The F Word
One could be forgiven for thinking that all females in the Western world, from those on the brink of
puberty to those who are well into their retirement years, have one thing in common: they all hate the
It’s the hate that dare not speak its name, a strong antipathy, a loathing that we have come to
associate with what lies at the very heart of womankind’s propensity for self-judgment. Forever
aware that it is not politically correct to judge others by their dress size, we do it anyway.
The word I am talking about is of course: FAT. There! Ouch! I’ve said it! The F word is too
horrifying to utter in public and, even phonetically, we are simply not taking to it: its very
pronunciation seems to cement the ugly image we have of it in our minds. Then again we may be
deluding ourselves – word and meaning are of course interlocked – who could claim to know just
why we, on hearing a simple three letter word, are so repulsed. We see it when we look into the
mirror (even if it isn’t there!) and the media bombard us with photos of celebrities who, apparently,
have either too much of it or too little. More worryingly, when we are at the hairdresser’s flicking
through the latest copy of Closer there is quite often more than a healthy ripple of schadenfreude
rising in our bodies as we scan the images of those who were unlucky enough to have been caught in
the flashlight of the paparazzi sinking their improbably white teeth into a cream bun. Pictures of
bikini-clad celebrities on holiday give us the opportunity to examine every inch of their exposed
bodies in the privacy of our homes, leaving us feeling quietly contented that they, too, are only
Women’s preoccupation with their bodies goes back a long way. Western culture has long hailed thinness as the ultimate attainment – the worlds of fashion and entertainment certainly make few allowances for anything transgressing its starkly drawn boundaries.
As women we are used to being judged. But we have not always been judged negatively for our bodies’ hormonally charged and, it seems, assiduous preoccupation with fat accumulation. Before the Restoration in England an intelligent woman’s gaze would more than likely have turned inwards, trying to analyse and understand why female scholarship was frowned upon. Up until the middle of the 17th century a bright woman whose first and only loyalties were to hearth and home had plenty of time to dwell on the absence of any real outlet for her quick mind. The very circumstance of being female meant exclusion from education and the professional world. But as we managed to break the fetters of this exclusion we acquired a new set of shackles: we were being judged for our plumpness.
In the 19th century body styles underwent a change every few decades. In the US the crusade against fat really gained momentum in the 1890s when concerns about the effect of poor eating habits were first raised. Conflicting signals from the world of fashion followed hard on its heels
– it had, after all, previously adorned the plumper woman with bustles and bows in order to emphasise her already rotund appearance… when tastes began to change fashion found it hard to turn the corner.
In Britain a “diet” book was the trigger for a new trend long before the word diet had even gained its modern meaning. In 1863 William Banting chronicled his battle with the bulge in his Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public and described how, through the limitation of refined carbohydrates, he was able to lose 35 pounds in weight. Banting’s book had gone through 12 editions by 1902 and the combination of diet and exercise it expounded was to be called “bantering” or “bantingism”. By the year 1900 the image of a slender frame was seen as desirable – it had taken hold as a natural by product of social change.
Over 100 years of dieting advice, fads and trends have probably turned a lot of women (and men) into cynics who pile the Krispy Kreme doughnuts into their trolleys on a Saturday morning due to the fact that there is a deluge of information out there with no easy solution in sight. At least not as easy as opening your mouth and taking a hearty bite. Cyberspace has given us even more information – if you are determined to find out how to lose weight online and to separate the wheat from the chaff, in terms of the blogs or articles available, you can easily do so and come away with some useful advice.
So how come that so many women are still haunted by the word FAT? Why have we not cracked the
code of how to train right and eat clean in order to drop body fat levels, how to maintain our weight
and make the right decisions in the face of huge advertising campaigns tempting us to gorge on what
makes us fat and in some cases even sick?
There is no easy answer to this conundrum. Despite a higher level of access to expert information it
can be surprisingly difficult to decide what kind of advice is useful and, more importantly, what kind
of advice is applicable to your body and your lifestyle whilst accurately reflecting your medical
history. Should you take up running as recommended in your latest copy of Fitness magazine even
though you have a history of knee injury? Should you severely restrict your carbohydrate intake and
concentrate on fats and protein as extolled by Dr. Atkins and a colleague at work? Or should you
simply detox because Carol Vorderman says so?
The battle of the bulge can be a minefield and the truth is: in order to provide a complete package of
information one needs to know about the complete package that is YOU. A qualified and experienced
Personal Trainer who is well acquainted with his or her area of expertise and also with your history is
the obvious choice if body fat reduction is your goal. Many people, however, do not feel that they
require this advice and most shy away from the expense. Under the supervision of the right trainer it
is, however, the single most useful way to spend your money. Forget about buying gadgets, diet
books and expensive supplements. Some, not all, have a purpose and a place within training and
body fat reduction but, without the expertise of a trainer, these will not bring about the desired
changes for most people.
Make a list of all your goals in order of priority and start looking for a Personal Trainer who specialises in what you would like to achieve. A muscle-bound PT in the gym who only trains bodybuilders day in day out may not be the right candidate to provide the average overweight client with a good fitness and nutritional programme for steady body fat reduction. Be sure to approach a trainer who has worked in the fitness industry for a number of years. Personal Trainers who are able to draw on some of their experiences in other related fields such as Group Fitness or who are also qualified nutritionists are a great starting point.
Word of mouth is said to be the best way of finding a good trainer, but beware: what works for your friend may not work for you. You want to ensure that you gel with your Personal Trainer in terms of personality and approach to weight loss. Ask for an initial consultation. A good PT ought to provide this free of charge. Use this opportunity to ask as many questions as possible before making your final decision. If you are searching the internet for Personal Trainers local to your home or place of work, give them a call and make appointments with at least 5 of them. Attend the consultations and take your list of questions and goals.
So while you are busy looking for a good trainer, you may wish to get some general guidelines on how to kick-start your personal body fat loss. Look out for Part 2 of the F Word, your essential guide to what works and what does not when it comes to food, training and the female body.