Hamster Food

Ah, personal trainers. I’ve never had one of my own, but I’ve suffered through enough gym memberships to understand their habits. For most of my young life, I was in awe of these competitively “healthy” male narcissists. I believed they could teach me – along with all losers of the world – how to be safe from Fat and Ugly. All I had to do was max out my cardio, hit the weight machine, eat less (aka get an eating disorder) and suddenly,  I would morph into a perfect replica of someone else.

My conclusion now is that while necessary, personal trainers are not always healthy.  Or useful.  Actually, there is something wrong with them.  And by wrong I mean evil. I can’t independently verify this fact, but anyone who spends more than two hours in the gym  every single day for years on end, might be trying very hard to nail the  closet door shut on a stack of skeletons.

I’m not saying that I’m not slightly intimidated by their carefully sculpted muscles, because I always have been. I mean, their flat stomachs and perma-tans, their holocaust against stray body hair, and of course the way their paper-thin skin recedes around their eye sockets. It looks really “great.”

But lately it’s occurred to me that the perfectness of a personal trainer’s form may be in direct proportion to the size of the demon that is pursuing him. Only it’s not usually a demon, it’s just his sad little inner Fat Kid, the one he can’t afford to let anyone see. He’s bullied him into a box – for now. But, in order to keep that lid clamped down, most personal trainers have to develop a fairly significant – and highly arrogant – Inner Asshole.

I knew a personal trainer once who also owned a tanning salon, ie, a man with a giant Inner Asshole.  His job was to motivate overweight women, to help them get in shape. You know, better their lives. But outside work, he spent most of his time scanning for hot chicks. Hundred-pounders, he’d call them, like turkeys. When he’d find one, he’d wait til she passed by so he could turn and analyze her butt.

“Gross,” he’d say. “She was better from the front.”

Which begs the question.  If we want to be personally trained, do we really want it from people who live like a caloric POWs, eating more performance-enhancing acronyms than regular food? Is measuring salad dressing with a syringe – and a woman’s ass on a sliding scale – really the Happy Ending to a life of health and fitness?

But personal trainers like these populate the health and fitness world, especially mainstream weight loss reality shows.

I recently watched an episode of True Life on MTV called I Used to be Fat, where a teenager was coached by a trainer to lose 90 pounds in 90 days. There was a related video on MTV.com about nutrition. On it, a human Ken doll, standing behind a counter of meats and vegetables explains how to be perfect:

“What does a balanced diet look like? It means low calories! That won’t store as fat!”

He shows us a chicken breast cooked with a drop of olive oil –just a drop! That’s it! – along with a pile of pale quinoa and broccoli florets.  Wait, hold yo. Did he really stand there with his plastic-looking torso and suggest quinoa?  I mean in theory, sure, eat *gag* quinoa.  But the thing is, I’m a decorated/recovered health food veteran and even I – on my best days – find it to be about as appealing as fish spawn.  So, because this is MTV, picture the obese youth of middle America – neglected, high and unhappy, watching TV with their hand in a bag of chocolate-covered Doritos.  Undaunted, personal trainer holds up a Ziploc bag that contains a teensy handful of nuts.

“You don’t want to get carried away! So maybe about nine or ten of these almonds? That would be a good snack for you.”

Portion control? With raw almonds? For fuck’s sake, most of his viewers haven’t even seen a raw almond this year, let alone tried to chew it into a flavorless paste.  They should be allowed to eat all the raw almonds they can stomach.  Surely there is an imperfect middle ground between fast food slavery and the vegan promised land? Something that your average American kid could easily assimilate?  No,  there isn’t.  He can’t allow for that because he is from the world of shark cartilage supplements, obsessively timed reps and incrementally reduced rice cakes.  He is a mother effing personal trainer.

He points at a beautiful bunch of fresh carrots. “These vegetables have too much sugar!” He warns. “Stay away! Also, white rice is out. No good! Stick with a small amount of brown rice. Oh, and try lentils! And clean meat!”

Yes, this would all be very useful dogma, if his audience was  prepping for a bodybuilding competition. But they’re not.  Below his online video, their comments pour into the website from the basements of suburbia, the “dirty” meat demographic, the teary-eyed cries for help from our collective inner Fat Kid. Each one says the same thing, how much they hate their bodies, how fat they are, how they cry more than anyone they know, how they are at the lowest point in their life and don’t know what to do. But the video ends and the MTV.com mothership steams onward, dropping an ad for McDonald’s in its wake.

Health & Fitness, after all, doesn’t really make people happy. Because once you get thin, you might get fat. If you get fat, how will you get thin? It’s just a hamster wheel destined for Perfect, which does not exist. It’s a subjective, shape-shifting illusion sold by the  Personal Trainers of the world, who you’d never guess are just as unhappy as anyone.

If I was the trainer, what would I tell the overweight girl typing a letter to MTV bemoaning her total unworthiness? I would tell her, go to the mirror and look at yourself. No matter what you see reflected back, say I love you. Say I love you exactly like this, no matter what.  Say it out loud even if you feel like a sorry prick. Even if it’s a lie. Do 3 reps every day.  Never stop.   That’s the real work. No personal training is harder than that.

Maybe that’s why we crave the tips, the tricks, the dogma of diet, the expense of hiring a repressed asshole to yell in our ears while we run the hamster wheel.  Sure it’s hard as hell, expensive, but it’s a cakewalk compared to getting out of the cage in our mind.  Or facing the fact that we’re in one.

copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2010-2011


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