Friday, August 01, 2014

Are we selling Health & Fitness, or Preying on Insecurity?

I began doing personal training close to 10 years ago after a lifetime of recreational athletic pursuits (including biking, tennis, swimming, running, hiking, climbing, basketball...) that culminated in me falling in love with weight training and the benefits it provided for injury prevention and sports performance enhancement.
I know that I've helped clients achieve a better quality of life with more mobility, less pain, lower blood pressure, improved cardiovascular ability, less stress, etc. And, although I am not a dietitian, when asked about meal plans, etc., I steer people toward healthful eating habits (rather than "diets") and I know that, with an increased level of fitness, people have a tendency to want to eat healthier. To me, improved health and fitness is the goal; the bonus is weight loss.
In my early years in this business I realized, like many other fitness professionals, that, apart from a health scare (like a diagnosis of Type II Diabetes, experiencing a stroke or heart attack), nothing gets people into the gym like the pursuit of losing weight--chisled abs; getting into that dress; those last 10 lbs; preparing for a beach vacation. I jumped on the bandwagon with programs like "Beach Body Boot Camp" and Butts & Guts and a "Transformation" (without the supplements and diet aids) plans. With the continuing popularity of weight loss reality shows like The Biggest Loser, The Last 10 Pounds, Extreme Weight Loss, et. al.; and new "miracle" weight-loss supplements monthly, it seems people are hungry (see what I did there?) to shed those pounds--quickly, and regardless of how long it may have taken them to get to the point they are at; with as little effort as possible; and without significant changes to their current lifestyles and eating habits.
I just saw a television ad for one of those (shall remain unnamed) Dr. diet clinics with an actor/client? saying she'd tried everything to lose weight--including seeing a personal trainer for a year--and didn't have success until she got the help of the afore(not)mentioned clinic. So, touting the benefits of not exercising; paying big money for weight-loss supplements; and basing her "success" on weight-loss alone.
ARRGGHHH! *sigh*
On top of that, we're still inundated with movies, tv shows and ads objectifying women, praising ultra-lean bodies--physiques that would require us to have daily personal trainers, hours of time in the gym, personal chefs; and the time and money to devote to such things. It's almost impossible to find, in mainstream media and advertising, examples of un-photoshopped, "average" women.
What do we do about this?
I think part of the solution lies in the language around the fitness industry and how we sell our services.
I, personally, have stopped promoting "weight loss" and "tone" and talk to prospective clients about their health--improving cardiovascular ability, building muscle and, therefore, bone mass; strengthening core to prevent falls and improve posture. To some, these are not "sexy" goals. But exercise accomplishes so much more than just losing weight and looking good in that dress--many experience increased energy, less chronic pain, higher metabolism, better sleep, elevated mood. They achieve a higher percentage of lean muscle mass and become less prone to falls and injury (and, yes, some fat loss). Hey! A better quality of life? To me that is sexy!
So, no more Butts & Guts with high registrations because women are worried about how they look in bikinis -- I'll take those, (for now fewer) dedicated to adding healthy habits, getting healthier and stronger, with a good level of self-esteem--people who work out for themselves--not a bikini, a dress; an upcoming vacation or a wedding!
Be the change you want to see in the world. Ghandi

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