Fitness coaches dont all start out as slim and healthy twentysomethings. Heres how three overcame obesity and illness and their advice for the rest of us
‘Don’t go on a diet.” That’s one tip from personal trainer Graham Waugh, 50, and may be surprising given that he once weighed three times as much as he does now. A few years ago, he was 330kg (52st) and stuck at home, feeling as if he was waiting to die. Exercise had never been a part of his life, but after bariatric surgery, he began visiting the gym. When his weight reached 111kg (17.5st), the gym owner suggested he become a personal trainer. “I said: ‘You’re joking, aren’t you? I’m too fat and old.’” But then Waugh realised he could specialise in training people who had had similar problems with their weight and health. “I’d seen a lady in the waiting room at the obesity clinic and she looked plump, at worst. I thought to myself: ‘If she had a gym she felt comfortable in, maybe she wouldn’t need surgery.’”
Waugh isn’t the only personal trainer with a powerful life story. For many trainers, it is the enormous change to their health and happiness that they experience at the gym that leads them into their chosen field – whether they have lost weight, gained strength or tackled physical or mental health issues. A prominent recent example is the former deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, 52. When he announced he was stepping down from politics in November, he also revealed he was retraining as a gym instructor. Watson has been on what he describes as a “health journey”, losing 51kg (8st), and reversing his type 2 diabetes diagnosis through diet and exercise.
What lessons can we take from the trainers who have transformed their lives? “Don’t look at how much you’ve got to lose,” says Waugh. “If someone had told me I had to lose 35 stone, what do you think that would have done for my morale? What I had to do was make each day the best I could, try to make the best choices.” A balanced diet is important, of course, but so is learning to forgive yourself. If you slip up in the morning with biscuits or cake, he says, don’t write off the rest of the day.
For Alma White, it was learning consistency and self-respect, and moving past the allure of fad diets, that changed everything. In the space of one year, she transformed the way she ate, discovered exercise, lost 70kg (11st) and left a “toxic” relationship. “My whole life did a huge about-turn,” she says. Then she changed careers. She had been a busy, successful makeup artist but decided to become a personal trainer instead. “I was so passionate about makeup, I never saw myself doing anything else. But my life had changed so much, I thought: ‘I can’t do this career because it’s not fulfilling me in the way I know training and coaching would.’ I decided that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – I wanted to be able to give women the same feeling and confidence that I gained from my journey.”
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