There’s a big movement in the fitness industry at the moment that’s all about “body positivity” and embracing your physique no matter what shape or size you are.
If you follow any personal trainers on social media you’ve probably seen them talking about how they focus on “health” and “happiness” rather than weight loss, with many refusing to weigh their clients at all. It’s about how you feel, not how you look. Nobody could have a problem with that, could they?
Well, actually, I do. I’m not saying everybody should aspire to some Platonic ideal of the human form, or that we should all make ourselves miserable by trying to emulate Photoshopped models on health-food adverts. But as a personal trainer, most of the people who come to me want to lose weight. And what’s more, losing weight is both important and commendable.
Exactly what you should do with the information you read on the scales is a different matter – the human body is far too complex to reduce to a simple two digit number. You need to determine what weight loss means to you. What changes do you want to see? Why do you want to lose weight? These questions help give meaning to the kilograms, and answering them will help you to achieve your goals.
Reasons can vary hugely – I’ve known people who've had a death in the family, which has made them look at their lifestyle choices; I’ve worked with a dad who was embarrassed to go to the playground with his son because the other dads were in better shape; I had a lady who stressed out so much before a night out, she’d end up cancelling her plans. All of these people wanted to lose weight, and in most cases, achieving that had a positive impact on their lives.
Some of the unhelpful messages I’m hearing from within the fitness industry include: “You should just accept your body the way it is”. This is terrible advice – if you’re leading an unhealthy lifestyle, eating badly, drinking too much and not exercising, it will have repercussions on your physical and mental health. It's in the grasp of most people to make incremental changes that will make them feel better about themselves.
I’m also hearing a lot of people say “It’s society we need to change not our bodies,” which may be true in theory, but that’s not very practical for someone struggling with their weight.
Almost every person who comes to my gym wants to shed some pounds. They will complain about having piled on a stone while they were on holiday, or having gradually outgrown all their suits. Weight matters to these people, and seeing it fall off over weeks and months is a huge motivator.
It’s not the only way to measure fitness progression, but it’s one you shouldn’t discount, especially as it’s been elevated (rightly or wrongly) to a universal standard over the last 70 years, as you’ll know if you’ve ever applied for life insurance and had to work out your BMI.
If someone has weighed themselves every day for 20 years, weight is going to be a key driver for them. I’ve had loads of people come to me feeling really low, and losing that weight – in a healthy, sustainable way – has made them feel better. Pretending weight doesn’t matter is unhelpful and counter-productive.