Monday, 13 April 2015

Ha ha ha you're fat. Part 2.

Carrying on from part 1. If you didn't read it, here is the link.

There are some great personal trainers out there doing great work in helping to change people’s habits and lifestyle. However, this doesn't make trainers obesity experts. Sometimes on Facebook, some of my fellow trainers take to their keyboards to vent their frustration in obesity being classed as anything other than ‘lazy-ass syndrome.” This if often off the back of an obesity related article in the media. One guy said obese people should be forced into having a medical procedure or they should have their benefits stopped. Or comments such as, “they got themselves into this mess. If they can’t be bothered to help themselves, why should we?” In a freakish coincidence, I heard a similar comment made by someone who was upset at the proposal of a new HIV drug to stop the spread of the disease amongst promiscuous males.

“If they’re stupid enough not to protect themselves, why should we help them?”

At least stupidity pops out in all walks of life.

People dislike those who are classed as obese because of what they feel they represent. What I am uncomfortable with is stereotyping used by professionals who are choosing to ignore evidence which they have access too. Or having any balance to their arguments, when they are perfectly placed to do so. At least the public can use ignorance as their excuse.

I believe those who work in fitness hold these views regardless of working in fitness. So I'm not criticising the industry as such. I feel they use their knowledge of health and fitness to fuel their dislike for people who are obese. It’s a bit like a gynaecologist deciding to wage a war on the lady garden and using intimate knowledge about said region to back their case. We would find that pretty low and disrespectful. Maybe that’s the word I am looking for. I would like people to be more respectful. 

The delusion that trainers become experts on obesity, follows this logic. 

Ø  I help people lose fat
Ø  I am not fat
Ø  I make people work beyond the point they want to stop
Ø  I am an expert in motivating people
Ø  Not being obese is about losing fat and not being lazy
Ø  I am an obesity expert

Now compare this to people who are researchers in obesity. This is taken from the abstract of a research paper.

Obesity is a genetically complex disorder that produces a myriad of health problems. Most of the recognized complications of obesity are not only strongly influenced by lifestyle factors, but also present with independent genetic predispositions that are notoriously difficult to disentangle in humans. Most studies on the causes and consequences of acquired obesity are encumbered by the incomplete ability to control for genetic influences…….

Causes and consequences of obesity: the contribution of recent twin studies. Naukkarinen J1, Rissanen A, Kaprio J, Pietiläinen KH. Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Aug;36(8):1017-24. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.192. Epub 2011 Oct 11.

What trainers don’t realise is to people who actually know a bit about obesity, they sound pretty dumb. Which is interesting as many trainers are fighting for the right to be taken seriously. Here’s a thought. Treat others as you expect to be treated and you might push your cause a little.

We accept we can help someone lose weight, but we can't all help someone looking to get down to 6% body fat. We accept we can help someone put on some muscle mass, but not all of us can get someone 'hench' or 'henched (I believe these terms mean something to some people.). So why do trainers and society think eating less and moving more is a simple solution? I experimented with doing the recommended daily steps as advised but the gov. It worked out as walking a round of golf, every day. Even I would find this seriously challenging, yet trainers think that people should just 'find' this motivation from somewhere and keep doing it until they are slim. Most trainers will agree that our clients aren't motivated all year round, so how should those who don't have trainers stay motivated? 

The word obesity is interesting as it’s merely a categorisation for health risk. The figure is only one aspect of health as someone with low body fat can be classed as obese. What we are talking about is fat people. In my opinion, a lot of the venom is a different version of, “ha, ha ha, you’re fat,” you used to hear in the playground.”  I know people who have worse diets than some who are obese, but their weight gain isn't obvious because of their build and genetics. I've tested people who look slim, but they are known as ‘skinny fat,’ or TOFI (5). Add these to your list of the lazy when you wake up looking for an argument.   

There is also a slight sense of a superior judgement which comes across from some sections of the training community. Today it will be obese people. Tomorrow it will be something else. I put this in the list of, 'things that the public do which trainers find funny.'

List of topics trainers like to mock.

  • Cardio
  • Weight Watchers
  • Counting calories
  • Not using weights
  • Not exercising
  • Eating cereal
  • Not eating chicken
  • Having a life outside of fitness
  • Not knowing what Cross Fit is. 

This blog will probably play in the hands of those who think this is namby-pamby left wing nonsense. It is nothing of the sort. In fact, I agree with Jill Tipping from HoopUK (6) who said, “this isn’t accepting fat either.”  We should do everything in our power to make people aware that action needs to be taken. But if you are only prepared to offer criticism, then you are most likely fuelling the obesity fire. Watching Panorama also doesn't make you an expert on obesity. Facebook posts from trainers go crazy immediately after a programme about obesity. 

Finally, obesity is a fairly ‘new’ phenomena. We used to see larger people or the pot belly as a sign of wealth. Sugar used to be very expensive and was classed as ‘White Gold by British Colonists during the slave trade. Therefore it was eaten very sparingly or only by those who could afford it. As the price dropped, sugar was used more in foods and is a cheap way of making food taste better. So Sugar is the enemy? It is one part of the problem. People in the UK sit down for on average 9 hours a day which contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There are campaigns trying to address this (7). So obesity is affecting all people from different social backgrounds, economic backgrounds, races, sex etc. But whenever people fat shame, they have a picture of someone watching Jeremy Kyle, living off benefits. Obesity is everywhere. Even though it does come down to energy expenditure, it is much more complex than telling people to eat less. If you really want to look into the causes, this diagram explains it pretty well. It looks at every aspect of obesity and does look at taking responsibility.

To be honest, chances are, most people have made their mind up and this blog has done very little to change it. All I have tried to do is to divide people into 2 groups. Those who are committed to helping people tackle weight and inactivity related disease. The other group is those who like to laugh at 'fat' people. I think you know which camp I sit in.

For more info about Chris and his Essex based business, check out


  1. .
  3.   Daniel Kahneman, 2011. Thinking Fast and Slow.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ha ha ha you're fat.

I've been a personal trainer for 13 years. Over the last few years, I've noticed a worrying trend occurring amongst my fellow professionals. Fat shaming. It appears that we as health and fitness professionals feel adequately placed to say derogatory comments about anyone who gets in our way. It appears that overweight people are now feeling our wrath.

The thing is, I would fight for the right for people to say what they want (to a point). In this case, it is completely different. This is professionals using their status or anecdotal evidence to justify attacking people who are very overweight or obese. This is also without actually working with obese people. Some very overweight people seek out Personal Trainers, but, but what they need to ensure success is a team of people including a dietician and psychological support. This is well beyond the scope of a PT.

Fat shaming is something we do as a society, so first let’s look at some of the views society seem to have of obese people.

  • ·         They lack self-control.
  • ·         They lack discipline.
  • ·         They are sponging of the state.
  • ·         They are talking the piss out of everyone.
  • ·         They want to be fat.
  • ·         They don’t care about their health.
  • ·         I hate fat people because of their attitude.

This is the tame version. People say and think much worse about this topic. This was evident when obesity was deemed a disability in certain cases in employment law. Social media was rife with some of the most hateful and vile comments that I had seen in a long time. The same is evident when the words ‘obesity’ and ‘disease’ are mentioned in the same sentence. The reason being people feel diseases are things outside of your control and obesity is something well within your control. This becomes semantics when you consider most cancers are considered to be influenced by lifestyle rather than genetics (1).Something tells me people don’t have the same appetite to attack people who suffer from cancer compared to those who are obese.

Obesity is also an easy target. You can see someone putting on weight so it is easy to pass judgement. You can’t see someone slowly getting cancer. I can hear people now.

“Is he seriously comparing a serious, life-threatening disease such as cancer to obesity? He must be a liberal, lily-livered lefty.”  

Not really, and I am merel comparing 2 biological states of the body. I just like to question the conclusions I'm asked to reach, especially when they include stereotyping of whole groups of society. This piece also isn't about excusing obesity, as I’ll go into later.

We justify our venom because we think obese people will eventually lose weight or they need to be treated harshly to ‘wake up.’ How is that working out for you? Have you managed shame someone slim? People are so unwilling to question their logic that even when presented with the reality that kids will die before their parents due to weight related disease, some say, “they got themselves into this mess, so they can get themselves out of it.”  It’s almost as if they have cemented their ill-informed opinion to the extent that there is no way any other point of view can get through. Not even empathy. According to cancer research, survival rates are at 78% for breast cancer (2). IMO, this is what happens when you dedicate funds and resources to tackling diseases irrespective of how they start. This is a threat to our survival, shouldn't we look more at like that instead of the blame game?

Then you have the logic of those who say, “you’d hate it if your child was sick and they didn't get the care they should because funds were diverted to obese people.” No, this isn't a party political broadcast for UKIP. I find it interesting how it is mainly cancer that is used to strengthen the argument. Why? To create an emotional argument. Obese people get cancer too. Are we going to say that they shouldn't get treatment because they are obese? Or hold the view that they have got themselves into this situation, but the slim person hasn't?  This is the argument of the truly lazy who have a simplistic view on how healthcare works. It’s also fuelled by the vision of obese people sitting eating a Macdonalds (stereotype #466)  all day. As soon as the media report that some are on benefits, this is all the ammunition people need. I used to work in Macdonald’s and I would say the majority of people who came in weren't obese. That’s not actual research, but I did work there for 9 hours a day.

Lastly, I heard man on a popular radio phone-in say, “you know the people I mean. Those who sit around all day, eating Macdonald’s, living off benefits.” Oh, so you mean you watched the programme ‘Benefits street,’ and you now have enough information to make a well informed opinion? Seems logical to me. What you have here is what is known as the availability cascade (3). If we talk about something enough, it becomes the centre of our concern and we want leaders and governments to do something about it. Are you still as worried about Ebola compared to when it was mentioned 2-3 times a day? In fact, governments are often looked down upon by not acting on these concerns, despite their logic/importance being questionable. I am troubled by the obesity epidemic. However, I'm more concerned about inactivity related disease and illness as it is twice as deadly as obesity (4). I’ll accept that it’s difficult to disentangle the two, but unless you are prepared to look into these figures, don’t attempt to judge people.

So that’s society done. Let’s look at trainers.