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UK Coaching Team
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Improving Physical Ability Supporting Specific Needs

Deconditioned to Reconditioned: Size Doesn’t Matter When it Comes to Getting Fit

Being plus-size hasn’t held Lauretta Johnnie back. She told Blake Richardson that if you are overweight or obese, you can still get fit – and be a valuable asset to the fitness industry. The 20 (something) stone Personal Trainer has busted a few myths while motivating overweight people to get active and adopt healthier lifestyles

If I say “female personal trainer” to you, what image flashes into your mind? If you are being honest with yourself, you will probably have conjured up a picture of someone with a svelte figure clad in a colourful Lycra leotard. Perhaps she has perfectly toned legs – perhaps he has a six-pack.

Enter Lauretta Johnnie, a 20 (something) stone qualified fitness instructor. I doubt she fits your mental picture. In fact, she is the total antithesis of how most of us envision fitness professionals.

I have walked into a studio and have been asked, 'When is the teacher arriving?'," she recalls.

But being plus-size has not held her back as a Personal Trainer, for the simple fact she is good at her job. She has shown that, if you are overweight or obese, you can still get fit and be a valuable asset to the industry.

Lauretta is shattering stereotypes and busting myths, forcing people to reconsider their perception of fitness, as she motivates overweight people to get active and adopt healthier lifestyles.

“People who see themselves as unsporty may dismiss the idea that they can become a coach,” she says.

“The same can be said of people who are overweight. It is nonsense, of course, and, by the same token, overweight people should not consider exercise as an option that is off-limits to them.”

Encouraged by her energy and enthusiasm, those who attend Lauretta’s classes see her as a role model for likeminded individuals who want to make the move back to fitness and good health.

 

 

A new strategy which is all-inclusive

There is widespread concern about the rising obesity crisis, which is endangering lives and is a drain on NHS resources, with local authorities and leading health charities issuing stark public health warnings.

Sport England highlighted in its new five-year strategy, Towards an Active Nation, research that shows more than 1 in 4 people (28%) in England do less than the recommended 30 minutes’ physical activity a week.

The research also shows that those who do the least activity stand to benefit the most, even if it is just small changes like gentle jogging, swimming or taking your dog for longer walks.

As Sport England Chief Executive Jennie Price said during one radio interview to promote the strategy’s launch: “It’s fine not to be perfect – the main thing is that you’re doing it.”

With more Sport England investment than ever before being channelled into mobilising the most inactive members of society, it stands to reason that a lot of those people will be overweight.

Activators like Lauretta have a key role to play in helping arrest this slide into inactivity and improve the health crisis which the UK finds itself in – with 62% of the population currently obese or overweight.

Obesity is the most curable disease and I am happy to be working on the ground changing lives,” she says.

Personal journey

Lauretta has an infectious sense of humour. When she expands on her own personal battle against obesity, she is as funny as she is frank.

She founded Full Figured Fitness on the back of her interest in exercise for plus-sized individuals, and was further galvanised following some negative personal experiences attending exercise classes as an overweight person.

In the past I have attended classes and danced or exercised until I was exhausted, only to find out it was just the warm-up!”

She decided to qualify as a Personal Trainer and has gone on to add a raft of other certificates and fitness qualifications to her portfolio.

She knows exactly what it is like to not be flexible enough to bend over and pick something up or to struggle to get up from a chair.

Having seen her weight peak at over 27 stone, she says: “I needed walking sticks to get around, even at home. I still need to lose more weight and have got a long way to go.”

She refers to her personal weight loss journey as a “work in progress”.

Understanding obesity

Lauretta is practicing what she preaches, and that has endeared her to her clients, which includes Sport England, who approached her for input into the award-winning This Girl Can campaign.

Being overweight and unhealthy is linked to a multitude of health conditions. Getting active can help minimise these problems, however Lauretta agrees that there are lots of different causes of obesity besides over-eating and lack of exercise.

These may include:

  • Psychological: emotional deep-rooted issues, stress, boredom, self-harm.
  • Biological/disease: ill health, medical issues such as hormone imbalances, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome, reliance on medication.
  • Societal/social: peer pressure, culture, food environment, boredom, lack of knowledge regarding sugars in foods and understanding of portion size.

We need to go beyond the easily fashioned stereotypes and realise that for some people, the fat on their bodies may be a cover for deeper psychological and emotional problems,” she says.

 

“There are often many underlying issues why people are inactive and eating beyond their biological need and we must try to gain understanding from their point of view, not just from what we think they should be.”

Lauretta feels the focus should not just be about losing weight, it should instead be about motivating and supporting people to get active and making healthy lifestyle changes and choices.

Weight loss will naturally happen as a result of getting fit and putting those changes into practice.

“Let us not forget you can be healthy even if you are overweight,” she adds. “You can be metabolically fit – have normal blood pressure, basal metabolic rate (BMR) etc – and be plus-sized. But being overweight may predispose you to have certain conditions, like coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure or insulin sensitivity.

“You can also be overweight and malnourished. Equally, you can be underweight and unhealthy as much as you can be overweight and unhealthy,” she says.

So, is it flippant, I ask, for health organisations to publicly pressurise people to lose weight?

She says: “I agree optimum health should be encouraged, but not to the detriment of the target audience. In other words, do not promote self-hate or fat shaming.

I don’t want to promote hating your body but for me I didn’t like being so unfit and unable to function properly. I could not walk across a room, I had walking sticks, and I didn’t want a life like that.”

Put your to-do list into motion

Through personal experience, study and speaking to overweight people, Lauretta has gained a deeper understanding of the mindset of those who struggle with their weight.

She finds she can motivate others to change and build their confidence levels.

“Not everybody wants to be slim, but people do want to be fit. Getting slimmer will come with getting fitter. I focus on the fitness and getting people moving.”

Lauretta enjoys seeing the look on people’s faces when they achieve what they once considered to be the impossible.

We don’t want participants stopping because it is too challenging, but we don’t want to make it easy for them either. You need to understand them and their individual needs.”

Lauretta recommends plus-size individuals thinking about taking the plunge speak with their doctors first to get medical clearance.

Once given the green light, consider putting these suggestions on your to-do list:

  • Do engage in some research on the benefits of exercise.
  • Do consider training with a qualified professional.
  • Do get a training buddy for support and accountability.
  • Do set some personal goals to help you become more focused and committed to your exercise.
  • Do ask around about local classes and consider taking up a sporting activity that you enjoy.

Whatever you do, get moving and do something. Small steps can lead to big strides in improving your fitness, health and well-being.

Related Resources

  • Get Healthy, Train Safely

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  • Understanding the Role of the Coach in Nutrition

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  • Reducing Physical Inactivity in Adults

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UK Coaching Team