The PT profession gets a lot of stick – and in many cases, rightly so. We’re often seen as ogres, military-style drill sergeants, and proponents of dietary advice that would make even Gillian McKeith blush. In amongst all of that, though, is a core of decent trainers struggling hard against a tide of, frankly, bullshit.
Let’s be upfront – anyone can be a PT. Anyone can be a nutritionist. Anyone. Neither term is legally governed, defined or protected. With the advent of online courses, you can undertake a “Nutritionist” course on a daily deals site for less than £50 any given week. You need not have ever met a real client, studied anything to do with biology, let alone know how to cook or eat well (whatever ‘eating well’ means) yourself.
In an industry where the only barrier to entry is about 6 weeks and a couple of grand expenditure, you’re going to get charlatans, chancers, the colossally deluded –and my word, does the fitness industry deliver.
PTs that prescribe competition-strict diets to middle aged women who just want to lose a stone or two. Nutritionists that tell clients never to eat purple foods. Or, to ONLY eat purple foods. Am I being flippant? No. Talk to enough people and you’d be amazed what advice you’ll see given.
Eat eggs? Never eat eggs.
Eat 500kcals a day. Never eat less than 2000kcal a day.
Don’t eat in the evenings. Only eat in the evenings.
If there’s a contradiction to be found, the fitness industry will find it, gloss it up, market it and sell it.
How the hell does an average client, who is ultimately putting, in the most common cases, their nutrition and exercise in your hands, choose the good guys from the idiots?
Let’s face it; screw up badly enough and you’ll hospitalise people. It’s also all too easy to severely damage someone’s psychological approach to food. And that’s no laughing matter – when you’ve had to nurture someone back to being able to treat food as something to enjoy, rather than something to be terrified of, you can get ferociously angry with the carelessness of the industry.
There’s a lot of money in making people feel good about themselves. Or at the very least, offering the CHANCE to feel good about themselves. Talk a good enough game and you’ll get plenty of people throwing money at whatever snake oil solution you’re offering this month. This abundance of easy money, low barriers to entry, and low moral codes amongst many who’ll exploit it, is the crux of the problem in fitness.
Let’s add in another problem. The public see abs, see nicely shaped arses and sculpted shoulders and automatically assume that person knows about nutrition. They must do – they look awesome, right? Let’s throw the fact many have been training years, don’t follow the fad they’re promoting, use Photoshop, and very, very, very often have a drugs bill each month that would make Arnie think twice, and you have a great platform for deceit.
Away from the famous Insta-models and Geordie Shore drunkards, many younger PTs see the BS and emulate it. They are just as impressionable as the general public, but worryingly, they pass it on to unsuspecting clients. You might wonder how they can fall for the same stuff – they’re educated on their courses about this stuff, right?
No, actually, they aren’t. I’ve said many times that the nutrition element of my PT course stole more information from my brain than it imparted. It was nonsensical, and gave very little actionable knowledge about behaviour change, food selection and adaptation to differing training goals. I was lucky in that I had a great interest in nutrition and my independent reading (plus a few years training and experimenting on myself) had given me a decent grounding.
I’ve since undertaken independent nutrition qualifications to plug any gaps I had, but the number of PTs willing to do this is woefully low. It’s much easier to just tell a client to eat fish and rice, chicken for breakfast and never touch an apple, than it is to sit down with them and concoct a nutrition approach that will survive first contact with their actual life. To understand their mindset, to get a picture of their family and social life and come up with something that stands a fighting chance.
A decent PT won’t just hand you a nutrition sheet and tell you to get on with it. They shouldn’t even try to prescribe a set diet unless that is what the client wants, and is a bit of a last resort when you’re desperate to get some baseline data to work from. Most of the time though, we’re trying to educate clients to know what they are eating and why, and to make informed choices. Simply providing set menus (a) means they will eventually fail to follow them, (b) they won’t learn anything because they’re being spoon-fed and (c) will feel like THEY are the failure, not the PT.
A decent PT won’t repeat myths about eggs being bad for you, breakfast being the most important meal of the day, never eating carbs after 6pm, diet drinks making you store fat and so, so many more inane, dangerously incompetent concepts.
A decent PT won’t automatically bang someone onto a low carb diet, up their protein intake by a zillion percent and make you require a small mortgage for your food shop each month.
There are times when it isn’t the PTs fault though. I can, hand on heart, say that I’ve had a couple of clients that needed a counsellor more than they needed me. If someone already has real, deep issues with food we are not qualified to deal with it. These clients are not for experimenting on – the PT industry seems perpetually terrified of referring out, when often that’s the best thing for the client (and gets the PT a better reputation, incidentally).