They should give me my own tv show; Diet Nightmares.

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”.

Right?

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.

You want to know why I’m so pissed off most of the time?

I have permission to share this message I got a few days ago from a prospective client. This really exemplifies everything I’ve been talking about for the past few years, all of the complaints and criticisms I’ve had about the recent direction of the fitness industry.

Without getting into a long drawn out story, I’ve had a long history of eating disorders…. you name it, I’ve had it from anorexia to bulimia to binge eating and back again. I’ve struggled with this for the last 18 years approx, so more than half my life! Needless to say I’ve put my body through hell over the years (my weight has fluctuated more times than I can count and by quite significant amounts) I am now trying to figure out what the best training/eating approach is for me so that I can get the results I desire without adding any further damage to my body, which has been very confusing to say the least.

With all of the mixed messages out there I have become quite disheartened, confused and frustrated over the years but now I am actually downright angry with the kind of information that is being circulated, not only because most of it is ill-informed and not based on any scientific evidence but also because the majority of it is purely dangerous and can lead to such serious mental and physical health conditions that it mystifies me as to why this industry is not more regulated?

Anyway, I had actually been doing relatively well over the last 18 months in terms of my relationship with food and training (ie. I was practicing a more balanced/holistic approach as opposed to the extremes I had been living by for so many years). Then just recently (the last 6 months) I got caught up in the whole “clean eating/paleo/no sugar” diet craze and all the work I had done went down the drain and I fell right back into extremely discorded thinking in terms of both my nutrition and exercise. It took me so long to start believing that food wasn’t the enemy and that exercise wasn’t just about burning calories, then before I could even realise what was happening I had bought into all of this nonsense and within weeks I was back into full-blown eating disorder mode.

This is the sort of thing I’ve been talking about the past few years, and new client enquiries (or just a “thank you” message from someone who has successfully followed my free program on wordpress) like this one aren’t even out of the ordinary for me anymore. I get similar ones from people actually IN the industry, some who had never had any issues with food until they started some “fit pro mentorship” type course that put impossible standards on them and made them feel a fraud and a failure if they could not adhere to the impossible.

The people running these courses are (if you believe their own hype) the highest paid fitpros in the UK, and there are similar here in Australia who have modeled themselves after them. Now, I also got all the same pressure and guilt trips a few years back via some industry networks I was a part of at the time. I refused to get on board with all of this stuff that as described above has no basis in science and in fact is based entirely on the outright rejection of all proven science on nutrition. At the time I could only speculate that apart from not being factually correct and misinforming the public, it seemed to me that it was likely to actually be detrimental to people’s mental health and well being. As you can see, my intuition was spot on in this case.

I refused to get on board with this, and was told “this is the direction the industry is going, and if you don’t get on board you will be left behind”. A few industry contacts just blocked me outright for refusing to bow to peer pressure, others talked down to me in a condescending manner as if I was just too stupid to understand the “science”, despite the fact that I already had several clients who’d achieved better results than these trainers had themselves, and all through non restrictive means. I was told straight up in these exact words, “you don’t care about your clients, if you did you would set a better example by cutting out bread and cereals”.

Now, you have to keep in mind I had previously spent 10 years working in the security industry, so I’ve had more people up close in my face telling me what a horrible person I am than you could possibly comprehend, when in reality all I am trying to do is prevent them from harming themselves or others. Therefore, having people in this industry attempt to make me feel like a bad person for eating normal, every day foods was never going to work. All it did was piss me off and make me all the more determined to run an ethical business actually helping people rather than harming and exploiting them. You can easily imagine though, to a younger person or anyone without a similar background… that whole “you don’t care about your clients” guilt trip on top of all the other fear mongering pro – orthorexic nonsense these irresponsible charlatans are spreading… you can imagine how damaging that could be.

It actually makes me irate as you may be able to detect through the text. It is inexcusable.

Now to rectify the situation, all I can do is what I am actually qualified to do. I’m not a trained counselor or psychologist, I’m just a damn good trainer with a decent understanding of sports nutrition. Therefore I can give people an effective training program and suitable, flexible guidelines with none of the restrictions they’ve struggled with in the past, and this enables them to actually achieve (or at least make significant progress towards) their goal physique. Actually getting those results without restrictions is the best way to really unlearn those false beliefs you have been subjected to elsewhere.

Why is that so hard for others to understand? Even with the testimonials on my site and on facebook, some similar to this detailing the desperate and dire circumstances people have come to me in… the people who perpetuate these serious and widespread problems via guilt, shame and scaremongering over other people’s food choices won’t listen and change their message. They won’t even discuss or debate it, just going straight for the “block” button to silence all criticism.

This is disgraceful and unforgivable. I will hold them accountable for harm they arrogantly cause to people.

 

Eating Disorder Awareness And The Dangers Of Self Diagnosis

For reasons that I’ll cover as I go, I’ve decided to write a series of “Eating Disorder Awareness” posts.

For the benefit of any new visitors, I’ll give you a little background information. I started doing Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching sort of by accident. That is to say, the first few times I did it… I wasn’t actually aware of it until a few months later. I’d been writing and ranting a lot about flexible dieting, calorie denial and so forth… probably along the lines of “if you want results from training, you need to put the fuel in and I don’t care where you get it from so long as you get enough. You can’t starve yourself into tremendous athletic shape”.

So, I had a couple of young women contact me for a “getting into shape” type program based on these principles, and I’m happy to report that they got killer results following my advice. It was only months later that they actually told me the full story of how desperate they were at the time and just how dire their situation had been. I had quite a few more who were perhaps not quite in such a desperate situation, but who realised that the approaches they were using were not healthy and probably likely to lead them down a path they really didn’t want to go down.

I had such success with these clients and being told how much of a positive impact you’ve made in the life of someone who was formerly so unhappy and is now on top of the world is really such a rewarding experience, you can probably understand why I’ve become so passionate about this issue and this type of work. I now consider myself a specialist in this field and an authority on the subject.

The Dangers Of Self Diagnosis.

This is an important place to start.

The point of this series of articles isn’t to give people the means to diagnose themselves with an eating disorder. I’m not a trained psychologist, but it does seem to me that when we self diagnose, we create a belief about our identity. We identify as being someone who has that condition, and then subconsciously our behavior starts to become more and more in line with what we’d expect of someone with that condition. It is a vicious cycle.

It would not be terribly helpful to have people read this article and come out of it thinking to themselves “well that’s just great, it turns out I have an eating disorder. Now I’m even more screwed than I already thought I was”. Rather than that, my intention is to identify ideas that aren’t correct on scientific grounds, and that aren’t helpful in your pursuit of your fitness, health and happiness goals. Therefore we can identify these myths and decide for ourselves, “well, that’s certainly not an idea or belief that I want to persist with” or “that’s not something I want to make a habit of”.

The Dangers Of An Unqualified Diagnosis

Does that seem an ironic sub heading? I’m not qualified to diagnose someone as having an eating disorder, and nor would I want to. My aim in everything I do as a trainer or coach is to give people all the more reason to believe in their ability… no… of the absolute certainty of success in achieving their goals, so long as they enthusiastically persist with a sensible and healthy approach.

So. I do not diagnose people but I can certainly identify disordered ideas and behaviours and suggest that perhaps they’re not helpful, much less not necessary in achieving your health and fitness goals. In actual fact, it is these disordered ideas and behaviours that are in all likelihood halting your progress. As I stated earlier, if you want results from training you need to be putting in the right amount of fuel. You need a balanced and preferably a varied diet, of appropriate total intake. Restricting to less than appropriate intake and reducing the amount of variety in your diet is the opposite of what you should be doing in pursuit of a fitness, body composition, health or happiness goal.

Something I’m quite concerned about of late which prompted me to start work on this article is a new trend of trainers talking about “sugar addiction”, and suggesting that a client may have an eating disorder if they’re not able to adhere to a very strict “sugar detox” or “sugar elimination” diet. This is so outrageously irresponsible and offensive.

Trainers have an ethical obligation to act within their scope of practice, which is in proscribing appropriate exercise programs and sports nutrition guidelines. I say “sports nutrition” as in “appropriate intake to produce results from training at goal weight”. We’re not qualified for example to take the role of a clinical dietitician in providing a specialised diet to manage a medical condition, or to diagnose such a condition in the first place. That’s something else I’ve had a lot to say about in the past.

Let’s straighten this out now for the benefit of anyone unfortunate enough to have hired such a trainer. Number one, sugar is not addictive – here is the science. Now… your body requires fuel. Energy, as well as other resources. When you are attempting to follow a diet that does not provide sufficient energy, you get…. you guessed it…. you get hungry. Studies have also shown that for some reason, when you have a restrictive diet that bans certain choices, those are the choices you’re likely to crave when you’re hungry. So, when your incompetent trainer proscribes a diet that is both woefully inadequate in meeting your nutritional requirements and restrictive in terms of what food choices are allowed, you have virtually no chance of sticking to it anyway. It is not a failing on your part to be unable to stick to such a plan, and even if you did, it would be to the detriment of your health and wellbeing.The failing is on the part of the incompetent hack who has ignored their education in favour of pseudoscience in proscribing such an approach.

Your body requires fuel and you will get hungry. This is entirely normal. What is not normal and perhaps disordered is the idea that you need to deprive your body of that fuel and not eat when you are hungry. Especially with an active lifestyle.

We will explore this further tomorrow. Stay tuned.