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Advice From a Fat Trainer to a Non-Fat Trainer

Dear Straight-Size Trainer,

First of all, I’m going to explain that to be straight-size is to be the opposite of plus-size or fat. You are probably what people think of when they picture a trainer in their head. Thin and/or ripped, no second thought given to working out without your shirt on, you’re what everyone wishes they looked like.

I want to be your friend. I think we make great allies, and I want you on my side. I want to tell you something though, and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way.

Fat people don’t need to be saved.

I know, I know. You might have been fat once. You might specialize in weight loss or have a passion for solving the “obesity crisis” whatever that is supposed to mean. I see it in trainers everywhere. They see fat people and all of a sudden develop this savior complex.

Fat people don't need saving.My friend Michelle and I were talking about this the other day after a post popped up in a group for trainers we are both in. We are also both “bigger” or fat. By the way, fat is not a derogatory word. It is just a descriptor. I am 5’5” and weigh 200 pounds and am a size 14. I describe myself as big because I’m not quite plus-size but Michelle does describe herself as fat, as do many other plus-size trainers. Whatever we call ourselves or what our clients call themselves, we, as fat people, don’t need saving.

If often takes us a long time to develop the type of body positivity where we believe that we don’t need to be saved. That we can be healthy at whatever size we are. That we are more than our bodies and that our bodies are the least interesting thing about us. We have often read and researched and learned about the impact of habits vs. weight loss on health and while we know that BMI (a flawed measurement system) tells us we are at a higher risk of certain diseases, we also know that our other health markers (blood pressure, blood sugar levels, resting heart rate, etc.) tell us more about our health than our weight does. This brings me to my next point:

Good fatty vs. bad fatty

I posted a video of me doing rack pulls in the aforementioned Facebook thread and was assured that since I am active, of course a trainer wouldn’t bother me about my weight. Why? Because I’m healthy and active, apparently. But if you know me you’d know that I struggle with several chronic illnesses and only continue to lift through sheer determination to continue doing what I love. The assumption may be that if I lost weight I might be healthier, but I’ve been like this at every single size I’ve ever been. My health is not dependent on my size.

This makes me a good fatty, rather than a bad fatty who doesn’t exercise or eat well or _________ (insert some judgment on their health). The bottom line is that fat people shouldn’t have to prove that they are worthy of respect by demonstrating fitness to people they don’t know. I like to share videos of me doing things like that because I am proud of it and I want other big people to know they can do what they want. Others should be free of judgment whether they demonstrate fitness or not, because they are people and people deserve respect.

 

Now, all of this is not to say that I am against weight loss. If you want to lose weight, if a client of yours wants to lose weight, if your cat needs to lose weight, super. You do you, you help them, I help people do that too. The difference is that I’m not trying to save them. As Michelle pointed out in her own post about this in the trainer group, fat people know they’re fat. You know when you have to shop in the plus-size store or when fat is getting in the way of doing things or when you start struggling to get up several flights of stairs. We know, they know, everyone is aware. If you want to help people, stop thinking of yourself as their savior. You aren’t the solution to the problems you perceive them to have. We don’t need you to save us. And if you have a client come to you and they want to lose weight, approach it from a place of compassion. Approach it from a place of body neutrality, where we can change our habits and begin exercising and eating more nutritious foods and still reap the benefits thereof even if we don’t lose weight. Because that is scientifically backed. Weight loss through restriction isn’t.

 

Michelle listed some resources for people to look at and here they are:

Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon

Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole

Big Fit Girl by Louise Green

Hungry for Happiness by Samantha Skelly

Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield

 

I know it may be uncomfortable for you to be confronted with the idea that fat people don’t want to be changed or that they don’t need you to tell them they need to change. They really don’t need you to save them. I’m asking that you sit with that idea and try to see it from their perspective. In the end, the productive conversation is not the one about how we can get fat people to see what they need us. The productive conversation is one that teaches you how to be more accepting, client-centered, and inclusive in your approach so that you can help as many clients reach their goals as possible.

 

Please visit Michelle at her Facebook page and her website, www.coachsparkles.com. And if you have any comments or questions, please leave them here, or message me through this site or my Facebook page.

Thank you for reading!

Balance

What is balance?

How do I achieve it?

What does it look like?

These are questions that people often have about building a life of balance, simply because so many of us don’t have it. Our culture in North America is very focused on extremes. Work a lot, spend a lot, eat a lot, do a lot of wacky things to go viral online, restrict this food group, kill yourself in the gym, and so on. I remember when I worked in a convenience store during my first year of University. I was stocking magazines for the first time and I looked at the cover of a bodybuilding magazine. And of course there was a HUGE GUY with HUGE MUSCLES and one of the headlines was something about a WORKOUT THAT WILL MAKE YOU PUKE and I thought…why the hell would you want to do that?? Unfortunately, the mentality of ‘no pain, no gain’ and ‘go hard or go home’ is pervasive in the fitness community and it’s not very helpful in the long-term. I am definitely not knocking people who push themselves to their limits, especially for competitions. I am in awe of what I have seen people do and I envy them for being able to do it. But to go into the gym with the intention of working out so hard that you end up seeing your breakfast again? No thanks. That’s not healthy, either physically or mentally.

Oftentimes, people think that if they listen to their body and allow it to tell them what it needs or can do that day, they will end up laying on the couch and eating box after box of chocolate or mac and cheese right out of the pot. I mean, that does kind of sound fun, but when you learn to add habits into your balance, your body learns to expect certain things like vegetables and water and movement. It’s amazing what you can build when you are intentional about it.

For me, because I live with so many chronic health conditions, I have no choice but to listen to my body constantly. Last Monday my shoulder was killing me and so I didn’t go to yoga on Tuesday morning. Today my shoulder was fine and I went to yoga. If I’m having digestive issues I might go to the gym instead of running. And if I didn’t sleep well last night, I might go back to bed for a couple hours while my son is at school because I know it will be better for both of us when he gets home.

My version of balance takes the long view. I might not be able to lift one day but can in a few. I might be able to run today but not in a few days. If I can’t exercise today, I will do something else that fosters balance and self-care, like reading a novel with a cup of coffee or space out watching baseball later because I just need to recharge.

I am currently reading a book on the philosophy of yoga and I found this quote in it the other day:

Finallyfoundmy newhome!

It really struck me, because it urges us to find guidance in ourselves. To look inside and see what balance means to us and consider all the facets of who we are when we look for balance today. Today’s balance may look different than tomorrows. And that is totally ok! Take nutrition for example. It would be great if every day was awesome and you got all your veggies in and drank a ton of water and ate whole grains only. But we all know that every day isn’t like that. Some days you just order pizza for dinner because you.are.so.done.omg. Some days you have a big salad for dinner. Sometimes you’re feeling unwell and don’t eat much of anything or just crackers and toast. And that is totally fine. Don’t judge your nutrition by one day. Look at your whole week. I bet it will balance out over that period of time. Mine usually does.

So what exactly is balance then? For me it is giving my body what it currently needs that will support my health in the long run. It means resting when it’s needed. It’s also moving your body intentionally when you can and want to. Sometimes it’s pushing through, but it’s not doing it to the detriment of your health as a whole. It means having veggies with your dinner but enjoying birthday cake at a party too. It’s about enjoying life, not being a slave to plans.

All parts of us come together to make the whole. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Think about all of these things when you are building your balance. Shape a life that supports all the facets of who you are. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Fostering your spirit is just as important as eating well. Who you are matters when it comes to balance. So build your balance, do it intentionally, and see what it helps you achieve.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Garbage Cans

In this post I wanted to share a valuable piece of advice that I picked up along my journey of developing better habits for my health. A lot of my habits have centered around food, but some have been about actual eating. For instance, waiting until you’re hungry to eat. I know, it sounds totally obvious, but not everyone does this! Some people just eat because it’s lunchtime and we’ve been trained to eat at certain times. Some people eat 5-6 small meals a day because they were told by someone that it’s the best way to eat for fat or weight loss (it’s not!).

I think one thing we all struggle with is the idea of clearing our plates at a meal. And really this isn’t limited to official meals. It could also be related to snacking, even though snacking isn’t a habit we want to encourage. Many of our negative food habits that follow us into adulthood are things we were trained to do as children. “Clean your plate” is definitely one of them. So what do we do about this compulsion? Being aware of when your hunger is becoming satisfied during your meal and stopping then is helpful, but again, it’s difficult. Sometimes we need a reminder that it is ok to stop and here it is.

You are not a garbage can.

Again:

YOU ARE NOT A GARBAGE CAN.

So what do garbage cans have to do with anything? Well, many people feel they should clean their plates because their food will be wasted otherwise. But how is that really different from finishing your meal when you don’t need to? When you’re already satisfied and continue eating so as not to waste, you’re putting that excess/waste or whatever you want to call it into your body anyway. I know that you’re probably thinking, no that’s not the same. But continuing to eat when you’re full and satisfied is not helping you. If you don’t want to ‘waste’ it, save it for later. Give it to the dog. Start a compost pile. I know we all heard about ‘starving orphans’ in Africa as encouragement to clean our plates when we were younger, but unless you can find a way to overnight your leftover spaghetti to someone starving, it’s not actually going to make a difference.

If you are really concerned about waste, start making smaller plates. I am so familiar with the habit of filling your plate or bowl too much and I get it. You’re hungry, you made delicious food or got takeout from somewhere and it just smells so good! But you can always go back for more if you’re *really* still hungry after eating your first serving. However, this practice is a good time to check in about some things. Are you really still hungry or do you just want more? These are different. And in that vein, are you savoring this yummy food? Or are you eating distracted and too quickly? Try to take your time. Put your phone down, turn the TV off, and actually experience your food. Think about textures and flavours. Don’t make it satisfying only to your physical body. Make it satisfying to your mind and your palate as well. By doing this, you can move beyond treating your stomach like a garbage can and you can start focusing on it with your dining actions.

Questions? Comments? Chime in below!