Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why This Fatty Quit Going to Your Gym: An Open Letter to Fitness Professionals

An Open Letter to Fitness Professionals

[Please note that this is my personal experience, and I can’t really presume to speak for all overweight people. I’m not an athlete, not even a “fat athlete,” though I understand that some people are. I currently participate in Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating, but right now, today, I am Not Healthy. I am choosing to address that, but first...]

A few years back I used to go to the gym at my University, and I really liked it. Despite my weight, nearly 300 pounds, people left me alone and let me do my own thing. Within about a year there, I had lost over 50 pounds and had gone from barely being able to do 30 minutes on the treadmill to doing 30 minutes on three different machines plus a mile walk for warmup and cool down. But then I graduated and had to find a new gym.

I wasn’t worried about that. I had gotten used to the workouts and was ready for a change, a challenge. No one messed with me or picked on me, and I didn’t anticipate that a new place would be that much different. After all, we were all there to get healthy and were far too busy doing what we needed to do to worry about someone else’s workout.

What I hadn’t counted on were the trainers. Yes, my university had trainers too, but they were students in the fitness courses and I guess there just wasn’t a ton of money to worry about with amateur trainers, or maybe they were doing it for class credit. Either way, I just didn’t see much of them, and they never bothered me.

But out in the real world, things were different. Out in the real world, I met You.

I was ready to increase my workout. I was still doing my own workout three days a week and then I joined Zumba for a fourth, just for fun. I thought that starting to learn weight training would be a good idea. Even better, I got three free sessions with a trainer for signing up and to learn the equipment. Good enough, that sounded like a great idea.

It could have been the best thing that ever happened to my workouts, enriched my gym experience, and set me on a new path for achieving health. Except for You.

You don't get it both ways, you know.

You took one look at me and apparently You knew my whole story. Surely I was a lazy and stupid fatty, joining the gym in January like all of the other fatties (I graduated in December), and had never ever set foot in a gym before. In fact, You knew me so well that You didn’t even need to bother to hear me when I tried to tell You about what I already did, what I was already capable of. What You did do was hand me a print-out of Your special, guaranteed to burn the fat right off workout plan. It didn’t matter that I had existing health problems - that’s why I was trying to get fit and lose weight in the first place - and that despite losing 50 pounds that I still have chronic bronchitis and have trouble breathing well during a workout.

You didn’t care about what I needed from a workout or from a trainer. What You cared about was shoving Your special, soon-to-be-famous program down my throat, whether it was good or safe for me. At any time when I tried to mention my own capabilities and limits, You let me know in no uncertain terms that what I had being doing was completely useless. If I wasn’t working out Your way, at Your suggested intensity, then I was wasting my time (and perhaps, by extension, Your time).

And I tried it. You were the expert, after all. So what if the past year of “wasting my time” had netted me a 50 pound loss? So what if it had worked and had kept me coming back? You had the training, the education, and the experience.

But I was miserable. I hated every workout, and every time You would pass by in the gym I would shrink, worried that I wasn’t doing it right. An entire year of healthy living and 50 pounds gone and suddenly it just wasn’t good enough anymore. *I* wasn’t good enough anymore. Within a couple of weeks I started skipping gym days because I hated it. I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious and worried the entire time during my workouts. Not long after that I just quit going altogether. Exercise was no longer fun, it was just hard and humiliating.

You convinced me that I wasn’t good enough. In truth, that part is my fault, because I let You do it. You reminded me that no matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked, no matter how much weight I lost, that I was still just a lazy, stupid fatty to people like You. I was still an object to be ridiculed and hated. And why should I bother to take care of something worthless?

A person will only stick with something they hate for so long, even if they are doing it for a good reason.

So after all this time, after I gave up on myself and haven’t been back to Your gym, to any gym, for years now, here’s the question I have for You and all the other Trainers and Fitness Experts and Gym Rats and Life Coaches... what’s actually better: The exercise that’s done perfectly or the exercise that I will actually do?

Dear Fitness Professionals, please please just listen and pay attention to me, the “disgusting” fatty (don’t think that I don’t know what you think of me). I can tell you what I am capable of today - it might be even more than You expect. I have a history. I got this way for a reason. It could be that I really *am* lazy and uninformed and spend all day stuffing my face with cake and cheese puffs. But it’s actually more complicated than that. Maybe I’m sick, maybe I got hurt, maybe I’m just broken. Or maybe, it’s just the way my body was made, maybe I’ve been fat since the day I was born, and trying to diet has just made me fatter and fatter.

I am unhealthy today, but I didn’t really plan it that way; I didn’t mean it. But at least now I’m here, in front of You at YOUR gym. Find out why. Find out what went wrong and what I need to fix it. And keep in mind that not every body needs the same thing fixed, nor do they need it fixed in the same way. Maybe I don’t need fixed at all, and I just came to you for advice or for a new challenge. But, for the love of crunches and cheese puffs, don’t assume that You know all about me by looking at the outside - find out what I NEED, and help me get that.

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  2. This is beautiful and I hope to God that this goes viral, because of the message! Thank you for writing this it really lifted my spirits :)

  3. Thank you! I've been dwelling on it for a long time.

  4. Saw this linked in the comments section on Ragen Chastain's FB wall and came to check it out. I have faced similar situations and totally get where you are coming from. I got lucky and fell into a situation where I have access to a gym without any of the pressure issues. I wish that everyone had that available to them.

  5. How did I not read this sooner. F' those thoughtless, one size fits all gym cultures. There are so many smarter, better ways to get a fit body, mind and spirit. That these places still exist with their no pain, no gain just do it attitudes really sicks.