Do you struggle with your weight, body image and self-esteem?
Are you on a mission to lose that last 5kgs?
Chances are you are one of the many millions in Australia who has a personal trainer helping you on that journey. I am here to ask you to stop for just one second before you spend another cent on Personal training and ask what is it you REALLY need right now.
You might be thinking but isn’t she a personal trainer, is she trying to go out of business? What I want to see is people succeed, to make long-term sustainable changes and to let go of the fears that are holding them back.
So much of what happens when we start to make change is the messages in our head change, the way we speak to ourselves shifts and we start to believe in ourselves and our abilities. Yes, that can certainly happen on the gym floor, but more likely it is happening during the 23 hours outside of the gym.
Want to change your fitness and health from the outside? Go see a personal trainer. Want to make a long-lasting sustainable change from the inside out, book in to see a counsellor.
Change must come from within first
Clients generally seek the services of a personal trainer when they are feeling at their lowest. They seek the guidance of someone they believe can support them to make the change towards feeling better.
Clients come in to begin their fitness journey often in crisis. They may be experiencing anxiety, depression, struggling with addictions, a relationship crisis or have gone through trauma or even grief.
These are some very serious and complex issues not to be taken lightly.
They may have gotten to the point where they can’t look at themselves in the mirror, are filled with guilt, shame, self-loathing and self-hatred.
They may have experienced an accident or injury which has totally changed their world perception where they no longer feel in control of their body. Or work in a stressful and overwhelming environment where their cortisol levels are so high they are running on fumes.
Experiencing any of the aforementioned events often lead to an unhealthy coping mechanism such as over or undereating, substance abuse, shopping or gambling addictions.
These people are incredibly vulnerable and in need of help and support. So they turn to the most socially acceptable form of “help” available. These are not the people walking through the doors of a rehab facility, these are the people walking into the gym.
Society dictates that seeing a GP is fine if you’re sick, going to the physiotherapist is cool if you have aches or pains, and going to the dentist is important for your oral health, but going to a counsellor if your head is filled with negative thoughts and you’re mentally all over the place?
No. No way. Line drawn. Only crazy people go to see a counsellor.
The Mind-Body connection
It makes sense if you don’t like your body go see a body change expert, but it seems that society is blind to the connection between mind and body.
Our current society tells them that if they can change externally and what they see in the mirror that this will lead to happiness, satisfaction in life and relationships, leading to long-term success.
Sure you can change your behaviours, change what you see in the mirror but will it change what’s going on in your head?
For some these steps will be just enough to get the ball rolling, to engage someone’s self-determination and self-efficacy. For others, it may lead to a path of yo-yo dieting, disordered eating or over exercise.
Using food and exercise and unhealthy coping mechanisms, plus other distractions keep the real worries pushed down and out of sight. Society sells this idea that looking like a size 6 will bring happiness, success and help one find the partner of their dreams.
Happiness can’t be bought and doesn’t come from a number on the scale.
Where fitness lets us down
A colleague commented to me the other day 80% of what we do in this job is counselling. As a career changer coming from a career as a counsellor to now working in fitness I always believed this concept to be true. Now after working in the industry, I have now seen and experienced it firsthand.
The fitness industry is poorly equipped to deal with the deep level of emotions that clients present. It is still 70 – 80 % male, fresh out of school, or career changers who have their own personal journey of physical transformation.
The current certificate 3 and 4 have one module on the psychology of change but doesn’t address what drives people to the gym in the first place. It is unrealistic to expect these new trainers to be able to adequately support clients with complex life problems. It is no wonder the industry is in disrepair and has garnered such a bad name for itself.
Clients go see a personal trainer expecting their weight to change and with that they will instantly become happier more successful and love themselves.
Adding to the problem, trainers graduate expecting to be able to help someone to get fitter and healthier by just directing clients to the exercise program and healthy nutrition and following the simple steps set out for them.
What happens when clients don’t follow the plan, self-sabotage, life gets in the way or completely fall off the wagon in a big way.
Changing your whole lifestyle is actually quite hard, and maintaining it is even harder.
What do you really need right now?
If you are a fitness client and can recognize some of the above scenarios stop and take stock of where you’re at. Take a hard look at your situation, what is it you need right now? Is it emotional support, someone to talk to, to work through these feelings of unworthiness?
Great, don’t fire your P.T, book yourself in for a Mental Health Care plan and get a counsellor alongside for support.
Is losing weight something you are doing to heal old wounds, or because you had a difficult relationship with your body, or with food growing up?
Ok so maybe you need to do some internal work with a therapist before embarking on a weight loss journey. It doesn’t mean stop exercising, just put the focus on movement and other benefits of exercise over any weight loss goals.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations for your trainer, talk to them about what is going on and be open to accepting help from someone else.
If you are a trainer, learn, read and talk with experts in the field. Understand psychology, what makes people do the things they do. Don’t just say “they didn’t do what I told them to”a then fire your client.
Understand why people are not willing to give up their dysfunctional coping mechanism: alcohol, comfort foods, cigarettes, these are their tools to cope and to feel a sense of control. Learn how to help people develop healthier coping strategies and how to support them through change.
Build a network of health professionals you can refer to and know your boundaries and don’t be afraid to say “I think you need more specialised support than I can offer you”. Don’t try and counsel your clients if you don’t have the skills and experience to deal with it because you will end up burnt out and overwhelmed.