There is one show I’ve caught a few episodes of over the years, The Biggest Loser, partly for research purposes - having previously trained a former contestant, and partly out of genuine interest having heard so much about it.
Here’s just a short list...
- Overly restricted nutrition plans
- Massive calorie deficits
- Complete exclusions of certain foods or food groups
- High training frequencies, intensities and volume
- Berating when people step off the plan
- Unnecessary supplements
When you see that written down you’ll realise instantly that's not a breeding ground for healthy relationships with either exercise or nutrition.
When there’s someone in front of you that picks at your insecurities (I’ll leave that particular nugget for a separate rant) and puts forward plausible arguments for the extremes, it’s probably a different situation.
Luckily I’m locked in a small bubble surrounded by great trainers and people so I don’t get to see what goes on outside of that, save for these few people that have come down with countless stories of the above.
Now imagine that I'm primarily referring to women with families, often gym beginners, rather than your average twenty-something with physique modelling aspirations and it should become evident as to why shaming people into nutrition and exercise perhaps isn’t the best approach.
These are people that have been taught by association that exercise is some sort of penance and nutrition for fat loss is something that is, at best, barely tolerable.
I’ve already written about the pressures social media instil on a life of impossible ideals so I won’t go banging that particular drum again, but gyms and trainers, (note professionals) have a duty of care to their clients, or at least to advise them of their expectations.
Health, it seems, both physical and psychological is far from the forefront of these coaches and gyms. Justification though, comes in the form of results and transformation photos. Before and after pictures that bookend only one small period of someone’s life, regardless of what lies beyond it, or the implications.
This extreme approach of demonising certain foods (or food groups) only makes good coaches jobs harder, for some clients' it’s been years of this inevitable cyclical yo-yo dieting and a belief that extreme restriction and a complete exclusion of certain foods is the only route to a leaner body, and it’s that re-education that’s tough.
Before you think that my vision is some sort of adult creche, I understand of course (as everyone should) that exercise must be done to a certain degree of intensity to illicit a response, that there are fundamental principles of nutrition that must be met, and that both of those need to be done on a consistent basis.
I remember inheriting one member who had been there for just over a year and had been cycling in and out of a nutrition plan that saw her hover just over a thousand calories that included less than 50g of carbs, with the same menu every single day for a fortnight at a time...even certain vegetables were completely off the menu.
Her breaking point was mine too, she arrived one morning for her usual 6am slot. Knowing I was a fresh face she desperately hoped I held the key to kick starting her fat loss again, having stalled for a few weeks and proceeded asking some questions.
She explained she’d been up at 4.30am to scramble her usual egg whites, to be eaten within an hour of the end of our session...cold, because she had no microwave in work.
On top of her 3 HIIT based gym sessions that week she had also clocked up about 20km of running so far training for a half marathon. She was a Solicitor who worked 10+ hour long days and was welling up in anticipation of an answer I didn’t have the confidence to deliver.
I left that company very shortly after that, and other conversations that went in a similar direction. I’m sorry now I didn’t tell her to leave, and that there were more effective ways to achieve her goals to fit her lifestyle. I’m also sorry that I don’t know have the means to see how she’s doing today and to apologise for toeing the company line.
The problem with these gyms is that they only have one approach and apply it to everyone across the boards, regardless of their situation. If all you’ve got is a hammer then everything looks like a nail sort of approach.
I hear echoes of similar stories from these new people that have come this way too, only I think I’m in a better position to help them now, and there’s no shouting, penance or guilt involved...you can even have some cake, life’s crap without cake.