I love this show Tattoo Nightmares that I’m watching right now. Tommy is my favourite because we have the same hair style.
I don’t have tattoos myself, which is probably fortunate. I thought about it a few times when I was younger and never got around to it. I feel like by now, I’d be like one of the people you see on the show saying “eh… it was cool in the 90s, but now? not so much”.
I dig the show though. The artwork they do is amazing, but the real work that they’re really doing for people is even more amazing. It’s about more than just covering up a bad tattoo, or a tattoo that was a bad idea. In some cases the people have been literally butchered and left physically scarred, in others the original tattoo was competently done, but just a terrible idea in the first place. In many cases it is a permanent reminder of a horrible time in someone’s past, that they feel unable to move on from. It is a source of embarrassment, humiliation or shame.
So when you see the end result, appreciating the tremendous talent and skill of the artist is often not really what the story is about. The real story is in the reaction of the client, often quite overcome with emotion and relief, and finally able to put a dark chapter of their life behind them.
Back to the artwork though, did I say “amazing” enough times already? I can’t draw, at all. Even my handwriting is fairly appalling. So, when you think of what it means to be “amazed” by something… that’s me when I see great artwork. How do they do it? It just seems impossible to me.
So. I don’t have tattoos and I can’t even draw, not even a little bit. Still, I watch this show and there are times I think to myself, “that’s like what I do for people”.
Not every time, of course. I do some standard weight loss type coaching, some sports performance and body conditioning type programming; people get results and they appreciate it, and that makes me very happy. Increasingly though, people come to me because they have been suffering on some extreme form of diet, and for that matter, suffering without even getting any closer to their goal condition. Moving further away, if anything.
We’re talking low calorie diets, low carbohydrate diets, ketogenic diets, “clean eating” diets, and so on. If you don’t already know what “ketogenic” is, do me a favour and don’t look it up. No really, just don’t.
Now, in these examples we’re not necessarily talking about people with an eating disorder. They’re just doing what most people believe is necessary to lose weight or to get into shape. However, when these restrictive approaches don’t work, the danger is that people assume the problem is that they are not restrictive enough. When extreme approaches don’t work, the danger is that people assume that an even more extreme approach is required. This is very common. I would go so far as to say it is endemic. People who don’t actually have eating disorders, but are behaving almost identically to people who do. Restricting total energy, restricting choices of foods, excessive amounts of “calorie burning” exercise and so on.
When already extreme and restrictive approaches get even more so, and your condition goes backwards, it’s not a long stretch to go from merely resembling someone with an eating disorder, to actually being someone with an eating disorder. Now, it is not my place to make such a diagnosis as to who does and does not have an eating disorder. But I can sure as hell tell you what are some disordered ideas about eating, and more to the point I can tell you that all of these ideas are actually counter productive and in no way necessary or helpful in pursuit of any training related goal.
So, I have some clients in this category who have come to me because they had had enough of making themselves miserable and getting nowhere on restrictive and extreme diets. I have others who come to me identifying or actually diagnosed as having a recognised eating disorder. I have others who come to me in recovery, and they come to me specifically because they are all too aware that most other trainers or coaches would be certain to trigger a disastrous relapse.
Watching the TV show about the bad tattoos, you see people who have gone on to become successful business people, parents, or some other form of responsible adult doing their best and contributing to their community. Or, they would like to… but their confidence is hampered by this terrible tattoo they are stuck with, that they feel makes them look like an idiot, or a scumbag, criminal, racist, or some other variety of “bad person”. Some of them are in a constant state of anxiety about how people will react should they find out about this tattoo. I feel like these are all emotions that a person suffering from an eating disorder could relate to, all too well.
The other part that I can relate to is the artist’s disdain for the “scratchers” who are responsible for scarring these people, emotionally as well as physically. These are people with no training, skill or ability, who have no business offering the service in the first place. Very similar to the people I have to clean up after, who have no business giving dieting advice. In some cases they may have some level of certification or qualification in a related field, however they are not acting in accordance with their own training or with the guidelines a responsible and qualified professional would work to. In other cases they hold no qualification of any sort, and have simply appointed themselves “experts” based on having read some similarly misguided or deliberately misleading information on the web or elsewhere.
Bottom line: Tattoos, diet and exercise programs… really, anything where you are putting your physical and emotional wellbeing on the line, you need to do your homework. Make sure you are going to a qualified and responsible professional, and not some hack who is operating on sheer arrogance with no education or competence to perform the task at hand. In plainer terms; make sure you are not taking advice from someone who has already fucked a lot of other people up.