When the Personal Trainer Needs to Get in Shape

As it stands right now, when I weigh myself, the digits on my scale’s digital display show a number somewhere in the 180’s—still down 80 pounds from my heaviest; however, 30 pounds heavier than when I was my leanest and fittest.  And while the scale doesn’t accurately account for body composition and muscle mass, I’m still considered overweight—even obese by medical standards.

13 years ago, I embarked on a journey to a healthier me and lost over 100 pounds through diet and exercise.  2 years ago, I was in the best shape of my life, lifting weights 6 days and doing 5 hours of cardio a week, preparing for a body building competition.

And then I stopped.

I couldn’t bring myself to touch a weight.  Even a 5 pound dumbbell felt too heavy.  I was lucky if I could bring myself to run once a week.  It was the burden of a major depressive episode, weighing me way, way, way down.  It was hard enough lifting my body out of bed every day, let alone picking up a barbell.  The hardest part about it was feeling like I had no one to turn to, and no one who would understand.  I was the person everyone looked to for motivation, and yet I could barely motivate myself to leave my bedroom.  Curled up in a tight ball on my bed, I asked myself, “Who could possibly understand this?  They won’t.  They’ll tell me I am letting everyone down, including myself.  They’ll be mad at me and tell me I need to find some way to get past this.”  I was spiraling in a state of helplessness and despair.  “No one will understand how hard it is to move right now.”

The depression lasted a year and a half.  During that time, I had periods of minor relief, thanks to the antidepressant I began taking.  But I mistakenly tried to jump back into my old routine instead of approaching exercise progressively, and I hurt myself.  I knew better, but I was desperately trying to make up for lost time, especially as a Certified Personal Trainer & Behavior Change Specialist with active clients.  After a sprained ankle, tendinitis in both knees, an elbow sprain, and a strained forearm—each injury taking months to heal—I was forced to sit my eager ass down and try something different: radical acceptance.

Radical acceptance is the practice of making peace with what is in each moment.  It is a mindfulness practice, involving an intentional and intense focus on the present, and only the present moment.  It is an abandonment of the past, and complete detachment from the future.  To cultivate this ability, I began meditating and practicing yoga.  As I continued to strengthen my spirit and my mind, the depression left me.  I stopped taking medication, and found a renewed sense of inspiration.

Now I incorporate this practice with the clients I work with, but I face an uphill battle.  The concept of acceptance is counter-intuitive, especially in our cultural fanaticism over physical “perfection” and the unrealistic ideal of having not one inch of fat to pinch anywhere on your body, ever.  But I offer that true transformation must first begin with acceptance.  Approaching our goals from a place of self-love and worthiness makes the process of transformation rewarding.  Exercise becomes a “get to” instead of a “have to,” and healthy eating becomes an empowered choice instead of a chore, or punishment for being fat.

Now that I’m renewed of mind, body, and spirit, I am setting new goals, and making moderate yet progressive changes to my diet and exercise regimen.  I don’t expect, nor do I want to yield fast results.  I’d rather employ and fortify the longterm lifestyle strategies which have allowed me to stay on the opposite end of “200 pounds” for over 13 years.  I know that I will reach my goals in due time.

But I have to be honest about something.  Despite my recent invigoration in the gym, I struggle with an element of shame.  I am self-conscious about rolls of back fat now protruding from my t-shirts, the bra bulge around my overly tight sports bras, and the size of my thighs.  But in those moments of judgement and shame I revert to gratitude—for all that I have overcome, for all that I am, for my body’s resilience, muscle memory, my sexy shape, and my ability to keep going and honor my 100% even when at one point in time, that 100% was my warm-up.

What matters is that I am my own voice of encouragement, shouting, “You are doing such a good job, Tam,” over all the other judgmental voices in my head.  And I think, as it relates to my ability to motivate others, it is better for people to connect to my humanity versus a perfect body.  A flawless figure is beautiful, but so is an imperfectly perfect body, doing the work.  What matters to my clients is not that I am perfect, but that I show them what it looks like, enduring in spite of obstacles and setbacks.  I think it’s my courage and willingness to be authentic about my own fallibility, (and how it doesn’t detract from my worthiness as a human being), that will touch, move, and inspire the world to get moving and be their best selves while embracing their own frailties and imperfections.

Because perfection is an illusion.  And our bodies are just tools we use to interface with this physical reality…the larger part of who we are is much, much greater.


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