The below piece was an article I wrote that never got published. It felt a pity to leave (what I believe to be) a positive message in my documents folder. So here it is, blinking into the light for you all to read.

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Where is it that your training goes wrong?

The story is too common. Having confronted yourself in the mirror you decide to turn your life around. A new you is the end game. You have hitherto only heard of exercise and diet from people you honestly do not want to look at. These people make you uncomfortable. They remind you of what you are not. Every meal you eat ends with a slight tinge of guilt.

But it does not have to be this way.

It is time to find a trainer. One of those girls who can show you how to eat right and move with energy. You have blocked booked nothing but salads and protein shakes for the next six months while you turn your body around. No more taking photos at creative angles. You are going to look good in every shot.

This is a daily occurrence in the world of health and fitness. Women want to change their self-images dramatically. They desire new bodies and new perspective. However, as we all know, very few maintain it. How often have you heard of a friend or loved one who yoyo’s between weights? Too often no doubt. It is not enough to burn through your private gym sessions, you need to keep the end result.

What kernels of advice do health professionals have to make sure the change is permanent?

“There are a few things that people go wrong with…but the biggest thing that people do when they are trying to lose weight or start getting fit… is they consider themselves the same as everybody else in the world.” Michelle McMahon is a Pilates instructor operating out of her own private studio. In her 6 years of experience, she has found hers is usually the first port of call for women trying to make lifestyle adjustments. “There are so many different body types, so many different ways the body moves…” she continues “… a lot of people seem to think ‘Okay, I’m fat therefore eat less, therefore run harder’… and that’s not the case at all.”

She states that the problem is nobody enters training without understanding their bodies. They do not know the chemistry of their blood or what training routine would be best for their body type. It appears to be a pick up and go mentality.

Kelly Ainsworth likewise agrees. Her opening salvo was regarding the fact that women tend to compare themselves unfairly with others. A 22-year-old personal trainer based in Westville, Kelly knows a thing or two about reaching fitness goals. She has competed in what the industry calls “events” – fitness competitions where only the most disciplined and versed succeed.

“I think they have an idea of their goal and what they want. The mistake with this is that they put a number on it. Everyone’s different. I prefer not to focus too much on the scale because as a woman your weight tends to fluctuate all the time due to things like hormones, menstruation, lack of sleep… stress… it all adds up.”

The fact is, women who begin training for the first time often do not know their bodies. They expect their bodies to react in a specific way. This is obvious to Kelly when she starts setting fitness goals for her clients. When asked whether women know their limits, her response is pleasantly surprising:

“No. a lot of women underestimate themselves… Ten times out of ten they make a goal. I feel like women are capable of so much more, they just doubt themselves too much. If they don’t have a training buddy or trainer to push them to challenge themselves… that’s a mistake they make.”

She believes the biggest enemy to successful results is routine. A lot of people appear to fall into training routines that may be challenging at first, but become comfortable after a while. The consequence of this is simple: women experience some changes at first but quickly become disinterested in their workouts out of boredom and not seeing any improvements beyond a certain point.

This is an allusion to the weight loss plateau – a state where one’s body becomes accustomed to a particular type of exercise. The result is that your body becomes hyper-efficient at burning less energy for workouts that it has become accustomed to. Even a novice at exercise can reach this state quickly, their weight stabilizing after approximately 6 months of loss. According to research conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the average metabolism was shown to peak and then slow down after months of vigorous, consistent exercise as supposed to speed up. The research into this controversial topic is still in its infancy, but it goes a long way to prove anecdotal evidence that people very rarely maintain their weight loss goals for longer than several months.

If there is one overriding theme to the responses given, it’s that there are multiple reasons for women not achieving their health goals. It is clear that every trainer, specialist and resource has a different opinion on what it is that stops women from becoming their ideal version of themselves.

But perhaps therein lies the problem: the goal is wrong.

When asked what is it women are after when they begin training, the response from the trainers I asked is near universal: image. It is not a lifestyle change that is for health, it is a lifestyle change for looks. The motivations are therefore purely superficial. The desire to change stops and starts with looks. The incentive is to become physically more attractive and not address what got you into your current poor state of health in the first place.

It is because of this that trainers tell their clients not to compare themselves to others in the gym. It is the obsession with looks that develop the anxieties first time users have when walking onto the weight floor. The more the goal is look orientated, the more inclined you are to undertake short term activities that yield fast results. These actions are unsustainable. It is no wander women are unable to maintain their new lifestyles; their motivations are wrong. They punished themselves to get to where they are and to keep doing so is infeasible.

This theme is pervasive. Were one to ask any trainer who fares better when starting their training for the first time, their answer is almost always those who are doing it for health. Health is holistic. These clients want to feel better. They are not concerned with numbers on a scale or pictures online. They are concerned with their vitality. They want to fix their bodies and their minds. They train for the joy it gives them. They make decisions about their food for the energy. The onerousness of a lifestyle change disappears and is replaced with reward. These clients stop seeing what they do as a sacrifice and start seeing it as a pursuit.

Incentives need to be concrete. They need to be immediately tangible to be pursued. This is the lie sold to us. However, were one to scratch the surface of exercise and nutrition only a little, they have nothing to do with weight loss. They actually are there for your health. Sure, weight-loss is a natural by-product of good health. Viewing it (incorrectly) the other way around is putting the cart before the horse.

So what is the biggest mistake women make when training for the first time? Incentive. You are not there to prove a point about how your body can look. You are there for your health. Your love for your own health and well-being should be the only factor. If you pursue your health, the rest will follow. The joy of working out, the pleasure of good rest, the mindfulness of eating right. These stop being things you do because your scale will shout at you. These become things you do because you want to. You feel their effects. You feel the change because it is yours alone. Your health is not a construct of society. Your health is not your jean size. Your health can be good or bad. Your health will never leave you.

It is a difficult statement to make in this day and age. The self-image that is portrayed for women online is intrinsically unfair. It is an ideal – a pro-forma aspiration that exists purely to have you buy into your anxieties about who you are and what you should look like. Happy women do not spend money. They do not buy supplements and caffeine rich pills. Oftentimes, happy and healthy are one in the same. Training for health destroys the idea that you should train for beauty. It crushes the archetype that you are a figure to be looked at. The voice that started this article is the one you have to ignore. The voice that ends this wants you to listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to your health. Those are things you will achieve. Those are things you will maintain. That is where your training will go right.

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