THE BLOG

When Mind Does Matter

03/07/2014 15:54 BST | Updated 02/09/2014 10:59 BST

Is the customer always right? Often not, but the success of any business relies on pleasing most of the people most of the time, and Personal Training is no different. But when you are dealing with people's health things aren't always so straight forward. Maintaining optimal health is hard in a society so at odds with promoting it - a society ravaged by food and beverage marketing which makes high sugar, highly processed products seem integral to our Culture, yet a society where only the slimmest most perfectly proportioned bodies are celebrated.

If a client comes to me and says he or she want to lose weight, what if that client is already a healthy weight? What if their intended weight loss will make them underweight? Do I help them? Do I take the job? I always talk to people about their motivations but when it comes to weight most people are irrationally attached to social ideals of acceptability.

It's tragic that even when we are a healthy weight we often feel we don't look alright. And for many others just being 'alright' isn't good enough. Their self esteem is so low that they feel they have to look so much more than 'ok' to be 'enough', so integral is their appearance to their sense of self worth.

Recently a woman came to me with four pounds weight loss as a goal. So what's the big deal? Does four pounds one way or the other really matter? Well she was borderline underweight at her starting weight so a loss of four pounds would not make her healthier, in fact potentially the reverse. Whilst I explained all this to her I did look at her diet and help her make some healthier decisions about food - she didn't eat much but what she did eat was high in sugar and highly processed, albeit it disguised as healthy (e.g. pre-packed porridges, Cuppa Soups, crackers).

The woman followed my advice and came back to me a fortnight later two pounds heavier. My client felt frustrated. I had not 'delivered'. But had I? My job was to promote optimal health. My client admitted she was far more energised, her skin had cleared, her mood swings had levelled - but none of this was good enough. I felt unwilling to suggest any more drastic nutritional restrictions but I did discuss with her the merits of various other 'diets'. She chose a diet plan, exercised hard with me three times a week and lost the weight. Did it make her happier? No, she wants to lose more... and so it goes on.

I am not qualified as a counsellor (although I did once meet a personal training taking a psychology degree because so many of his clients used him as their 'treadmill shrink') , however bolstering self esteem can be an important aspect of client motivation. And whilst we are in no position to offer advice on personal issues, we are in a great position to listen.

Society has some topsy turvy values when it comes to the body, and trying to retain an ethical standpoint in a consumerist world has it's challenges. Like any other business I want to please the customer, but sometimes in Personal Training, when the body is in good shape, it's the mind you have to change.