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'Therapy and personal training taught me that it's impossible to run away from self-loathing'

In an ideal world, we’d be active because we love our bodies, not because we hate them, writes Rosemary MacCabe.

Rosemary MacCabe Personal trainer

IT’S A CONFUSING time, the New Year, when one year ends and we’re expected to bounce, eagerly, full of resolutions (and Roses) into the next.

But we’re given such conflicting messages. One message – from family, friends and that half-finished box of Roses that, sure, you couldn’t just throw in the bin – is that it’s still a time for celebrating, for drinking hot whiskeys “to stay warm”, for turkey sandwiches and mince pies and relaxing in front of whatever Big Movie is being shown that day.

The other, of course, is that it’s time for a fresh start – time to MAKE 2018 YOUR BEST YEAR YET (click here for our special New Year membership offers).

Encouraging polarised thinking

Having qualified as a personal trainer, the encouragement of this kind of thinking has never been more tempting.

A reported 12% of gym memberships commence in January and searches on Google for gym memberships spike by up to 40%. In the fitness industry, there’s never been a more lucrative time to encourage this kind of polarised thinking.

The best representation of the concept is the “before and after” photograph. In the “before”, you are fatter; you are wearing the underwear of a person who has given up on themselves; you appear slightly despondent and ashamed.

In the “after”, you have been reborn. You are thinner; you are wearing the new, sexy pants of someone in their sexual prime; you are smiling directly into the lens.

What we tend to forget is that these two people – one larger, one smaller – are, in fact, one person. The future you, who has made time to train and prioritised healthy eating is, morally, no better than the current you.

There is nothing wrong with you right now

If this “transformation” is motivated by shame and disgust at your “before” picture, how will you feel if and when you return to that state? What happens if you get sick, or you have children, or your partner is unwell and stress and heartbreak result in a demotion of training and health foods on your priority list?

What happens when you find yourself back at square one, staring down the barrel of a camera lens and realising that you are, once again, the “before” pic you so detested?

The thing is, there is nothing wrong with you right now. Whether you’re active or inactive, whether you overeat or undereat (it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t do one of the two – undoubtedly related to the shame and moral judgement we assign to food), your body is an incredible thing that carries your brain around. That’s pretty important.

The problem with trying to find a “solution”, and placing all of our hopes in January as the starting date for its denouement, is the implication that there is a problem to begin with. Your body is not a problem to be solved.

Joining a gym and overhauling your diet in an attempt to get away from your “before” picture is the fitness equivalent of volunteering to work in a charity shop because you’re ashamed of how you speak to your mother. If therapy – and personal training – have taught me anything, it’s that it’s impossible to run away from feelings of shame and self-loathing. We need to face them head on.

Focus on what your body can do

If you find that you hate your body because of the way it looks, why not move away from focusing on the mirror, the scales or the lens? Shifting your focus from what your body can’t do, what it doesn’t look like, to what it can do – focusing on strength and ability – can make a huge difference to your perception of self.

Yes, training is hugely beneficial – but not just for our physical selves. Mental and emotional health are just as important as, if not more important than, physical health.

In an ideal world, we’d be active because we love our bodies, not because we hate them. But that doesn’t mean fetishising the gym as some form of modern-day Mass. Spending four hours a day in the gym does not make you a better person – arguably, it makes you at least 30% less interesting than the person who spends 45 minutes training hard, and enjoys the rest of their life.

Sure, go for a walk; lift some heavy weights; go to a class you enjoy and sweat and curse under your breath. Eat green vegetables in huge quantities. Drink lots of water. Do it for the you in the “before” picture – the version of you who is kind and generous and funny and interesting and has people who love and care about you.

Do it because you’re proud of yourself, not because you’re ashamed.

Rosemary MacCabe is a journalist and personal trainer based in Dublin. She works at Lift Training Studios in Smithfield, LiftTrainingStudios.ie.

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About the author:

Rosemary MacCabe  / Personal trainer

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