ANDREA'S ADVENTURES -Your Weight Is Not Up For Discussion. Especially Not From Your Fitness Professional
I thought We'd Progressed Beyond This. I Was Wrong
Those who have read my blogs before will know that there’s not much I won’t share with you. I’m an open book with most stuff. I think you reach a certain age where you don’t really care. In fact, you want to be heard!
I’ve previously written a blog along these same lines quite a while ago. But I think this is stuff we all need to be reminded about. And rather than digging up that old blog and re-posting it, I decided to write a new one because this issue hit me really hard today and it needs today’s perspective.
I’m talking about weight. Underweight, overweight, it doesn’t matter. The pre-judgements and assumptions still exist out there big time. Ugh.
So I want to share with you an awful experience I had this morning. Hours later, I’m still really upset. And I know this experience happens to many of us so I want to tell you that it’s not ok, ever! And if it’s ever directed to you from your fitness or nutrition coach, find yourself a new one. Stat!
My Relaxing Morning - Ruined
So, I’ve just come back from the pool where I did my pre-work swim followed by a stretching session in the therapy pool and some relaxing breathwork in the spa. It should’ve been a wonderful way to start off my Friday. Except it wasn’t. Because someone decided it was ok for them to make a comment, to my face, about my body. He made assumptions. He was another patron at the pool. But you will also come across this from professionals in the fitness industry (more on that shortly).
Here’s what happened. I’m in the spa, clearly zenning with my eyes closed. This is part of my new recovery routine. I'm feeling wonderful! I’m alone in the spa and there are 8 jets. I open my eyes to find an older bloke on one of the jets right next to me. Firstly, personal space! As soon as I open my eyes, he starts talking to me. Secondly, read the room! I’m trying to relax. As women, throughout our whole lives, we are taught to ‘be nice’ so instead of saying, “I’m here to relax so I’m not going to talk”, I stupidly allow myself to engage with this bloke. He seems harmless enough. What ensued was truly awful. Two hours later, I’m still crying. I know a lot of you know this feeling. As a coach for women, I want you to know that if you decide to work with me, you will be in safe hands because I understand this prejudice.
The conversation started like this.
Him: “blah blah blah blah….I come here and try to swim 20 laps each time. How far do you swim?”
Me: “That’s awesome! That’s so good for you! For me, it depends how I’m feeling. I swim with a squad once a week and that’s a hard session. And then I do another easy session on my own. Usually anything between 1.2 to 2.5km”
And this is when it all went south……….
Judgement and Assumptions
The conversation continued.
Him: “That’s a lot” (5 sec pause). Then, “No offence but (and you know when someone says that it’s going to be offensive), when I see someone bigger and then they get in the pool and are fast, I’m really surprised”
At this point, because I usually don’t want to make waves, I would normally suck it up, say nothing but feel really upset. But, you know what? Today was different. Today I decided to call this random ignorant person out. I thought, “Eff that, how dare you! You know nothing about me! You know nothing about what my life is, has been or what I’m currently dealing with. You don’t know that my 'bigger' body allows me to do awesome stuff and I’m proud of it. You don’t know that I finally felt empowered enough to throw away my scales recently. You don’t know that I have struggled with disordered eating since I was 17. I’m gonna set you straight buddy!
So, I took a deep breath, kept calm and let him have it.
Me: “You know what? I do take offence at what you just said. And I’ll tell you why what you just said is insulting. And hopefully, this might educate you. You’ve made assumptions just by looking at me. Firstly, you don’t know that I am probably healthier and more fit than a lot of people half my age. All my blood tests attest to this. You don’t know that I swim, run, lift weights and hike. You don’t know that certain medications affect my weight. You don’t know that I have lived a lifetime of dealing with this body image stuff mainly due to people like you thinking my body is even up for discussion. By the way, it’s not. And by preceding your ‘observation’ with “no offence, but….”, it doesn’t make it any less offensive”
Him: “Oh I do apologise. You’re right. I should think about things like that”
At this point, I think I’m making progress. Alas………………
Him: “There’s a lady who comes here to swim and she uses two walking sticks. But then she gets in the pool and she is so fast. She surprised me! She looked like she wouldn’t be able to do anything”
Me: (exasperated!) “So there you go again, making assumptions about people based on their appearance. Whether someone is fat, thin, has a disability - it has no bearing on what they may be capable of. And why does this even take up space in your mind when you look at someone? Let alone comment directly to someone?” Maybe you should just concentrate on yourself”
Him: “I am very sorry. Yes you’re right. I do apologise again”
To be honest, the conversation went off on a tangent from there about mental health (apparently people just need to ‘toughen up’ - I shut him down on that one lickety-split having worked in the mental health field for a long time). And the final straw was, he commented on the beautiful indigenous-design bathers I was wearing. He made it all about the upcoming referendum we are about to have here in Oz about the right for indigenous people to have a voice to parliament. I am not even going to repeat that convo but let me just say, it was the final straw for me. This was the time for me to get out of the spa and go have a coffee. He clearly had no filter and no insight into what constitutes appropriate behaviour and conversation. I told him as much and I left.
The Power of The Shared Experience
I held it together until I reached the change room and that was when all those decades of constantly dealing with this shit boiled over and I sobbed. Two awesome women came over and asked if I wanted to talk and I blurted out everything that just happened. These women were exactly what I needed in that moment. They then talked about comments they’ve put up with over their lifetimes. Some comments were truly despicable. And yes, some were from gym instructors! So I’m gonna talk about this in a minute. Next thing, we were all crying! But it was beautiful and empowering and I’m so glad I lost it in the safety of such caring strangers. We shared our stories and they were hurtful to bring up but we felt safe doing so. This is still raw for me as it only happened this morning. After hearing what these beautiful, strong, capable women had also experienced I felt motivated to put pen to paper as soon as I got home.
Women and men, your body is an amazing powerhouse that is capable of doing incredible things. Of course, there may be physical limitations such as medical or physical conditions. But you can still do awesome stuff! And being fat or thin is generally not an indication of what you can or can’t do. If you treat your body well, do some resistance work, do some cardio, eat a balanced diet (there is no such thing as good or bad food and there is no such thing as your actions being good or bad for having eaten something) and your bloodwork is on point, go you! Your body size and shape is unique. And if it allows you to function well on a daily basis, that’s what matters. Not whether your thighs wobble.
I went to my doctor recently and got a great report on my health. My blood pressure is excellent, my cholesterol, blood sugar, etc etc (all those lifestyle markers) are awesome. My VO2 max is superior for my gender and age. I reeled off all the activities I do on a regular basis. My doc congratulated me and I was really chuffed. And then she commented that I might want to lose some weight though. Um, what? Hang on. You just told me I’m really fit and healthy. Sure, I would like to look nicer in jeans but aesthetics are not a priority to me at this point as I work through other areas in my life. Why the comment about losing weight? Do my wobbly tummy and cellulite thighs offend you? I was ‘too nice’ to ask, but next time I go back, I’m gonna question her on that. Because, if I had risk factors, sure. But currently I don’t. And if any risk factors show up, of course I'd take the appropriate action.
The Fitness Instructor
Where do I begin to start with this one? Here are some examples of what I’ve seen and heard.
My daughter, a few years ago, whilst in her late teens, wanted to improve her overall fitness so she joined a gym. Her PT told her to cut fats out of her diet. Molly told the PT that she likes avocado - the PT told her not to eat avo if she wants to lose weight. Firstly, this is really ill-informed information about nutrition. Secondly, Molly never mentioned that she wanted to lose weight. There seems to be an assumption in the fitness industry that men join the gym to ‘get big’ and women join the gym to lose weight. Don't get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having weight loss as a goal, however it should never be assumed by your fitness instructor/PT/coach that weight loss is your goal. Personally, I go to gym to help me get strong and to increase my bone density as I age. And for injury prevention. Unless your fitness professional also has a qualification in nutrition, giving advice like Molly got is outside their scope of practice. They can certainly give advice around following the Australian Dietary Guidelines (or equivalent in other countries) - this is not outside their scope of practice (the Guidelines can be found by doing an online search). Your coach can give some tips around how you can visually identify recommended amounts of proteins, fats, carbs etc according to the Guidelines (especially helpful for those with a history of disordered eating as it negates the need to 'track' food. But they can’t give advice beyond that without the appropriate qualification (a fitness qual is not an appropriate qual)
When I was doing my placement hours in a gym for my Fitness Instructor qualification, I witnessed one PT tell a client that they won't be able to do certain exercises because of their weight so they’d have to do something else. Awful and demoralising, right? In fact, that client could absolutely have done those exercises but with some modifications. That same PT told another client that they need to get their protein from meat and that a plant-based diet isn’t enough. Another PT talks about her own weight in front of her clients, saying how she thinks her leggings make her ‘look fat’ and how she hates how she ‘got fat’ over the Covid lockdowns. Can you imagine how her clients felt hearing her talk about herself like that? How could you ever feel like you could live up to their standards of ‘perfection’ and that to be anything less is something to be ashamed of? Some of my own coaching clients have previously been told by fitness instructors that they shouldn’t eat carbs and other outlandish ‘advice’ around nutrition. Beware not only the fitness instructor who works outside their scope of practice and/or makes you feel bad about yourself, but also the Fitspo Instagram 'influencers'. They'll have you feeling inadequate because that's how they make their money. And so many of them have no qualifications at all in either fitness or nutrition.
My Final Thoughts
I have had veiled and outright rude comments made to me over the years (by family, allied health professionals, fitness professionals and, most disappointedly, even by other women) about my weight or the weight of other people. I’ve been fat and I’ve been thin. And let me tell you, either way, I have been able to achieve all my fitness goals to date and have heaps more planned regardless of what the scales or BMI charts say. And I have been no happier thin than I am when I’ve been fat nor fat than when I am thin (what a jumble of a sentence!) I'm just me, living my best life. My body, my business. Your body, your business.
It’s very easy to say, “don’t let people like that upset you - it says more about them than you”. And yes it does. People who fixate on the weight of another person clearly have nothing much going on in their lives or they get some sort of perverse feeling of superiority - either way, that’s sad for them. Personally, I'd hate to live with that kind of judgement of others. But it’s hard to brush off and it’s freaking upsetting when it’s directed at you. So, call them out!
To be clear, although I’m writing this from my perspective of someone who is overweight, I have friends who are thin and they also cop constant assumptions about their weight too. That they need to ‘go eat a hamburger’ or that they must be super fit. What the? And again, if your fitness professional makes assumptions based on your build, get yourself another one. Your PT or coach needs to understand you as a person, not you, the number on the scale or how you look.
I guess what I’m trying to get across, in my emotive way (because I’m not gonna lie, I’m still feeling pretty raw from this morning) is a few things:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea is a coach with Summit Strength, who specialise in helping hikers get strong and pain-free for their adventures.
At the age of 54, she discovered a real passion for hiking. But she also discovered just how limiting physical fitness and pain can be on the trail.
After signing up to one of the Summit Strength signature programs, she discovered just how much of a difference the right training can make to a hiker's enjoyment and comfort on their adventures. She knows that the journey isn't always easy and 'life' can sometimes impact on our training goals. She shares her insights and experiences with us in her blog articles.
These days, as an Online Adventure Coach with Summit Strength, she helps hikers all around the world get fit, strong and resilient for their adventures.
Want to get fit, strong and resilient for your hiking adventures?
Check out the Online Summit Program: https://www.summitstrength.com.au/online.html
Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.