Have you ever had a ‘light bulb moment’ when you realised not everything in the world was all it was cracked up to be? I had a big one about the ‘health’ and fitness industry a few years go. Grab a coffee and pull up a chair – this is going to be a long one:
I get migraines. Nasty little things. I get them often and they last for days. My head hurts, I can’t stomach food or fluid and my tolerance levels drop. One day I got a particularly bad one. My regular meds didn’t touch it. Nausea and vomiting continued into the third day. The pain permitted no sleep. Even a trip to the doctor for an anti-emetic and some additional pain relief brought no relief.
By the 6th day, I was wrecked – exhausted, dehydrated and weak. Even having a shower was a mission. But I had to drag my sorry self to work. I caught sight of myself in the mirror as I stepped out of the shower, and was shocked.
I was so dehydrated that my skin was lying right on top of my abs, as though it was almost stuck to them. My muscles looked shrunken, my face looked like bone covered in skin. I had dark circles for eyes and looked dreadful.
I got myself together and drove to the gym, taking little sips of water on the way and keeping my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t have to pull over anywhere to throw up. My legs shook climbing the stairs into the gym. I had to stop halfway up to rest.
I got to reception and the receptionist said to me “you look amazing Margs, have you lost some weight?”
I was so shocked I was speechless.
On the gym floor, another trainer came up to me and told me I was looking fantastic. A gym member made a point of coming over and asking me what I was doing, because it was clearly working and I looked great.
Somewhere during the course of the morning my own trainer at the time caught sight of me, came over and asked “What’s up mate? You look like shit”.
That statement was the sound of the lightbulb flicking on. Honesty is rare in this industry. Money is made by promising fast results and by pushing the notion that weight loss by any means possible is okay – even if it means sacrificing your health.
Year after year, I have seen the damage done by this industry manipulating people’s insecurities just to make a quick buck. The cleanses. The shakes. The starvation diets. The message that you are not good enough the way you are, that you need to be fixed or changed.
At the time of this incident, I was surrounded by people – trainers and gym members – who were obsessed with leanness. It was all about the body-fat percentage and the number on the calipers. The message being pushed was that you could always be leaner, and you should be. Handily enough, there was always a box full of expensive supplements that could help.
Isn’t it funny that the focus on the whole health side of things, the bit that dictates your quality of life, got lost along the way? And isn’t it also funny how when health issues, both physical and mental, manifest as a direct result of these manipulated obsessions over numbers – the blame is assigned to the person who has been sucked in to the vortex, and not to the industry that has made a business out of convincing people they are not okay.
It was around this time that I heard a trainer yelling at his client on the gym floor (in front of a gym full of trainers and members) all because she hadn’t dropped her BF% that week. Because she was making him look bad. Because it was her fault. Because she was eating too many carbs. Because she had eaten peas for dinner.
My lightbulb moment was really more of an abrupt reinforcement of a core belief. Sure – have some things about yourself that you want to work on. You want to lose some weight? Cool. You want to build muscle? Nice. You want to get stronger? Awesome. You want to develop an aspect of your fitness? Fantastic.
You do not have to hate anything about yourself in order to do any of those things.
If you support your health first and foremost, a healthy and maintainable body composition will happen as a side effect. I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again – you are your own best creation, a work of art. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to chisel away at what you want, you’ve got your whole life to get it.
If you really want something, it is worth both the effort and the time it takes to get there. It is rarely glamorous or exciting, but honesty rarely is.
That day I made a commitment to be boringly, uncompromisingly honest with people when it came to the hows and whys of progress.
Dig in. Do the work. Be consistent.
And if you do see me on the gym floor looking like a budget extra in a zombie movie, please, for the love of everything that is pure in this world, don’t tell me that I’m looking ‘good’.
– Margs O’Farrell