So much of the work I did – and still do – in taking control of my body involves what seems like a very basic thing… Changing habits. But I’m continually learning that this is one of those things where you do it once, then assume you’ve mastered it until you hit a wall and realize you need to do it again. And again. And again. So it has been with my own habits. Just when I think I’ve mastered “good habits”, I find that I’ve really just mastered the art of telling myself I have good habits.
I’ve caught a lot of flak recently for a few things I wrote on facebook about obesity. Things that are objectively true, but are offensive by virtue of the fact that some people wish they weren’t true. I got attacked, in fact, for being cruel or heartless. A couple of people were shocked, shocked, that I would say such a thing considering that I used to be fat myself.
They don’t seem to realize that it is precisely because I was fat myself that I’m in a position to point out how reality actually works for fat people.
So I bragged on Facebook about a few of my clients last week. Several of them have made great progress: dramatic, visible progress. J___ is much leaner, T___ is practically a different person in the face, and C___ can slip out of his pants now without unbuttoning them. I’m proud of their success! And a little proud of my part in it.
But at the same time, a few guys have expressed frustration at their progress. Not that they aren’t making progress – all my guys are, even those who barely listen to me! But some of them want to hit the gas a little harder. C___ in particular wants to see some abs and tends to grumble that those aren’t making their debut quite fast enough. I’m sympathetic to a point – abs are bizarrely motivating, especially to us fatties who may never have seen them in the mirror – but only to a point. And I say that because my guys tend to fall into some pretty obvious traps. Traps I feel like I warned them about… but then again, maybe it’s one of those things where you can’t really warn people away from a hot stove until they put their hand on it.
So what are the biggest traps my clients fall into? Let’s look.
I’d started to follow up, as promised, on “Fatties and Phone Calls” because apparently that really resonates with people. But then I remembered that a certain kind of conversation has been coming up for me and the new guys I am consulting about training, which means it’s probably closer to the surface of my thoughts and what I think is important right now.
When I sit down with a client – this is before they even see the gym and usually over dinner or coffee so we can get to know one another – I ask them a range of questions designed to get a feel for them. Who are they? What is their health history? What are their goals? How do they treat and/or feel about their body? And they get a chance to interview me as well. It’s important to me to have a rapport with my clients… Usually the biggest reason they are working with me is because they know I’ve been on the other side of fitness – the painful, discouraging, difficult side of fitness – and so I, myself, am as much a part of their experience getting fit as any of the exercises I’m working them through.
Over the course of the “interview” between us one thing seems to stick out almost universally. My clients simply aren’t imagining themselves getting something they want out of fitness. They are dreaming too small. I’ll explain.
I promised I’d get back to the idea of body image in Fatties Don’t Get Phone Calls (2), and so here that is.
I get the impression from talking to people about their weight that there is a pervasive fear about seeming to be shallow. This fear of seeming shallow colors a lot of what people think about themselves and their relationships to others, especially if like me they grew up struggling with weight and body image. People will go to unreasonable lengths to avoid the appearance of vanity, to such an extent that they end up making unhealthy and destructive choices in life… because it seems better than appearing shallow. It can keep us from making positive changes in our life and even sabotage us in some ways.
I want to expand on both my “fatties don’t get phone calls” post and something I alluded to recently in this post about masculinity and self image. This won’t necessarily apply to all my readers, or maybe even most of you, but it’s part of what shaped my experience growing up with obesity and what I know shaped the experiences of several other former fat boys I’m acquainted with. Most of the experiences of being fat and young can be pretty generalized – a lot of what I’ve written so far speaks to a lot of people who used to be fat or are still struggling with their weight – but there are things that not everyone struggled with. But maybe as I write this, the broader application to everyone will emerge on its own.
Fatties don’t get phone calls. My episode with Starla reinforced that fear for me. What’s funny is that on the one hand, yes, I felt rejected because of my weight and that hurt. But it didn’t hurt like it might because I was only partially invested in trying to date her, or even to date my ex girlfriends in high school. The main way that my weight impacted my love life was that it basically kept me in the closet until I was about 24.
I sometimes wonder about the focus of fitness magazines as I’m walking through the store and see them on the rack. I’ve mentioned before that I think the industry misses the mark a lot of the time with regards to overweight people, and the lines of fitness magazines on the rack at the grocery store are a good example of just how. A lot of the articles you’ll see are about that last 10 or 15 pounds, or how to “finally” shed that belly fat… But what about the guy who is just getting started? It seems to me as if fitness magazines will be one of the first resources that a fat guy picks up when he wants to lose weight – it was the first thing I picked up, after all. They’re visible, they’re accessible, and they’re relatively low-investment… but they also tend to focus on guys near the top of their game. Which is fine, in some ways: that’s part of the mission of Men’s Health and their declared readership. But I think fitness magazines – men’s magazines in particular, since I think women’s mags do a slightly better job of this – would be well served to push the border a little and try to rope in the casual or even beginning health nut. What if someone is just “interested” but not a committed follower?
In a world obsessed with losing that last 10 pounds to finally see that washboard stomach for beach season, what’s a guy to do if his problem is tackling that first ten pounds?