body image, wellness

Check Yourself

Some time ago, I was given a free personal training session by the gym when I joined, and it was only what I can describe as a troubling experience. I arrived to the gym thinking that a trainer would be taking me through a workout (obviously as a means to try to sell me a plan after), then I would go on with my day. While the trainer did eventually take me through a workout, he sat me down to ask me a few questions and whipped out a device to “measure my body fat”.   

This device he inserted into my hands looked like an Xbox controller, and after holding it for less than 5 seconds, its small digital screen read “fair”. The trainer then pulled out a chart showcasing that while my body fat percentage of 20% is “fair”, it could be “good”, or even “excellent”, indicating that my body fat percentage could be lower. The options below “fair” were “poor” and “very poor”.

Sigh. Nothing like equating body fat with morality.

Plump woman in sportswear with measuring tape

He asked if my end goal was to reach a body fat percentage of “good” or “excellent”, signifying that having lower body fat is essentially better. His look of surprise when I told him I am happy remaining where I am showed just how deeply problematic his approach to fitness is.

While I performed the workout he took me through, I couldn’t help but feel judged the whole time. The fact that a man was telling me, a woman, that it would be more optimal if I were smaller, added an extra sting. I want to clarify that I have nothing against personal trainers, or the fitness industry as a whole. It is an extremely empowering field and can have amazing impacts on health, but only if the right approach is taken. Focusing on strength and dedication to health over prioritizing physical appearance is the only way to ensure a healthy experience.

The reality is, being involved in fitness can be a slippery slope. It’s easy to become obsessive, and the number on the scale, or the way our bodies look, can too quickly become false indicators of success. As someone speaking from personal experience, I constantly have to check myself and whether my motivation for showing up at the gym is for perfection, or rather for health. Did I eat a lot the day before and this is my way of “making up” for it? Or was I in a bad mood and knew that a lifting session would lift my spirits? If you are involved in fitness, I encourage you to also check yourself and whether your rationale for your next workout is based in health, or perfection.   

I didn’t say anything when I left the training session that day, because I wasn’t sure how to process the experience. I’ve since seen this trainer “assessing” multiple other clients (mostly women) with the little device, and I can’t shake the feeling of wanting to intervene. Chances are, at least one of these clients has experienced or is experiencing the same struggles with disordered eating or body image that I used to.

I’m promising myself that the next time I go to the gym I will share my experience and concerns with management, and call for the “body fat percentage” device to stop being used. While I think that writing about it here is a good step, this year has taught me that I can’t just talk the talk. I have to walk the walk.

Disclaimer: I find it necessary to include that many means of measuring body fat are often highly inaccurate, and do not offer a representative picture of health or fitness level.

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