Have you ever tried to lose weight through personal training, going to a gym or dieting? If you have, then you know how frustrating is to be putting in a lot of effort for very little to show for it, or a short term weight loss followed by putting it all back on again. This also means that you know how bad it makes you feel when you think that you are just going to be overweight for the rest of your life and that you are a hopeless case as you look on at all the skinny people on Instagram and Facebook. However, did you ever think that the problem might lie with the approach that you take, and the people that you choose to work with as opposed to thinking that there is something wrong with your personality that you just cant stick to it for long enough to see the thing through? I am all for taking personal responsibility, but there are certain things that bug me, and the typical nature of personal training and the 'weight loss industry' is at the top of that list. Here are a few thoughts on the issue
Firstly, social media is not a real glimpse into the reality of life, especially when it comes to the 'health and fitness models' pages out there, of which there are many. When you scroll down your Instagram feed, you are seeing a concentration of people who take pleasure in posting photos of themselves at the gym, or with their tops (or bottoms) off. There is nothing wrong with this per say. Everyone is entitled to spend their time whatever way they want, and there are worse ways that it could be spent than in the gym, but social media is NOT real life. Depending on the people you follow 9 out of 10 posts could be of skinny people posting pictures of themselves. When you walk through the city, 1 in a 100 might have the washboard abs, and beach body, not 9 out of 10. Most people have real lives, families to look after, bills to pay, jobs to work, and enjoy socializing and living their lives as much as they can. #Fitspiration, #instamodel, and #abs, and all the other #'s are all very well, but the real challenge and motivation should not be aspiring to be like the person in the flattering lighting, with a tiny waist or Popeye arms. If you want to get fitter and healthier then the real motivation should be to be a little bit healthier, more positive, and fitter tomorrow than you are today. Don’t get carried away with needing to be like someone else, especially when that is based on a filtered photo of a young gym obsessed model on social media. You are already a beautiful person, and striving for self improvement is a wonderful and fulfilling journey. Yearning to be like someone else seems to me to be a one way ticket to feeling like crap. Anyway, how do you know that the 'fitness model' is happy in their own lives? Looking ripped does not equal being healthy, in body or in mind. There is so much more to health than looks, and being happy from day to day can be difficult enough without wishing you were someone else. Start loving yourself again. Not when you lose weight or get a six-pack. Just right now.
Food and Supplements
You don’t need food supplements or a subscription to certain food productsto be healthy or lose weight. You need FOOD, period. Food these days is either seen as good or bad for our health, which in my view is a trivialisation and over-simplification of one of the absolutely most important aspects of life from a physical health perspective, social, happiness, cultural, mental health, and enjoymentperspectives. When I think about actual real food, the only bad one I can think off is the one you massively over-consume on a regular basis, or the one that someone throws at your head while you cycle to work.
Please take a permanent mental note of this. Food supplements exist to make money for those that sell them. Fast foods exist so that you eat consume more of them, and also make money for the sellers. Real food exists to feed your body and soul, so that you can get to know your family and your friends, so that you can show kids how to behave in company, to discuss problems, ideas, and inspirations, so that you can learn about other cultures, take a break from the hard work, relax while both cooking and eating it, mend damaged relationships, celebrate, break bread with your fellow humans. The mentality that food is either good or bad can get you stuck in a very narrow field of vision that blinds you to the real value of real food. I do not include , pre-packaged, or chemical filled food products in the 'real food bracket'. I do include home-made Gelato, a wood fired pizza, locally grown vegetables, and meat from animals that were raised and cared for within a few hours drive of your front door. I have written recently about an approach to food that fits this view point, so I wont go into it much more here.
Fitness and Health
Being fit, and being healthy are two separate things. Some of the most unhealthy people I know are extremely fit. Last year, I presented a television documentary on the BBC and TG4 about mental health and the GAA. I spoke to young people up and down the country who had been affected by suicide, mostly that a friend or family member had taken their own lives. Hurlers and footballers are extremely fit, but can succumb to mental illness as easy as the next person. Mental illness is unhealthy in the same way that physical health is unhealthy. Certainly when you feel good inside, its easier to be active and feel good on the outside and vice versa. My point is that you can't address your health simply by addressing your physical health, or simply by addressing your nutrition, or even both, when there lies a bigger roadblock underneath. The physical training you do, and the food you eat are important, and equally important are the people you choose to spend time with, your satisfaction with your job and relationships, taking time outs, and not getting caught up in the small stuff that can seem like hell when you are in the thick of it. If you have ever wondered why you just cant seem to get any enjoyment or results out of going to the gym, ask yourself if there are other areas of your health that you need to address with a bit of TLC.
Qualified People and Quality People
The other day, I spotted a 'qualified personal trainer' with a client outside in the sun. While the poor unfortunate victim was busting a gut on some ridiculously arbitrary exercise, the personal trainer was making calls on his phone and checking his text or social media or email (I didn’t get that close to be able to see), while muttering a bit of encouragement to the victim while his auto-timer beeped to let them both know there was 20 seconds left of the torture. The unfortunate reality is that its easy to get 'qualified', and find someone with a cert on the wall, but it is less easy to find QUALITY. Go for Quality over qualified every time. If you can find a combination, happy days! The things I look for when assessing QUALITY include, the integrity of the coach, the results of their clients, the substance behind what they coach, the systems that they use, and my connection with them as a person as opposed to their coaching certifications. The model of personal training and fitness that prevails these days lends itself to weekend certified personal trainers that care more about doing their own training than helping people in the long run. I have spoke to many people who have felt judged by trainers in gyms, and who were berated because they could not fit into the trainers perception of what was 100% the right and only way to do something. Nobody needs this nonsense in their lives, especially when you are trying to reverse the effects of your eating, activity, and lifestyle habits of a lifetime.
Bull Shit vs THE Shit.
There is bull shit, then there is THE shit. The difference between the two is largely down to the perception of whoever you happen to ask, but revert back to the Qualification Vs Quality section to work out how you can tell who to listen to. If someone adheres to a training method, diet, or product that has a Trademark symbol after it, I tend to steer towards the bull shit option. If something is labelled as a miracle cure quick fix, superfood, or seems too good to be true, then I steer towards the bullshit option. When a coach dedicates his/herlife to furthering their knowledge, has the humility to know that learning never stops, that sometimes they are better to refer-out, and that once they think THEY KNOW, then they definitely DON’T KNOW, then I start thinking it might not be bull shit.
Obtaining THE shit can be more cost more in money, but yields far more in terms of results, satisfaction, and long term solutions. The bull shit can sometimes be disguised in a 'revolutionary' program or diet that seems to offer fast results, but I have been coaching long enough now, and connected with enough people to be able to say that these things offer almost no value or long term results, apart from the valuable lesson that they don’t work if you have ever been unfortunate enough to fall for that trap.
SO there you have it.
Next time you wonder why your new fitness/ health buzz didn’t work have a think about the following. Were you caught up in the social media version of health? Were you viewing food as good vs bad and trying to use it simply to change your physical appearance? Were you depending on a food supplement or product? Did you view better fitness as equal to better health? Were you working with 'qualified people' over quality people? Were you exposed to bullshit or THE shit?
For the last 5 years or so, I have been committed to building a business that takes a different approach to the status quo. A meaningful training process, a lifestyle approach, experienced and quality coaches that are good people, an alternative and friendly vibe, a social aspect, and a mixture of science and practice. This journey has taken me all over the world to learn from some of the best, and makes every week a new adventure. Integrating physical training with our book club, social gatherings, nutrition approach, art exhibition, library, contributing to the community, athlete sponsorships, cultural events, and our new RealBia project have been the fruits of our efforts so far.
If the information here strikes a chord with you, and you want to start on building a new lifestyle for yourself that will lead to a healthier, and fitter body and mind, get in touch and I will meet you for a totally complementary consultation to work out your goals, your perceived obstacles, and make a plan that suits your schedule, your budget, and your life so that you can get on with building the lifestyle that you want to have. There is nothing to lose.
This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.