Archives for February 2020

Fitness, Mental Health, Triggers and the Gym

There are many reasons that people have problems with exercise or going to a gym. It usually has something to do with bad experiences that may have to do with problematic expectations, a focus on losing weight, feeling like you don’t fit in and don’t know what to do and just feeling like, after seeing how the fitness industry talks to people, fitness just isn’t for you.

This is very real for people.

In this video I just want to talk about mental health, triggers and how it all relates to fitness and the gym, and no, I’m not just goping to recommend that everyone sucks it up and heads to their local gym. That may not work for you.

Also, in this video I highly recommend a couple of books. I want to give you the links.

Castro Valley Fitness

The F*ck It Diet – Caroline Dooner 

Anti-Diet – Christy Harrison

Please let me know how your feel about this or if you want to talk through a few things.

Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Level 2 Lean Eating Coach, Egoscue PAS
Castro Valley Fitness
2861 Grove Way

Our Nutrition Philosophy

Recently we started a small group at Castro Valley Fitness. It’s a group of people who want to start thinking about nutrition and their body in a different way.

Through years of coaching people through the process of “losing weight” I started to see problems.

Big ones.

I thought it was important when I started the group to lay our nutrition philosophy out there so that it was clear that we are going to be doing something very different here. I wrote this up and I thought it would good, and possibly kind of ground-breaking, for many people to read, so here it is.

By the way, if you’d like to see the kind of work we are doing in our group, just reply to this email and we can talk about it. The group is open to anyone but we’re limiting it to 10 people total. Here we go:

“What do you want to do?”

“Lose weight.”

I’ve had some version of this conversation hundreds, if not thousands, of times in my years as a personal trainer. If I had to pick the one thing I hear most, this would come in second. (We’ll get to number one soon.)

People just reflexively say, “Lose weight” as if it’s the only goal worth attaining. In reality I think people just say it because they’ve been told over and over throughout their lives that it’s what they SHOULD want. That goes triple for women who are told in many ways from the time they’re little girls that the most valuable thing they can be is small and pretty.

In this group we reject these notions.

We will talk about nutrition here, but that is only a part of it. We are going to talk about why, “I know what to do but I just can’t do it” is the number one thing I hear most.

The reality is that we really do know the vast majority of what we need to know about nutrition. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you a few questions:

  1. What has more nutrients, an apple or a candy bar?”
  2. Should you eat fruits and vegetables?
  3. What has more nutrients, fried chicken or grilled chicken?

I’ll bet you knew the answers to those questions and I’ll bet you think I’m kidding when I say that you don’t need to know much more than that. I’m not. This is the level of knowledge most people need to have a pretty healthy diet. Society at large does not have a knowledge problem on this issue.

Now you may be asking yourself, “If that’s all I need to know, why is this so hard?”

The answer to that is 42.

Now I’ll bet you’re really confused.

Unless you know about The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

In that phenomenal book (one of the funniest ever written) it’s revealed that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. The problem is that no one knows what the actual question is.

Kind of like nutrition.

We are asking the wrong question.

We are focusing on weight loss when we should be focusing on something else.

I’ve come to believe something after all this time and all of the conversations I’ve had over the years. I’ve come to believe that most of the time, weight loss is actually damaging. I know that you’ve been told quite the opposite but stay with me for a minute.

What have you all been told all these years? If you can’t lose weight it’s because you’re weak. Unmotivated. Unfocused.

What you haven’t been told is that losing weight and keeping it off is incredibly hard. Even harder if you have a job, a family and anything in the world you’d like to do other than prep and weigh food.

How about what happens psychologically when you lose weight in an unsustainable way (keto anyone?) and what happens emotionally when you gain it all back. Now you have the double whammy of feeling like a failure because you couldn’t sustain an unsustainable lifestyle and feeling valueless because of your size.

Does this sound empowering to you? Does this sound healthy to you?

If everyone tells you to lose weight so you can be healthy and happy and the whole process of losing weight is unhealthy and makes you unhappy WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE REALLY DOING TO OURSELVES?

I’m not even going to get into what happens physically when trying to lose weight causes us to stress LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE TIME WE THINK ABOUT FOOD OR EAT ANYTHING AT ALL!


You might be a little confused now. What’s the point, huh? Why try? I’m going to ask you to think of things a little differently. Instead of focusing on your weight, I want you to focus on what you really want.

Do you want to be healthier? Focus on that. Do you want to feel fitter? Focus on that. Here’s the thing:

when you focus on what you really want you have a

much better chance to achieve it!  

Oh, and if you think you really want to just lose weight, you’re wrong.  You want what you feel losing weight will get you.

That’s what this group is going to focus on.

What we really want. Not what we’re told we should want.

We are going to focus on things that actually empower us, not make us feel small.

We are going to focus on things that actually make us healthier, not things that stress us out and demand disordered and unsustainable activities like most diets do.

We are going to focus on ways we can start living a more full and vital life RIGHT NOW.

Let me be clear about this: We will not talk about weight loss here. We will be doing check-ins every week that may reference goals we have set. None of those will involve weight loss. If you agree to this and still step on your scale each day you will be sabotaging what we are trying to accomplish.

Let me clear about this, as well: You may, in fact, lose weight in this group but you may not. Either one of these things is fine as long as you are advancing in the work we are doing.

Success will not be measured on the scale here. We are forming a new model. One that will ultimately be a lot more rewarding than a mere number that society tells us reflects our personal worth.

We will be concentrating on the process of being healthier both mentally and physically through focusing on things that empower us.

I know this approach may seem foreign to you. That’s OK. It’s only by stepping outside of our comfort zone that we can truly achieve what we are trying to achieve.

If you still don’t know about this, I want you to ask yourself what focusing on weight loss alone has gotten you. Has it helped you in any way?

I am so excited you are a part of this group. I truly believe that getting this information out there can make the world a better place and you are at the center of it!

Once again, if you’d like to hear more about about our group please let me know. Thanks for reading! 

Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Level 2 Lean Eating Coach, FMS
Castro Valley Fitness at 2861 Grove Way

Biggest Loser Returns: My Thoughts

“You’re not going to yell at me, are you?”

Jillian Michaels being a

Not what we do

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to a prospective client when they asked me this. It always surprises me because it’s the exact oppposite of everything I believe and I don’t think I give the impression of someone that would yell at a client. Then I realize their only exposure to personal training is probably The Biggest Loser. When I think of that, and then think they still want to come to me for help, I realize how important getting healthy is to them and how desperate they are for something, ANYTHING to work.

I’ve been training people for over 10 years and I haven’t yelled at one person. I can’t imagine doing that. It goes against everything I believe.

I was pretty surprised when I saw that The Biggest Loser was coming back on the air. I thought that all the controversy saying that contestants took drugs to help lose weight, grave physical and psychological affects were suffered by the contestants, contestants metabolisms were permanently damaged by the extreme weight loss methods they were put through, most of the contestants have regained most if not all the weight back, among other things would put this thing off the air for good. I guess not.

According to the article I read they are going to change things up now and focus more on holistic changes for their contestants. According to USA Networks president Chris McCumber, “We’re re-imagining The Biggest Loser for today’s audiences, providing a new holistic, 360-degree look at wellness, while retaining the franchise’s competition format and legendary jaw-dropping moments.”

Sounds good, I guess.

Last week I decided to take care of all my loyal readers and “take one for the team” as the saying goes. Basically,  I watched the season premiere so you don’t have to.

I told myself I’d go into it with an open mind.

Maybe they updated the problematic focus on weight loss at all costs.

Maybe they’ve started to treat their contestants like actual people instead of like things they can attack and punish for having the inexcusable audacity of being big.

Maybe they’d give their viewers a real look at how to establish sustainable fitness and dietary habits that allow them to live healthier lives based on their personal values.


I’m sure you’ve guessed that this is not what they’ve done.

Let’s go over it.

The show starts off innocently enough. All of the contestants seem very excited to be there. You may recognize the host, Bob Harper, who was previously one of the trainers. He’s always come across as the “nice one”. He assigns everyone to be on one of two teams and they’re all happy.

Interspersed throughout are different profiles of the contestants and their struggles. A general theme from them is some kind of emotional or phyisical trauma in their lives and a lot of emotional eating.

Let me clear about this next point.

This is very real and it can go very deep. Fitness can, and likely should be a big part of the recovery process, but a personal trainer is just not qualified to truly deal with this in the deep and meaningful way it deserves, any more than a psycho-therapist would be qualified to help someone with movement patterns relating to back pain. 

Another important point here is that for someone dealing with these kinds of issues, a focus on weight loss is likely to be extremely counterproductive! Especially when factoring in what this show considers important, which can best be described as “losing weight is the only thing that matters!”

Back to the show.

The next thing we see is their first challenge. Everyone has to run a mile and the team that finishes first gets a 6 pound advantage at the first weigh-in. Now, I’m not going to mention (well, I guess I am) the fact that running is a high impact activity and that the average person takes about 2500 steps per mile. So they’re asking these people, who we know aren’t in the greatest physical shape, to essentially do 2500 reps of a high impact activity and then judge them for how poorly they do it. There are basically three possible outcomes here.

  1. They do well
  2. They don’t do well
  3. They get hurt

Options 2 and 3 are by far the most likely.

Let me describe two scenarios to you surrounding the same activity (running a mile) and please think about the one you feel would lead to a better experience with physical activity and a more sustainable lifestyle change for someone who has had a history of bad experiences with exercise.

  1. People are pushed into going as fast as they can no matter how they feel and are made to feel inadequate, like failures and like they let their team down for not going fast enough.
  2. People are asked to go for a mile at a pace that feels good and are encouraged to keep a healthy pace. When they finish they are congratulated for taking a great first step toward getting healthy.

Yes, I know that insulting and belittling people probably make for more exciting TV than encouraging and supporting them, but now we’re starting to get to the heart of the problems with this show and why the statement about a “360-degree holistic view of wellness” rings so false.

There is a lot of talk after the run about the contestants getting a “wake-up call” about their physical condition, as if it’s something that hasn’t dominated their thoughts for years. What they really experience is nothing more than a public shaming. This does nothing more than confirm to them that physical activity is just a punishment for being big. Not something to be enjoyed. Not something that can be part of a healthy and meaningful life for them. Just a punishment.

Let me ask you how eagerly you’d look forward to doing something that has been demonstrated to you over and over again to result in you feeling like an incompetent failure.

Anyway, after they complete their run we next see them all huddled together in what looks like the living room of the house they’re all living in. Bob tells everyone that this is going to be the most important room in the house. This is where they will all get together and talk about their experiences. He then adds that they can’t lose the weight without addressing what is going mentally.

This actually gets pretty emotional as Bob shares his story of almost dying from a heart attack about 3 years ago. He talks about waking up from a coma not knowing where he was, how he had to conquer his fear of physical activity and about how he was petrified of even entering a gym after the doctors cleared him to exercise.

Harper learned he has a hereditary condition involving high levels of lipoprotein (a) in his blood, a particle that contributes to plaque in the arteries and blood clots, and can increase the risk of heart attacks.”

According to the article it’s a little known condition that doctors don’t commonly test for.

I don’t want to make light of this at all. He was in a coma and almost died while seeming by every appearance to be in perfect health. It is great that he is trying to relate to the contestants by showing them how he has been able to overcome his fear. Helping people to face their fears is a crucial step for anyone to be able make healthier choices in their lives.

I just want to point out one seemingly obvious thing that is never mentioned:

Maybe since Bob Harper seemed to be the epitome of health at his size and bodyweight there is more to be considered when thinking about health than just size and bodyweight.

After this we see what is called the “Last Chance Workout.” This is the last workout they do before their weigh-in. Of course, the trainers are talking it up and telling everyone how hard they have to go.

Let me say this: The idea of one single workout making any kind of major difference in someones physical condition or body weight is the exact opposite of everything I believe in. I believe that is also the belief of any other conscientious trainer.

The body just DOES NOT WORK LIKE THAT!!!!!

This is the kind of thinking that gets people to feel good or bad about themselves based solely on what their scale says each morning.

I wonder if I’m a failure today?

In case you didn’t know this let me tell you, it is nearly impossible for the body to gain or lose anything significant other than water weight or glycogen (a substance your body stores in its muscles and uses as energy) over the course of one workout, one day or even several days. When you get up in the morning weighing 2-4 pounds more or less than you did the day before all it means is that you’re storing more or less water. Not that that you have gained or lost fat.

This knowledge, of course, isn’t something that makes for exciting TV. It’s much better to drive everyone into the ground and dehydrate them as much as possible. That sounds healthy and sustainable, right?

As a trainer, this is the part of the show I hate the most. There is nothing at all we see during these workouts that is effective for the long-term. Quite the opposite in fact.

Here is a quick rundown.

At one point a contestant says while obviously exhausted, “I’m in so much pain right now.” Let me tell you that if I heard anyone in my gym say that they wouldn’t be continuing that workout.

Again I ask, is doing something that makes you utter that statement likely going to be sustainable for you?

We see three different people puking into buckets and we even hear trainer Steve Cook yell at one point in reference to the other trainer, Erica Lugo’s team, “She’s got people puking! You guys aren’t working hard enough!”

Puking is not a sign that you are having a good workout. It’s a sign that you should probably stop what you’re doing.

We hear someone say that they feel dizzy and light-headed. Again, NOT WHAT WE WANT FROM A WORKOUT!!

We actually see Erica tell one contestant that she should feel light-headed because she’s pushing herself so hard. Again, NOT GOOD!!!

Predictably, we then see this poor contestant puke and Erica telling her to “Get it out” while her head is in the puke bucket. Presumably so she can get back to the workout.

We hear one contestant tell Steve that because the workout is so hard “I don’t know if I even want to be skinny.” Steve answers back, “It’s not about being skinny. It’s about being healthy.” On the surface this statement couldn’t be more true. Unfortunately nothing going on with this workout is even remotely in the same hemisphere as healthy.

The form on display with almost every exercise is horrible. In seeing this, I’d be shocked if there weren’t several injuries that occurred during this workout alone.

Exhausted people + bad form = problems

I know I keep coming back to this, but they talk such a good game about teaching their contestants sustainable, healthy habits. Nothing about this kind of workout is healthy, sustainable or even effective! It is only meant to exhaust and dehydrate people.

This is the kind of thing that is incredibly damaging. Not only to the poor people on the show, but to those watching, as well. The implication is that this is what you have to do to get healthy. Nothing else will do. If you don’t, you’re a failure. You don’t have the willpower. You don’t work hard enough. Forget everything else you may have accomplished in your life. It doesn’t compare to losing weight.

What do people think when they watch this? I can’t do that. I don’t want to go to the gym and puke and be in pain. I don’t know what to do but I don’t want to hire someone just to yell at me and make me feel worthless.

It breaks my heart to see this and know what people must think. Knowing that what they’re seeing is the polar opposite of what really matters and works.

Last up is the weigh-in. This is where we see how much weight the contestants have lost during the week. It’s not uncommon to see that people have lost over 10 pounds. During this weigh-in the weight loss ranged from 6 pounds to 22 pounds.

Do I need to tell anyone that losing this amount of weight in such a short amount of time is problematic and very unhealthy? Every bit of research done on this topic has shown that anyone losing weight like this is almost certain to gain it all back and then some. Likely, with a huge bit of emotional stress on top of it. Again, there is nothing healthy or sustainable about any of this.

There is one woman on the show who was previously a contestant in the Miss America pageant. They make it pretty clear how much more valuable she was in her thinner body as opposed to her bigger body that hasn’t done much of worth except raise a family, I suppose.

I guess you can tell that I’m not a fan of this show. It creates unrealistic expectations and practices methods that have shown beyond a doubt to be ineffective for long-term health at best and very damaging both mentally and physically at worst.

I hate how they try to present the methods as healthy and sustainable when they are anything but.

I hate how they completely ignore methods that have actually been shown to help people.

I hate how they make sport of punishing and shaming the people on the show and through them, millions of other people.

I hate how the show gives an incredibly wrong impression of what fitness and health are and how to achieve them.

I hate how the show prioritizes something as meaningless as bodyweight.

It’s obviously something I feel pretty deeply about. One of the things I think about most is how to make people understand what really works when it comes to fitness. Nothing about this show promotes anything but unhealthy, outdated and disproven methods and attitudes about fitness, diet, body weight, body size and health in general. I hope this helps clear some things up for you.

Thanks for reading this and please let me know if you agree disagree or have any questions. This is a very important subject.

Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Level 2 Lean Eating Coach, Egoscue PAS, FMS
Castro Valley Fitness
2861 Grove Way