how the body looks. Instead, I focus on how the body will function and feel. I don’t use any metrics. No scales, no BMI and no measurements. I stay away from conversation about diet – that is a conversation for their registered dietitian,” Kristy says.
While Kristy does offer sessions via Skype, her base is in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. Kristy believes that fitness professionals have a unique opportunity to help people from a functional perspective and the effects of not doing so could be detrimental. While expansion to Australia would be a dream, she hopes that personal trainers around the globe are able to learn something from her approach and not only work with eating disorder victims rather than against them, but also with ordinary clients to prevent the risk of disordered eating in the future.
There’s no denying that personal trainers are an asset to the fitness world, as not only do they keep you motivated, but they examine your needs in order to provide successful results through a personalised fitness regime. But, perhaps the diet advice is best left to qualified dieticians and served up only to those who actually ask for it.
*Name has been changed for privacy purposes.
Bio: Nicole Liko is a freelance writer with a passion for engaging content that informs, promotes, inspires action and makes the reader feel something. Her aim is to encourage the reader to make a change in their life through providing relatable content for people her age.
You can find her at https://nlikowriter.com