“He is so fat, it is disgusting. Why can’t he just stop putting food in his mouth?”

“Have you seen how much weight she gained after her pregnancy? Did she just give up?”

“I think my Mother-in-Law must be a closet eater, I mean how does someone get to be that size?”

“Gosh look at that couple, they are walking heart attacks. How much do you think they weigh?”

I always wonder why people say things like this to me, it makes me cringe. These are people that know what I do for a living and I often wonder if they want a real answer from me or just talking to make themselves feel better about their own body shape. I feel the shame and pain of the overweight people they are talking about and am always amazed at the utter cruelty of the speakers. I also remember the shame I also felt as an overweight child who couldn’t play sports well and ate candy obsessively to hide my —here it comes—PAIN. Emotional Pain. I ate to mask the pain.

I didn’t know as a child the damage I was doing to myself as I ate pounds of candy. I just knew that eating that candy made me happier, at least in the moment. It felt good. I came from a nonathletic family so not doing sports or exercise was just fine so the overeating didn’t really have any noticeable to me repercussions as a young child. My parents told me I was just a big girl and that is why at age 10, I already wore women’s size clothes. I was always the last one picked for a kickball/basketball/softball team at school but just thought I was uncoordinated and my parents couldn’t afford expensive coaches and sports camps and expected to not be chosen.

But the month before my 14th birthday, that all changed. A high school basketball coach told me I should probably get fit before the season started. So, I thought I should run. Running was all the rage in the late 70s and early 80s thanks to Frank Shorter and women could now marathon thanks to Katherine Switzer. So, I did. And running did something for me that eating didn’t—it took away my emotional pain and now gave me a sense of accomplishment, something I had never had in my life. That summer before I started high school I went from the almost 200lb athletic sad child, to a straight A thin, determined young adult. I learned that accomplishing running, which literally was just to the end of the block when I started on that early morning in June, to the 11-mile circuit I was doing by September, wasn’t about anyone else, it was about me putting one foot in front of the other again and again and swallowing the tears of pain, (emotional and the blisters, we didn’t have such great shoes then) and doing something productive.

So, when I see overweight people, I show compassion and don’t criticize. Not because I am looking for new clients, but because I get it. They don’t want to be overweight and tired all the time from carrying around that extra weight. Besides whatever emotional pain and/or life circumstance that got them to poor eating habits in the first place, the now physical pain their bodies are in, is like an unending cycle. They feel trapped and don’t know how to change. Can you imagine how much pain you would be in if you carried around an extra 100lb. everywhere you went all day long? How awful you would feel?

I have a different approach with my clients. I never start with a new client dictating how much better they should be eating. Overweight people are constantly bombarded with diets and exercise programs that will fix them and if it was as easy as buying a $35 online exercise video or $15 fancy diet book, then we wouldn’t have a US population with 35% obesity. (National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Diseases statistic.)

No, I start my clients out like I did. I just wanted to move a little better, feel a little stronger. I work with my clients and just doing a little more out of their comfort zone physically, watching them carefully that they don’t get hurt and can feel good about their exercise accomplishments, not like failures that they can’t physically do what I am demonstrating.

My favorite saying to all of my clients is, “How many times have I ever asked you to do something you couldn’t do or a count on an exercise you couldn’t finish?’ So far no one has ever been able to say I have done that, and I intend to keep it that way.

Only after they start to realize their bodies will still move, can we do small dietary changes that can last a lifetime and aid in their workouts. Nothing abrupt in exercise or diet, but changes that see positive growth that are sustainable for the rest of their lives are always my goal with clients.