“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” ―Jesse Jackson
I have to say it–I am sick of fit people saying that overweight/obese people are lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined dirty sloths.
If you have been reading this blog, you know I am the first person to preach taking responsibility for yourself. I blog on action-oriented solutions often. I am champion of the anti-victim mindset (at least in my own little world), so I can understand the rationale behind thinking that people who are overweight just don’t care enough. Or they simply “don’t want it badly enough.” I get that. But for most people dealing with excess weight, it is actually not about playing the victim role and being lazy. Chalking it up to saying it’s all about laziness and they just need to get their asses off the couch is BS. Why? Well, I thought you’d never ask :)
First, very few overweight/obese people actually don’t care and have given up. The rest actually really don’t want to be overweight. In fact, they think about the fact that they are overweight way more than you or I can even imagine. (I know when I was at my biggest, it felt awful being stuffed into clothes, everything was tight and constantly trying to suck in my stomach). But think about it from the perspective of someone who has a lot of weight to lose: for you and I, exercise feels good, we get a rush off it. For those carrying around excess weight, exercise hurts. And they usually feel worse after, not better (at least physically). This is somewhat of a catch 22, because in order to feel better exercising, they need to lose weight. And to help lose weight, they need to exercise.
What’s the solution? Practice exercise. Be patient. Do your best. And spend the majority of your time putting effort into your NUTRITION. Besides, studies show that nutrition alone can generate similar outcomes to that of nutrition + exercise together, at least for beginners. Move to 90% lean proteins, veggies & fruit. If you have injuries, pain, boredom, limitations, etc, no problem. You always have control over what goes in your mouth. If you don’t have the nutritional know-how, I recommend starting with “The Metabolic Effect Diet” book by Jade & Keoni Teta. The plans are doable, not a fad diet, with sound science, plus has a great piece on behavior change.
Next, people who are less inclined to training and nutrition are motivated towards other things (or were at one point in their lives). Like John Berardi of Precision Nutrition said, “Everyone is motivated. They just may not be motivated to health & fitness.” True words. Meaning, not going to the gym regularly doesn’t necessarily translate into not showing up or being motivated to work, getting things done, being productive in other areas, being a great mom, friend, daughter or sister. To take “laziness” and apply it like a blanket over all areas is unfair and simply not the case.
What’s the solution? Finding a way to marry purpose/passion to physical health. If you are motivated to be a great mom, think about how being fit and lean can help you set a good example for your kids as they grow. If you are motivated by business success, think about how physical fitness can help you manage your stress, energy and sleep so that when you get in the office, you can be more focused and more productive (the book “The Power of Full Engagement” by Tony Schwartz talks a lot about this). If you are motivated to be a good friend, think about how going on hikes or kayaking with your girlfriends will create memories you will never forget (skip those huge meals out to dinner and drinks, that are so often forgotten as they all blend together anyway, few memories there).
Third, despite what you might think, many overweight/obese people are actually working out and staying on their diets. (I’ll wait while you read that last sentence again). I have worked with thousands of people over the last 14 years in this industry, and if there’s one thing I have found is that this stuff is never predictable and clinical experience is worth 10 times any study on the matter. What works on paper doesn’t necessarily translate when you work with clients. Such is the field of fitness & nutrition. There are a few hard & fast rules, but for the most part, most of us are taking shots in the dark, seeing what works.
I had my first experience with several years ago when I was training a client for a figure competition. I gave her a shiny new competition diet, heavy weight training, sprints, etc. All the staples of a contest plan, and….nothing. I was baffled. First, I was convinced she was “cheating” on the diet. That’s what we all assume at first, right? Nope. She was literally 100% compliant. She came to me one day and “confessed” that she missed 1 single meal of chicken and broccoli. That was her one deviation in 2 weeks. No cheats, no replacement meals of bad stuff, nothing. Huh?? I couldn’t understand it. I made the diet more and more strict as we went on. She would lose 0.5 lbs in 4 weeks! For ALL that effort. Bless her. I would have given up waaaaay earlier! Finally, we decided together that we would put the show off, and I referred her to the natural medicine docs (NDs) I work with to get a few hormonal panels done to see what was up. Turns out she was dealing with PCOS and some other stuff that was not easily addressed, and certainly not by someone like me who, at the time, had very few tricks up my sleeve.
This whole experience flew in the face of what I believed about eating and training. Up until that point, I had thought it was simply A + B = C. A nicely wrapped-up fat loss package. Not so. And I think until you either deal with this yourself or with a client, you don’t understand fat loss resistance. You kind of think it’s a cop out. An excuse to not do the work. But this is a REAL thing going on with many people, most unknowingly. And unfortunately, the people who are most susceptible to fat loss resistance are people with jacked up metabolisms, like…overweight/obese people or those who have yo-yo dieted for years (many of whom are competitors). Fat loss IS NOT simply a matter of calories in versus calories out. Sorry. And if you think that that’ the end-all-be-all of fat loss, then you have never worked with someone with a challenged metabolism, and if you have, chances are you wrote them off as lazy and noncompliant.
What’s the solution? There’s an opportunity here for trainers. Fat loss is not simply about exercise or nutrition. It is much larger than that. It’s about behavior change. Habits. Understanding someone’s individual tendencies, mindset, mental-emotional state, preferences, schedule, passions, goals, etc. The days of “follow the meal plan or perish” are over. The NEW fat loss is about psychology and behaviors. Metabolic Effect is on the cutting edge with this stuff, as is Precision Nutrition. But there’s a lot of room left out there for trainers who want to distinguish themselves and actually get people who don’t think they have what it takes (probably because they were told they’re simply lazy) to get real results. The approach needs to be multi-dimensional.
If you are a fitness pro, trainer, competitor or model judging people who are unlike you to be “lazy slobs,” I believe you are being very short-sighted. The reason I am so passionate about this issue is mainly because THAT was ME! When I was in the midst of my competition days, I could not fathom why people wanted to eat crap. It was disgusting to me. I used my control and discipline around food to feel better about myself and, if I am honest, also to increase my status and be “better than.” I am embarrassed and ashamed now about it. Though I would never be rude to someone in person, I just always had the attitude of I’m better because…well, look at how disciplined I am! In short, I lacked the ability to empathize. I’ll tell you what though…it was to the detriment of a lot of other areas of my life. In fact, I wasn’t doing anything else. I used every ounce of mental energy to get in my workouts, cook food, prep food, eat food, repeat. I didn’t have time to call up friends and ask them how they’re doing or meet up for coffee. Please. I was busy being self-obsessed! lol :) It also made me a crappy trainer. Because the only tool I had in my belt was to have a client follow a meal plan, and if it wasn’t working, then they must be cheating, and then how can I help them anyway? …HELLO! Therein lies the biggest opportunity to help, and I was busy turning up my nose.
So, not to rant, though I think it’s a little late for that :) The whole point is to say….give people the benefit of the doubt. And if you see someone who needs help, it’s a much better choice to actually help them, rather than just looking down, and calling them lazy and undisciplined. Trainers, competitors, fitness enthusiasts–YOU have the know-how. Don’t hoard it! Give it away! And it may not be as simple as giving someone a diet to follow. You might have to actually ASK THEM how they feel, what struggles they are having, and take responsibility for their results. My mentor Alwyn Cosgrove talks about this often–he puts it on the backs of the trainers to get their clients results. It’s convenient to simply say that our client is noncompliant and doesn’t want it badly enough–it easily takes the onus off us. But, why do we get to be off the hook? They are paying US to help them be more compliant and learn to want it. So let’s take on the challenge.
With the obesity epidemic at our doorstep, fitness professionals have their jobs cut out for them. But there’s also a huge opportunity for anyone willing to put in the time and learn about human behavior. Overweight and obese clients need and want your expertise. But practice patience, practice understanding, practice empathy, but most of all, practice throwing people a bone.