The start of your weight loss journey is a very delicate time at which you’ll generally decide to either give up or keep going. It’s also a time when other people’s opinions can easily make or break your success—and those opinions might come from the most unlikely sources.
A while ago, while lifting weights at a local gym, I overheard a few personal trainers making obnoxious comments about a young gentleman walking on a treadmill. Though significantly overweight, he appeared to be otherwise healthy. While sporadically snickering out loud the trainers proceeded to say things like, “He’s going to need a whole lot more than walking to lose all that weight” and “Maybe it’s time for a HIIT workout or something.”
I was absolutely stunned!
Mainly because these guys were supposed to be ‘professionals’, guiding their attention towards potentially supporting and, perhaps, even cheering him on in his obvious pursuit of weight loss.
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They didn’t know where he’d started or what goals he was shooting for. They didn’t know whether or not he had an underlying health condition or impairment that limited his ability to work out intensely. For all they knew, he was making improvements in several areas of his life—Getting healthier, sleeping better, and feeling happier and stronger every day.
But, unfortunately, all they seemed to see was a helpless ‘big’ man.
Curious to learn more about this gentleman, I stopped my weight lifting session for a bit and hopped on a treadmill right next to him. He was watching the morning news, so I struck up a related conversation with him. After a few rounds of political discussion, we delved into our personal lives. This is when I found out he had recently lost over 100 pounds through healthy eating and walking regularly outdoors.
He’d just built up the confidence to be seen at the gym, as he was over 400 pounds prior to initiating his healthy lifestyle change. He laughed about the experience of being the “fattest fit” person in the gym and was obviously in great spirits.
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Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happen had he overheard that foolishness from those trainers. Would he have cancelled his gym membership or, even worse, abandoned his weight loss efforts altogether?
Unfortunately, I could relate to the former.
After giving birth to my son back in 2007 I found myself carrying 65 pounds of excess weight. While my son weighed in at 9 pounds 6 ounces and stood 22 inches tall, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that a large majority of my weight gain had resulted from my continuously giving in to ‘cravings’ over the course of my pregnancy. And, for the first time since my initial weight loss and healthy lifestyle change in 1994, I found myself once again in the ‘obese’ category.
Needless to say, as soon as I was cleared for exercise I went all in, performing high-intensity workouts at home and outdoors. But, interestingly enough, when I started frequenting a local gym for weight lifting purposes, I found myself continuously approached by personal trainers, relentlessly pitching me for business.
They’d say things like, “You should let me help you get that weight off” or “I can show you how to lift for better results”.
This went on for weeks!
Little did they know I was an exercise scientist with a decade of experience under my belt and had already worn numerous professional hats in the gym (group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and manager). In addition, training personal trainers to be better trainers was one of my many roles as a health coach, educator and speaker.
Nonetheless, all they saw was a helpless ‘big’ woman who couldn’t possibly know how to work out—Otherwise, she wouldn’t be so big, right?
I chose not to reveal my qualifications and credentials.
Honestly, in spite of the fact that I’d just given birth to a beautiful baby boy, I was actually embarrassed by my size.
In the end, the perpetual feelings of being watched and judged actually led to my walking away from that gym membership and opting for more outdoor runs and at home weight lifting sessions. Though I knew what to do and how to do it, I also knew successful (and sustained) weight loss would take time and I certainly didn’t want to be hassled constantly over the course of my personal journey.
Funny enough, once I did successfully lose the weight (less than six months later), I eagerly took myself right back to that gym and starting teaching group fitness classes again. I simply can’t describe the many moments of sheer delight I experienced as I watched those very same trainers stare in awe as I taught my weekly power weight lifting classes.
Now, this was over 10 years ago but the story remains relevant.
And, I still remain concerned for the many weight loss seekers in gyms who don’t necessarily have the luxury of knowing what to do and how to do it as I did. I’m also concerned for those who may in fact know but are currently ‘works in progress’, as they continuously run the risk of being negatively influenced by the uninformed opinions of so-called professionals, fellow gym patrons, and even family members and friends.
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If what I’ve said in any way resonates with you, please know that no matter where you are in your weight loss journey, you should be proud of everything you’ve already accomplished, whether you’ve committed yourself to a few workouts a week, limited your daily intake of soda or slashed a couple of inches off your waistline.
At the end of the day, every journey begins with a small step and the journey to weight loss is certainly no exception. But, again, successful and sustained weight loss takes time and throughout the process, no one will know what you’re doing or how far you’ve come along. All they’ll see is another ‘big’ person and the opinions will come. Some will hurt, some will help, but either way I encourage you not to let them negatively interfere with your efforts.
When opinions persist, don’t internalize them.
Know that every milestone along your journey is worth celebrating, no matter how small! And, if ever you feel discouraged, defeated or find yourself in the dreaded “I’ll never get there” zone, remember you are here and you will be successful, you just need some time.