Let me tell you a real story – A mentee once approached me who wanted to lose fat. I asked her about all the basic information which we fitness coaches usually ask from any new client. She mentioned her weight, height, and other general things. But, when I asked her to send her pictures to me (we normally tell our clients to send us their photos without their faces to respect their privacy). But this mentee simply refused to do so. She said, “No Chirag! I cannot send you my images.” I agreed and told her that it was fine if she was uncomfortable with the idea of sharing her image with me. But I told her to still click a few of them for her own reference. So that she is able to compare it later for a progress check. To my surprise, she said no to that as well. I was a little taken aback, as this has never happened before. And when I asked her the reason behind her reluctance, she told me she had a fear of facing the mirror. She shared that she cannot stand in front of a mirror and look at herself, as it brings back some painful memories. She had once taken part in some random online transformation challenge and because of her ‘not so great’ transformation post, she was ridiculed on social media and random accounts commented on her physique, her looks, and her skin colour. She in fact had to take therapy sessions to overcome it. This might sound very strange to a lot of you, but it’s a real-life account. This one conversation during my inquiry call made me realize that mental health is serious, and can no longer be taken lightly. I immediately decided that I needed a psychologist on board besides the team of my fitness coaches in TeamChirag. The role of a psychologist in my team is to handle clients who are unknowingly suffering from depressive or anxiety symptoms. And, also to help those who lack motivation and are not able to build any sort of healthy habits. During my inquiry calls, I have realized that many of these people are suffering from food relationships and self-image issues. These problems are common and real. I can guarantee that many of you who are reading this blog right now, might be suffering from such issues but don’t realize it. Because no one has made you think in that direction ever. I dug deeper and collected massive data of all those who have been trapped by random transformation challenges online – ‘Lose your fat in 21 days, ‘Get your abs in 3 months – and such marketing gimmicks. Along the way, I also consulted many psychologists. And today, I am going to share some very important insights with you
How transformation challenges affect your relationship with food
If I tell an athlete, or an MMA expert, that eating less to drop a few kilograms before a fight, might ruin your relationship with food. He will straightway ask me to buzz off. But that’s not the case with general people like us. We have to maintain a good relationship with our daily food to live healthier and to live happily for the rest of our lives. By good relationship with food, I DO NOT mean pizzas, burgers, or any other junk. I simply mean that you should have a good relationship with the quantity of food you eat. In these body transformation challenges, the prize money is decided upon a deadline and time frame of losing weight, where people starve themselves to the core. I have seen people taking part in such transformation challenges where they eat only 8 whole eggs + 2 scoops of whey protein in the entire day for 3 months straight. And this is not some random anecdote coming from me, this is a very common thing. People going on a complete juice diet or quitting carbs completely to get ahead in such challenges is the biggest risk right now in the fitness industry. Can you imagine yourself surviving on 8 whole eggs for your entire life? Can you survive on a juice-only diet? I bet it’s a No! Then why are people doing it? Playing with food intake for a day or two is fine, but when every grain of food makes you think about the competition or a random challenge, it becomes a problem for life.
The self-image issue
There is no gain in following a fitness regime if you are developing some sort of self-image issue because of it. If you are always worried about that one inch on your biceps or the cut of abs or your face looking thin or such similar things, you are suffering from a major self-image issue. And you MUST address it by taking the help of an expert. I won’t shy away from admitting that I have suffered from the same myself. And while consulting with the experts, they told me one simple thing – “If you are not going to love the person you are right now, you won’t be able to love the person you are going to become tomorrow.” This quote changed my mindset and helped me a lot to overcome the false expectations from my own self.
So, how do these online transformation challenges push you towards self-image issues? By showcasing and by creating false expectations in your mind about your own limitation and your own body. Let’s understand this:
- Your body is different from ‘Every Other Body’ you see on social media winning such challenges. Yes, your muscle mass is different, your stress levels are different, your environment is different. And, most importantly, your genetics are different. There is a high probability that you will end up comparing yourself with a genetic freak who can get abs in 8-10 weeks. And this comparison will result in obvious self-image issues and the mindset that “You are not good or you are not fit enough”.
- And these social media posts are not only limited to self-comparison. In fact, they come with the peer pressure of people who are probably waiting for your ‘transformation’ to happen because you announced it everywhere possible. They make it worse for you by constantly injecting self-image issues in you “Uska toh ho gaya transformation tera kyu nahi hua?”
Unrealistic & unhealthy practices
If you are in the fitness industry for a while now, you would definitely know how people manipulate the salt and water intake before a photoshoot or a stage performance to get that shredded look. This might make them look good in pictures but is ‘not’ a healthy practice. And many times coaches make their mentees do this during the last weeks of the transformation challenge in order to show the “maximum effort”.
Only abs sell
Yes, this is the harsh truth of such challenges. No one really cares about your blood markers, your renal function, or your kidney function reports. In rarest of rare cases, people post their blood markers along with the transformation posts. They just care about the abs. I am not saying abs are not a sign of good health (before you use any logical fallacy), here I mean to say that abs are not the only sign of a healthy body. A person with 15% of body fat can show much better blood markers when compared to a person with 8% body fat.
How these transformation challenges are ruining the fitness industry?
These challenges might be bringing more and more people into ‘fitness-based’ lifestyle, but in the long run, it is ruining the fitness industry by creating false expectations, false comparisons and developing thousands of self-image issues into the people which no one is ready to talk about. My team, as well as other coaches who are not into running such challenges are fed up with questions from mentees who ask things like “If he can get abs in 12 weeks why can’t I”. These mentees are so much fixated in their minds about the timeline based fitness, that they keep jumping from coaches to coaches in order to get ‘fit’ in that 12-week span.
There are many cases where people’s thyroid functionality turned improper. Many women stopped getting their menstrual cycles for 4-6 months, as a result of the large deficit they were into to win such challenges. There are many people who suffered from severe hair fall and skin issues due to deficiency and weakness. But you don’t get to hear such stories because these things never come in the front. You and I, as an audience only care about who is the winner. No one talks about that person who came 50th or in the 100th position. How is his health now? How is his relationship with food now? Are they able to sustain what they started? Why did they give up on their fitness goals? How they felt low and ‘not enough in front of someone who is genetically blessed or coming from a much different environment altogether?
What my team (TeamChirag) and other coaches are doing for this collectively?
After seeing the condition of many clients and seeing the issues they faced while, during, and after taking part in such challenges. We decided to not take up coaching of such mentees in the future. Besides, we have also completely stopped using the ‘timeframe’ on any transformation post on our social media handles. The reason behind this is simple, we just do not want people to develop any sort of comparison amongst each other. I don’t want a 36-year-old male with 102kg weight to compare himself with an 18-year-old kid of the same weight. I don’t want a female with 78kg of weight while battling a lifestyle disorder like PCOD/S comparing herself with another female of 78kg who is genetically gifted.
Before writing this blog, I talked to many other coaches who have been a part of the fitness industry for more than 3-5 years. They not only agreed with me but told me pretty much similar things about such challenges. They too have stopped taking such inquires for the betterment of the overall fitness industry and its future.
My advice to the readers
If you are taking part in such challenges, good for you. But understand a few things here. Fitness is not about how many months you took to get abs or how many kgs you lost in a span of 12-16-24 weeks. Fitness is a journey. You take your own time, you ride at your own speed. You have your own social life, you have your own environment, and your own stress factors in your life. Maybe your relationship with your wife/husband is not that great, maybe your kid is not keeping up well, maybe your finances need more priority compared to the amount of rice you have to eat in your meals. I might be sounding super negative to you right now, but this is the truth.
You just cannot compare yourself to the guy who is sitting in a penthouse nor to the person who is somehow managing his family of 6 in an 8 x 10 room.
Your health and especially your mental health (which you often ignore) is more important than those social media ‘likes’ or the prize money. You may not even remember who was the 4th Indian Idol or who was the 6th Roadie or 7th Splitsvilla winner. Do you think people care if you win or lose such challenges? And if your argument remains here ‘I am doing it for myself‘ good for you. But do introspect if that is a lie you are telling yourself or you really mean it!