As you might be aware I’m a qualified trainer, with a special interest in “relapse avoidance” via productive training rather than calorie burning, and flexible dieting rather than restrictive fad diets.
Eating disorder recovery is no trivial matter and for the most part it is best managed by qualified specialists in psychology. What I am qualified to do and what I have become very good indeed at doing is to provide a training program and nutritional guidelines that will allow people in recovery to pursue their goals without risk of relapse, and even to further their recovery as they see improvements in performance and body condition as a direct result of leaving restrictive and disordered measures in the past.
Of course this is also more than suitable for anyone else who wants to get into fit, strong and leaner shape without restrictive and destructive approaches, as well.
How and why did I end up doing this though?
To try to make a long story short; because people asked me to.
I’d been a trainer for a couple of years, had been quite successful with a small number of clients both locally and online, and I had started joining some industry networking groups to learn how to market better so that I could become more successful in business and help more people.
Well. Everything I kept getting told was hard for me to accept. I need to get all of my clients to eliminate all grains from their diets, all processed foods for that matter. Not too much fruit either, because of the sugar. No legumes either for some reason no one had an explanation for, and soy products too because GMOs are bad.
People had different labels for what everyone should be doing…. “elimination diet”, “paleo”, “clean eating”. Much the same rules and restrictions but just different labels depending on who you were getting lectured by, as far as I could tell.
Now right there, I had a problem because I’ve just described my own diet as the “half arsed vegetarian” that I am, and I was in stronger and more athletic shape than a lot of the people lecturing me about clean eating. Not to mention I’d had some clients getting very, very good results indeed without cutting out any of those food choices, either.
Apparently, I couldn’t possibly though. Because working to calorie and macronutrient (aka IIFYM) targets “just doesn’t work”, because the real issue is the hormonal chaos caused by the inherent badness of these particular foods and ingredients. Yep, including fruit and legumes.
So, this doesn’t add up because you’re telling me that something I’ve done personally and helped several others do to “can’t be done” the way I’ve done it. But maybe I am misunderstanding. Perhaps what you mean to say is that there are certain medical reasons why someone might need to cut out these foods, and unless they do so the regular stuff that works for most people won’t work for them? In which case, surely they should be diagnosed by their GP and seek specialised nutritional advise from a real dietitian, rather than by a trainer?
Nope. I was told these restrictions were required for all people, and that I should keep GPs and dietitians out of the process as they don’t know about this stuff.
Well. That’s a pretty big red flag right there.
Obviously I couldn’t accept any of this. I was open to the idea that it might be something I should learn about for the benefit of “some people, in certain circumstances, as per doctors orders”, but I’m going to need to be convinced with some strong evidence. Just a blanket diagnosis for everyone who walks in the door just wanting to trim up a little in time for their summer holiday? Nah uh. Especially since it couldn’t possibly be true.
People all over the world have been “not obese” through out history while eating varying diets including some or all of these food choices. People have lost weight and gotten into great shape while still including some or all of these food choices. I’ve done it myself. You can’t possibly expect me to accept that no one, anywhere, at any time, has ever been “not unhealthy and obese” other than on this particular restrictive diet that you’re trying to push on me. The idea is ridiculous.
And of all things, the idea that fruit isn’t really a “healthy enough” choice of a snack that people can enjoy regularly? I remember saying “it actually sounds like you’re just trying to give everyone an eating disorder, making them afraid that any or all of these quite nutritious every day foods will mean they can’t be healthy and won’t see results from training.”
Then the pressure and the guilt started.
This is the direction the industry is moving in, so you can either get on board or be left behind. If you cared about your clients you’d set a better example by cutting out bread and cereals. Even though you really enjoy them and are getting great results while eating them.
I got really angry at this point, but at the same time what I started to realise was that most of the people arguing with me were victims who’d been sucked into this idea that if they wanted to be a trainer, they needed to be this shining light of dietary virtue, never eating anything “unclean” or indulgent, and so on, with every individual meal or snack choice chosen solely on micronutritional value plus some kind of “moral value” rather than on taste, enjoyment or convenience. So much of their self worth was tied up in their dietary choices, because not living up to those impossible standards would make them a fraud who had no right to be coaching anyone else towards a healthier lifestyle.
There were a couple of guys at the very top, mostly in the UK, who had made a hell of a lot of money from putting these ideas into people’s heads, and the people bought into it almost religiously. So for me to refuse to buy into it was offensive to them, and for them to try to use guilt and shame tactics to pressure me to get on board after failing to provide a logical reason to do so that held up to scrutiny was offensive to me.
I got to the point where I thought “well, if it’s a choice between being a part of this or failing in business… I guess I’ll go back to putting people on their arse for a living”. AKA security work.
At some point though… I must have ranted a bit about this all on my personal blog in frustration and anger at what was going on. People started to write to me saying, “that’s actually how my eating disorder started. Being given a restrictive diet, being afraid to eat everyday foods and being made to feel guity and ashamed if I ever ate something that wasn’t clean”, and so forth. Some of the stories I heard, and the depths of what eating disorder can do to a person, and the lengths they will go to to avoid eating or digesting something that’s “bad” were… well, you probably can’t even imagine.
And the senseless part is that all of these restrictive measures were the only thing stopping these people from actually seeing results from training. For that matter, a lot of the time I only really heard about the bad stuff 3 months after I’d given someone a program, in the context of “here’s what I didn’t tell you before we started. I’m not doing any of that anymore. I feel great and I love the results I’m seeing”.
When you find that you’ve been able to help someone like that, you want to help more people. Simply by giving people a training program that is actually effective, and emphasising that results will come from putting in enough nutritional resources to get stronger and healthier, and not by withholding those resources and restricting energy intake. You cannot starve or force your body into a healthier, stronger, more athletic state. That can only happen by utilising more energy and resources to adapt favourably to training.
When you’ve helped people like that and have heard their stories, you get angry with the people who are responsible for putting those ideas into their heads in the first place. And every time a new one appoints their self the new “health and nutrition guru” pushing more of the same nonsense to more people, you get pissed off all over again.
Now 5 or so years later and I am happy to report that the fitness industry is changing, and more and more people and organsiations are promoting positive, moderate and flexible approaches. Unfortunately though, we now have more mainstream and celebrity promoters of pseudoscientific, disordered nutritional nonsense on the public at large.
Fortunatley though, as these charlatans continue to align themselves with anti-vaccine activists, anti fluoride activists and any number of other variety of scare monger, conspiracy theorist and tin foil hat wearing nut jobs… they erode any facade of credibility they might have had.
The tide is turning and ethical, evidence based practitioners will win out in the end. But the battle is far from over.