After spending much of his young life at a healthy weight, Lee Jordan began steadily gaining mass in his 20s. He reached a top weight of 450 pounds and was living what he refers to as a “nightmare of a life.” Inspired by his friend Beth, an ACE-certified personal trainer and now his wife, Lee began his journey to health and fitness by walking 30 seconds every morning down the hallway outside his apartment. Now, more than 275 pounds lighter, Lee is an ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach who specializes in helping people who need to lose 100 pounds or more.

Lee works alongside Beth, who runs a boot camp in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and serves clients through in-home personal training and live video training over the Web. Beth’s passion for health and fitness began with a tragic accident—a broken back. Instead of surgery, she elected to take a different approach by turning to exercise. Now she helps a wide range of clients use fitness to overcome physical limitations that stem from obesity, cancer and other conditions.

ACE: What elements of the obesity epidemic do you feel we, as a society and as health and fitness professionals, often overlook?

Lee and Beth Jordan: We always talk about the devastating statistics and mounting costs caused by the obesity epidemic, but allow us to point out what those numbers don’t reveal: The single mom of four small children, who is almost 420 pounds and housebound because her feet can’t fit into shoes. The mom who must tell her children she can’t go to see them receive an award at school
or perform in a play, but she loves them just the same. The mental anguish and suffering she feels, knowing, “This is my fault,” and wondering what will happen if she dies in her sleep, suffocated under the weight of her own making.

ACE: What are some special considerations that health and fitness professionals should take with significantly overweight or obese clients who may be beginning their journeys?

Lee and Beth Jordan: Body measurements, skinfolds and even weighing aren’t necessary to design a safe program. In fact, these steps will likely send clients into a panic and damage rapport. Many, if not all, obese (especially morbidly obese) clients are extremely ashamed and embarrassed by their size and shape, and they have likely suffered direct or indirect demeaning and shaming behavior because of it as well. Think about how you would feel if the one part of your life that garners the most shame and regret was on public display every time you left your house. What if a stranger with the “perfect” life and body then wanted to examine and touch and measure that shortcoming? It’s important to be aware that you touch clients only when absolutely necessary and even then you always ask for permission and wait for it to be granted before proceeding.

Exercise program modification and design are also critical to working with obese clients, especially since simply decreasing the number of reps or amount of load may not be an option. Keep in mind that getting on the floor is often a scary proposition. Additionally, many or most machines may not fit the bodies of obese clients, who can often go anaerobic within a few minutes or less, even when doing light cardio.

From a planning perspective, have multiple options available, including things like breathing and mental exercises. Make sure you always convey that those exercises are in line with your designed plan. If clients think you modified their program because they “failed,” it will validate the negative self-talk already in their heads.

ACE: What misconceptions—if any— do you believe health and fitness professionals have about people who may be struggling with their weight or with attempts to adopt healthy habits?

Lee and Beth Jordan: In attending conventions, symposiums and workshops hosted by IDEA and ACE, we have met and spoken with many caring and talented fitness professionals. The topic of how to help people who are struggling with their weight and are trying to adopt new, healthy habits creates an instant crowd fueled by the desire to assist but mired in frustration. The discussion quickly turns to what exactly is going on inside the mind of an obese client. The primary misconception is assuming that behavior change is more about devising better motivation (“carrots”) and not helping people improve their choice management or architecture.

The task is not motivating the “lazy” client but molding his or her thoughts about choices. We have to teach clients that success doesn’t come through the all-or-nothing thinking they often use.

ACE: What equipment or training styles have you found effective in helping overweight or obese clients to achieve their goals physically and stay motivated?

Lee and Beth Jordan: [Lee] My physician-endorsed “30 Seconds to Victory” program, which utilizes many of the principles discussed in the ACE Health Coach Manual, is designed to achieve extraordinary results through ordinary actions done daily. Its name is derived from my personal journey, which began with only 30 seconds of exercise.

Our other go-to principles include

  • motivational interviewing and skilled listening to determine where clients
    are and where they want to go;
  • technology (texting and apps like MapMyFitness) that shows you are available and enthusiastic about helping to keep clients accountable;
  • choice cards, which help clients work through choice management and architecture, teaching them a sustainable skill and moving them toward
  • heart rate monitors, which help
    advance clients safely while developing their inner athlete and building accountability; and
  • the BOSU® Balance Trainer, which is our number-one physical tool because it builds confidence while improving balance and core strength.

When a client is faced with losing 100 pounds or more, it is a bit like trying to drain an Olympic pool with a shot glass: The client works and works and works,
and then he or she steps back exhausted, only to see that the pool looks the same. This is why daily monitored, measured exercise is so critical. It offers an opportunity for you to show noticeable improvement in feelings of empowerment and consistency.

ACE: What advice would you give to health and fitness professionals who may be having trouble engaging with their overweight or obese clients?

Lee and Beth Jordan: Your instincts may tell you a client needs some “tough love” or a better understanding of the gravity of his or her health situation. Available evidence suggests that this, in fact, is not only a failed strategy but also a practice that results in weight gain. Our first rule of communication is this: It’s not what we say that counts; it’s what clients hear. Use your motivational interviewing skills and determine how best to say things in a way each client can really hear and understand.

Editor’s Note:

Bridging the Gap is a series of interviews conducted by ACE with professionals throughout the fitness and allied health industries, as well as our partners in the corporate world. ACE hopes this column will start a conversation among those entities about the impact of the obesity epidemic and how we can all work together to eliminate it by 2035.

Cedric X. Bryant, PhD

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