By “Big” Dan McCarthy aka “Coach Motivation”
My motivation for writing this blog today, on February 24, 2015, was an episode of “My 600lb life” on TLC. When I first started watching the episode, I was sitting down; I’ve seen the situation all too many times, a person continuously putting the wrong type of foods in their mouth causing them to gain weight. As a personal trainer, I began to look at the food and add up the calories, and then I took into account non-active lifestyle, coupled with adopted attitude of “I don’t care,” a phrase often thrown out to mask the person’s inability to admit the health risk of obesity. Those who are overweight, obese, use the “I don’t care, this is who I am” as a way to shun those who look at it from a purely vane aspect rather than a life threating danger. The fact is, being overweight can bring on a slew of health issues, from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes, heart disease just to name a few. So as I began to further watch the episode, I found myself standing, I had already solved the diet issue, obviously the exercise would be minimal as she was so large, anything more than some arm movements and walking from one side of the room to the other might not only discourage her already weak mindset, it may cause intense pain or even worse, a heart attack. However, let’s go! I’ve solved this! I can help this lady! Then as I was watching, she entered the grocery store, sat down and began to cry, her mother at her side, she began to talk about how hard it was for her to move, how it made her sad, how it made her scared, then after catching her breath, they proceeded in filling the grocery cart with chips, cakes, pies, and anything else that would contribute to pushing oneself further into the void. It was at this point I realized, she didn’t need a trainer, she needed a therapist. Someone who could help her find that motivation, to help her realize she hadn’t reached the point of no return. When you think about it, the point of no return means the person has come to the conclusion that the distance to return to a healthy state is much farther than it is to keep going and face what could be their ultimate fear: death.
So how can a personal trainer play the role of both a therapist and physical coach when approached by someone who is looking to make a change?
In the above question I said “looking” because looking and “wanting” are two completely different things. If I am looking at getting a new car, I haven’t bought in, but if I want a car, I am already sold and want to take it off the lot. So how can you have someone want to make a change rather than someone who is “forced” to make a change? Well, anyone can have you run on the treadmill, show you how to lift weights, make you do endless push-ups, until you want to turn right around and head back to that couch or that buffet that put you where you were, because that’s your comfort zone. The food is what you know, the buffet, or junk food aisle is where you have been comfortable at, and eating it is therapeutic and has made you happy. However, the food is also what has made you where you are, uncomfortable, at risk for disease, or even worse, increasing your chance of death.
A personal trainer must not look at an obese person from the outside only, they are not just body fat percentages, BMI charts, or measurements, they are people who are struggling with mental and emotional issues and are looking up this proverbial Mt. Everest of weight loss thinking, I’ll never get to the top! As a personal trainer, you must find that person’s source of motivation. “Why are you here?” or “What has motivated you to make the change?” If they tell you, “The doctor sent me” you must realize that they are in front of you under doctor’s orders, not because they have the positive motivational factors to make a change. Ask them questions like, “Do you have kids, do you have grandkids, do you want them to see them grow, or stay active with them? Tell me what it means to you to see that happen.” Or “When you were at your healthiest, didn’t you feel great? Wouldn’t you want to feel that way again? If so, tell my why you want to feel that way.” These are all powerful questions that will help you find that source of motivation to ignite the spark, to get them to realize, not only do I HAVE to do this, I WANT to do this! The effort someone will give you when they want something or desperately need something is ten times the effort someone will give you when they have to do something. Once you find their source of motivation, you can now turn that spark, into a fire by letting them know you will be there with them every step of the way, they will climb Mt. Everest one step at a time, setting small goals along the way, and nailing every one of them. Yes, you will fall at times, but you will get back up and keep moving forward, that’s with anything in life, but the ability to get back up lies within the person who falls. The person who is helping them can only offer encouragement, guidance, and lay out the plan. In order to succeed, you must truly know the motivating factor in the person seeking help. Have them right down that they are committed to succeed followed by their main motivational factor and constantly remind them of why they are making these changes. They have to believe passionately in their motivational factor in order for them to seek change.
Changing the way someone looks at healthy eating and exercise is important, if they hate running and push-ups and that’s what you have them doing, they are more likely to fail. Finding something they can do that is fun for them and keeps them active is critical. Exercising and eating healthy should not be a punishment, but rather a valuable time in our day allowing us to relieve stress, improve our health, and extend our life. Once the negative views of the gym, exercise, and healthy foods are cleared and they are seen as things we get to do, to keep us out of the doctor’s office, out of the operating room, and out of the morgue, the motivation levels should continue to increase.
When you are talking with a person who has not sought help, but they have expressed unhappiness with their current lifestyle, you must find out their fears of change. What makes them so scared to take that first step? Is their main fear simply the fear of not knowing where to start? Perhaps it’s the fear of being judged, or just the impossibility of climbing that mountain? It is the personal trainer’s role to bring out those feelings, to get them talking about their fears and relate with them on the fear of change. Talk to them about your experience with exercise, how you first came about trying something new, the fears you had, and some of the things you used to get going. When I first started lifting, I wanted to be big like Hulk Hogan, I was a 160 lb cross country runner and my end goal was looking like Hulk Hogan, a 300 lb beast with “24 inch pythons.” I was afraid everyone was going to look at me in the weight room like, “what’s this skinny kid doing in here?” I soon realized everyone in the weight room was there simply to better themselves, not to sit around and judge who was skinny, fat, or weak. I knew my goal wasn’t going to going to happen overnight, but after years of training, persistence, and commitment, I was able to get 21 inch arms, weigh 285 lbs, and bench press 525 lbs. People don’t believe me when I tell them, but when I let them know I have been down that road, even if my goals were completely different, they can relate to the struggle I had, and they can also see the mountain I had to climb. For you, perhaps it was the accountability of friends, the desire to want to get back to a size you used to be, the desire to attempt to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol without medication. Developing a rapport with someone through relating or understanding will certainly help them achieve a level of comfort, and allow them to open up and eventually commit to THEMSELVES that they want to make the change with their newfound motivation being the driving reason to change.
Had I not watched that episode today, I might not be as motivated to share my thoughts, opinions, and ideas to help inspire those who are currently training people, or those who have the opportunity to help someone make an impact on someone who needs to make lifestyle change. Regardless of the person’s age or weight, it’s never too late to start improving yourself, you just have to find the motivation to change, and never be afraid to ask for help! It’s not just a physical change you are making; it’s a mental change as well! Just as the saying goes, “Its 80% mental and 20% physical!”
Any questions? Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org