Working with Overweight Clients with Body Image Issues while Keeping a Healthy Perspective

Ellen Weaver Paquette By Ellen Weaver Paquette

We all have concerns about bodies not being what we wish and many of us have endeavored to rid ourselves of negative self-talk. How life would be better if only (fill in the blank) was different. This distortion coupled with media and cultural expectations can result unrealistic expectations about the investment in physical movement.

Now think about walking into a Pilates studio for the first time with (horrors!) mirrors, fit ladies in black leggings who seem perfect and intimidating looking equipment can heighten apprehensions of the body conscious client. Many have not exercised before, are not aware of how to exercise and often are at a disadvantage as their body weight is now on display. Some are middle aged or older, others mourn their pre pregnancy leanness and still others have used food as a lifetime excuse not to move. Others have made gym related New Year's Eve resolutions only to realize how hard it is to keep a consistent schedule.

As a middle aged Pilates Instructor, I have worked with the overweight and obese client for over ten years, their comments are similar.

'I am too fat, everyone is looking at me, I can't do these things, I hate these other women, when can I come in when no one is here, why do you give me all of the hard exercises that I can't do, I don't have abs, I don't fit on the Reformer, I need another sip of water, a fresh towel, a break, etc.

This constant negative self-talk inhibits the listening ability of the client and slows the process down, which may be the intention. They are the first to complain, cancel appointments, not show up for appointments or have imaginary ailments then posting on Facebook about what a great time they are having elsewhere.

How to counter this:

Negative energy will bring you down so avoid reacting to it. They likely did not start this behavior with you, nor with Pilates so it is not your fault. You as the Instructor need to remain positive, as you know that your training is solid and that the Pilates method has help many clients become healthy.

It is easier to address this in a private session instead of a group. Addressing this destructive talk straight on helps, while continuing with the appropriate exercise sequence. The client wishes to distract you, or to draw you into their well of self-pity, as they are happy to find a new audience.

Starting with modifications in the beginner series and shortening the length of the session can likely minimize this. It is important to keep the clients mind engaged, and make sure they are listening to you at the pace that the exercises can be understood, avoiding endless cues when the client is several actions behind.

Have them focus just on you and your cues, keep them in the present so to avoid side conversations. Above all, stay positive! They need you.

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