health at every size

Boundaries at the gym

I’ve had the privilege of working with personal trainers at several points during my life, always finding this to be an enjoyable and worthwhile investment of time and money.

It’s not so much that I don’t like working out; in fact, I really love it, finding workouts (especially weight training) to be empowering. I build muscle pretty well and like being able to see progress week over week.

It’s also not that I need straight up accountability, per se, at least not in the way that I typically think about accountability vis-a-vis gym time. I don’t need a scheduled time so that I will show up, else I’d be on the couch eating bon-bons (as a doctor so indelicately described life’s two alternatives to me, le sigh). I need a scheduled time so that I will know someone will be disappointed in me. In other words, it’s not that I am inherently lazy or inclined to skip hard work; it’s that I will literally prioritize absolutely everyone else’s happiness and needs above my own. Having a personal trainer means my denial of self-care has negative consequences on someone else’s schedule, and I simply cannot abide by that. (Read more about Enneagram 2s here.)

For a couple of years, I had a FAB-U-LOUS personal trainer up on Monteagle Mountain who I honestly just loooooved working with. We had these fantastic, laughter-filled conversations during my workouts, he came to understand how much of a push I needed (and when it was too much), and I never got bored. I loved those workouts! But, alas, I got a full-time job in Chattanooga, and finding times that worked for both of us outside of summertime became impossible. I kept thinking that the pendulum might swing back around… but it never did.

I could feel myself growing weaker. I knew I had to get back into a regular weight training routine. There was no conceivable way I’d be consistent without someone to disappoint. And so, I started Googling.

I found myself a highly reviewed facility on the north shore of Chattanooga, and with some trepidation, I filled out a form and set an appointment for an initial tour and workout.

Trepidation is le mot juste. It’s not that I was worried I was up to the task; I have total confidence in my ability to work out at the right intensity level and in an injury-minimizing way. I have come so far in body awareness, such that I can really feel the wisdom of what movements are good (for me) … and which are not. I’m proud of that knowledge.

No, the trepidation came because I was walking into a personal training-only gym as a visibly not-thin person … and I wasn’t going to abide by ANY weight-related conversation, nutritional advice/programming, etc. Period. This was a hard rule, one I attempted to make clear in my initial contact with them. But I knew, once in a face-to-face setting, drawing hard boundaries would be hard for this gold-star people pleaser. Would I be able to stand firm? Or would I revert to my usual M.O. of smile-and-nod-and-hope-it-ends-soon?

Before I walked in the door, I sat on a bench nearby and wrote this in my phone:

First training session! I’m nervous and keyed up and worried it won’t be a good fit. … But then, so what? I try somewhere else? No biggie. Let’s do this!

And then I walked in the door prepared to advocate for myself.

It worked.

The manager of the facility took me on a tour, sat down with me to talk about health history, priorities, and goals. I was very clear that weight-loss talk was off the table. I explained that I am uninterested in monitoring what I eat… that doing so tends to lend to a spiral of anxiety and cycles of restricting/bingeing that is the very opposite of healthy. I practice intuitive eating, I said, letting my intuition guide me on what my body needs to eat and when I’m hungry/full. All of this has been hard-won, I said, and I’m not interested in any talk or goal-setting that doesn’t focus on functional fitness and mobility improvement.

The manager could either read my determination or is a savvy enough customer service professional (or both) to know that I wasn’t going to be moved on this, so he just exclaimed, “Man! You are so lucky!” … and moved on.

Despite how matter-of-fact this retelling of my first workout at this new facility may sound, this experience was a defining one for me. When I began working with the last trainer, the one I loooooved, I wasn’t at this place in my self-advocacy. I let myself be weighed, a number of times, actually, before drawing the line. It took me at least several months, if not a full year, to feel comfortable enough to advocate for my health-at-every-size mindset and needs.

To walk into an exclusively personal-training gym, to interact with super buff “fitness professionals” who have whiteboards explaining what a calorie is, to be asked what weight-loss goal I might want to shoot for… and to say, “No. That’s a deal-breaker”?


The workout was challenging, but not overly so. I could feel more strength lurking in my muscles than I was expecting. The trainer/manager expressed awe at my overall strength, too.

And on top of the physical strength I reacquainted myself with that day, I felt fierce. Sovereign. Self-aware. Like this gold-star people pleaser has become a gold-star advocate for herself.

For me? It’s growth.

For a woman who’s not thin, in this toxic stew of a smaller-is-better culture? That’s a freaking miracle.

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