The first time a client actually cried on me because she couldn’t see her abs was a prominent moment for me. She was lean, she was way below 20% body fat and had a figure many women would wish for. She just didn’t have visible abs. And that simple little fact right there, that she couldn’t see those small little lumps poking out, was enough to warrant not just a bit of a hissy fit, but actual tears.
This moment was monumental for me. But, as a coach – what do you do?
This response would be what I may have done a few years ago, and what many other coaches would do, it is what society thinks I should do with clients, and what the fitness industry thinks I should’ve done: tell her to wipe her tears and let her know that we would find a way to get those abs out! I would re-assure her by saying we wouldn’t rest until she could see them, no matter what it took she will have her abs. I would tell her to calm down and stop snivelling because I will not stop at anything until she got lean enough to see them.
There starts there beginning of that oh-so common cycle we see. Her food needs to become even more restrictive and she starts to train to the point of burn out. She feels tired, run down and don’t even mention sex drive, but eventually after a few months of living life like she’s on death row, she spots an ab. She’s elated! For that spilt second. Happier than she’s been in a while, taking photos to put onto Facebook for the confirmation comments of how great she looks. She wants, craves, people to validate her for her hard work and she responds with message that encourage others, saying that her doing it proves that ‘you can do it!’.
She brings out the beaming smiles for these photos, clicks ‘post’ and the comments and likes start to flood in…. “BOOM” says the first, “Wow hun you look awesome, I want that body!” comes the second and they continue for a while, until they trickle out and it eventually, they stop as her story moves down and drops off people’s news feeds. Those people who commented will never even think of that photo again, it wont have the slightest impact on them or their lives. The second after they ‘liked’ it, it was forgotten as they moved onto a funny video about a cat. It means nothing to nearly every person who saw it, but to her, those comments and praise from people she has never, and will never, even meet, made all the pain and misery of the journey worthwhile. But by the end of that first day of sharing her space with that little ab, she decides wants more, she now wants oblique’s to go with the abs.
She becomes focussed on what she can do to push even further to get those obliques to show through. She has already got what she thought she wanted, what she was convinced would make her happy. But that’s now turned into ultimate terror of losing the ab she’s gained. She knows that if she even has one slip up, they’re gone. She spends each and every day obsessing over the need for that lump to stay there, but not just content with them being there any more, they now needs to be even better.
She’d imagined this time for so long, as she’t spent months saying to herself in the mirror “If I can just get to that point where I have that body, I honestly will be happy. I’ll be able to relax then..!”
Except here she was now with that body, the one that she’s always imagined would ‘fix’ her, physically and mentally. And she’s more obsessed that ever, obsessed about losing them, obsessed with going “just a bit further” to get the new set of accompanying obliques, as these are now what she feels she needs to feel complete.
She had a husband who loved her as she was, before she even stepped foot in a gym. Her best mates didn’t really even care what an “ab” was, all they wanted was to see her smile and relax, and enjoy her time with them like she had done before. Yet she had given those little lumps the ultimate power over her and her life, as she began equating ‘getting’ them to her overall happiness and success in life.
Back to me as a coach – that was a BIG powerful “ah-ha” moment resulting in an epiphany – there was no way on earth I was ever going to be a part of encouraging that mindset, ever again.
It was a prominent moment for me, as from that point onwards it totally changed the way I coached. I had always known that there was something missing for me in the way that I was taught to advise clients. The ability (or need) was never within me to critique already lean and healthy clients by telling them “yes, you could still do with a bit of work there…” as I was encouraged to do in the past, as apparently that’s what coaches need to do in order to take clients to the next level. But it never sat right with me.
So at that moment, seeing those tears, I thought…F!ck this. I don’t want to be a part of this problem that is creating this society we have with women constantly hating on themselves, with this distorted ‘ideal’ body pressure and destructive body image epidemic we’ve got going on, I needed to be a part of the solution. Being a coach I always imagined that would be the case, that we’d automatically become part of the solution. But it’s not, because it’s a fickle industry deep down – it’s less about health and wellbeing, more about good looking.
No one will respect you for producing healthy, average weight, happy clients from your work as a coach. That’s not extreme enough. People want to see ripped at all costs, that’s what is now respected among coaches – how lean you can get someone in the shortest space of time. It’s sad as I see coaches talk about their focus always being on health first, yet their “transformations” are nearly ALWAYS about the visible, physical differences.
I’m sorry I don’t HAVE x-ray eyes, I cannot tell a person’s health mental or physical by his ‘which way to the beach’ bicep pose.
On social media it’s so superficial and coaches are that desperate to spread their feathers amongst peers that they end up confusing their very own clients just to get a ‘success’ story for their results wall.
Paul Mort put it so well a while ago that I just couldn’t think of a better example to give…so he’s kindly let me quote it.
“PT fuck ups that I’ve made too. Part 1-
status specimen A:” weight doesn’t mean shit, throw away the scales you idiot”
Status specimen B (3 days later): “shout out to my client Mary who’s dropped 10lbs this week”
This is a brilliant and simple example of the bloody confusing messages coaches give as a result of their self ‘promotion’. The power of language. So simple, but what the heck must poor Mary be left thinking?! She comes to her coach and say “Oh I must lose weight…!” to be answered with the coaches default answer of “Pah! Weight means nothing! Throw your scales away Mary, nowww!!”
But then as Mary starts to shrink, coachy sees a prime opportunity to advertise their ‘work’ from it, so feck it, they’ll shout it out anyway. Leaving poor Mary (and the rest of their FB feed) just bloody confused.
So what did all these realisations and epiphany moments mean for me? Should I just hang my hat up on a career that’d taken me (at that time) over 15 years to build? It was a close call and there had been more than one occasion when I was so close to just leaving it all behind. If I refused to take my clients to extremes and stopped sending confusing messages out just for the purpose of showcasing my ‘work’, what will I do for my marketing? How the heck will I build my business as a coach?
I knew that if I was able to put up comments I received from my clients like this; “I cannot thank you enough for opening my eyes to my own life and helping me figure out what I thought would make me happy was just bloody ridiculous. I’m healthy and I can sustain it where I am and I can do this knowing that I’m now allowed to go out and have tea with my friends on Friday night…and that’s what is truly making me happy!”
Or if I was to put up a before / after shot of a client who hadn’t really changed shape all that much, looking very similar physically in both photos. But still wrote the caption “some of my best work yet” underneath it; I’d get totally slated by the industry for the ‘lack of results’. There are no abs, no ripped bikini shots, no physical ‘transformation’ in sight….
BUT, examples like this these HAVE come to be some of my best work as a coach, the story behind this one was girl who had come to me terrified of food. Having been on a cycle of restriction and binging with a long list of “banned” foods and training routine to rival Mo Farah’s, and she was miserable and becoming ill as a result. 6 months later, she has no banned food groups, she trains when she wants and because she enjoys it, and she had the courage to eat out with her husband for the first time in nearly 9 months.
The only thing I’M bothered about finding in photos is a genuine, eye-shining smile.
This all happened a while ago and ever since that epiphany moment, my life has changed, my coaching changed and as a result, my clients changed. Everything I do now is about instilling confidence, self-worth and self-love into all those who come to me as a client, hear me speak or read the words that I write.
Until this industry starts to truly value the changes that coaches make in their clients in the terms of (non extreme) overall health, mindset, body confidence and life, I truly fear for the future of the clients, as ultimately it’s them who lose out from this obsession of coaches circle jerking with other coaches about who is better than who at getting clients to eat less.
In most coaching situations the first thing I have to remind people of is that worthiness has no prerequisites. Anyone can feel as much or as little self-worth as they choose, right now – abs or no abs – the only thing that breeds self-worth, is the belief that you are worthy.
Thanks for listening folks, until next time….