Q&A

Trainer Louise Green on be­ing big and very fit in a judg­men­tal world

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

LOUISE Green, aka Big Fit Girl, has spent the last 15 years sup­port­ing and en­cour­ag­ing other women of size to defy stereo­types by em­brac­ing their bod­ies and dis­cov­er­ing their ath­leti­cism. Orig­i­nally from Liver­pool, Louise, 45, now lives and works in Van­cou­ver. Her new book, Big Fit Girl (Grey­stone Books), tells her per­sonal story and of­fers prac­ti­cal ad­vice and in­spi­ra­tion to plus-size women.

WHAT SET YOU ON THE PATH TO FIT­NESS?

I’d made many at­tempts to get fit over the years. I was liv­ing a very un­healthy lifestyle – I smoked and drank, and par­tied at the week­ends – but had a deep de­sire to be a run­ner. Some­times I’d drive to the track, do one or two laps and then drive home. But there was al­ways that neg­a­tive chat­ter in my head: ‘Who are you kid­ding? You’re never go­ing to do this…’

WHAT WAS THE TURNING POINT?

When I was 29, I signed up for a 12-week learn-to-run course. I was ter­ri­fied – con­vinced I’d be the big­gest, slow­est one there. Then the trainer, Chris, ar­rived and she was plus-size, too. It was the first time I had seen a woman of size as a run­ner. The fact that this per­son could be a coach al­tered my per­cep­tion of ath­leti­cism – and the way I viewed my own body. I quit smok­ing and drink­ing and started tak­ing run­ning se­ri­ously. Ev­ery­thing changed from that first ses­sion. That is why it’s so com­pelling for me to be that per­son for oth­ers.

IS THE LACK OF ROLE MOD­ELS FOR PLUS-SIZE WOMEN IN SPORT AND FIT­NESS A BIG IS­SUE?

Yes. Imag­ine if you picked up a fit­ness mag­a­zine and saw a range of sizes and ages. What­ever de­mo­graphic you might fall into, you could iden­tify with some­one: ‘Oh, there’s some­one who looks like me. They’re do­ing it, maybe I can, too.’ It gives you an in­vi­ta­tion into the sport. At the mo­ment, the stigma around body size makes fit­ness un­ap­proach­able for mil­lions of women.

HOW DID YOU GO FROM RUN­NER TO TRAINER?

My per­sonal trainer sug­gested I vol­un­teer as a run leader for the Sun Run, a 10K race in Van­cou­ver. I was hes­i­tant, but she said, ‘You can do this’. She saw some­thing in me that I didn’t be­lieve was there. As soon as I started, I knew it was what I was meant to be do­ing. I loved telling peo­ple who didn’t be­lieve that they could do it, that, yes, they could cross that fin­ish line. Six years later I re­trained as a per­sonal trainer and launched my busi­ness, Body Ex­change, a plus-size fit­ness bootcamp.

WHAT SORT OF DIS­CRIM­I­NA­TION DO PLUS-SIZE RUN­NERS EN­COUNTER?

It’s con­stant – con­scious or sub­con­scious. When I reg­is­tered for my first half marathon, the vol­un­teer au­to­mat­i­cally reached for the 5K race pack with­out even ask­ing what dis­tance I was do­ing. I’d trained my butt off! And there’s the sup­pos­edly mo­ti­va­tional – but con­de­scend­ing – cries of ‘Good for you!’ from other run­ners dur­ing a race. Or I’ll go into a run­ning store and be asked, ‘Are you look­ing for some shoes for walk­ing?’ Com­ments like this make it clear that my body size is not viewed as be­ing ca­pa­ble of sig­nif­i­cant ath­letic pur­suits. Peo­ple need to be care­ful about mak­ing these stereo­typed as­sump­tions.

YOUR FO­CUS IS ON WOMEN. WHAT ABOUT PLUS-SIZE MEN?

Sure, men need pos­i­tive role mod­els too, but it’s not the same. Larger men are more widely ac­cepted and paid large sums of money in the sport­ing world, for ex­am­ple in box­ing and golf. At the same level, larger women are of­ten over­looked.

YOU LI­CENSE OTHER TRAIN­ERS TO TEACH PLUS-SIZE WOMEN. DO THEY HAVE TO BE PLUS SIZE THEM­SELVES?

No. But I make sure they can un­der­stand the is­sues big­ger ath­letes face. There’s no un­der­ly­ing sham­ing about body size. We don’t say things like ‘bikini sea­son is com­ing, let’s work hard!’

WHY DON’T YOU REC­OM­MEND DI­ET­ING?

Calo­rie re­stric­tion isn’t an area I’m com­fort­able with. Di­ets don’t work. In North Amer­ica, the stats show only five per cent of peo­ple keep off the weight they lose – and yet we keep putting it in front of peo­ple. Al­most all the women I work with have been chron­i­cally di­et­ing for most of their lives. Most have not been ex­er­cis­ing. I’m not telling peo­ple not to lose weight – I’m of­fer­ing

‘ The stigma around body size makes fit­ness un­ap­proach­able for mil­lions of women’

an al­ter­na­tive that will lead to bet­ter health. Of­ten, when peo­ple are eat­ing nu­tri­tion­ally dense food and ex­er­cis­ing, weight loss is a side effect.

DO PEO­PLE ASK WHY YOU HAVEN’T LOST WEIGHT THROUGH EX­ER­CISE?

I’ve had peo­ple tell me I have no ‘right’ to do what I do for a liv­ing be­cause of my size. I tried to re­duce my weight for years and then I threw in the towel and ac­cepted it. My blood pres­sure is healthy, my blood sug­ars are in a safe range. We need to stop gov­ern­ing women and their bod­ies. This is my size and I tend to find that what­ever I do, I re­main within 10 pounds [4.5kg] of where I am now. [Louise weighs 15 stone (95kg)].

WHAT IN­SPIRED YOU TO WRITE BIG FIT GIRL?

My own ex­pe­ri­ences as a big ath­lete and what I’ve learned from work­ing with hun­dreds of plus-size women. I wanted to ad­dress an au­di­ence that has been ig­nored by main­stream me­dia and of­fer them an al­ter­na­tive route to health and fit­ness than the one pro­moted by the weight­loss in­dus­try. We need to cham­pion body-size di­ver­sity in athletics and open a space for women to live their ath­letic dreams in the body they have now. Not when they are thin­ner or fit­ter – right now.

WHAT HAS RUN­NING BROUGHT TO YOUR LIFE?

Ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing! Bet­ter health, greater self-worth, a new ca­reer. Run­ning has the power to re­ally el­e­vate some­one – to change the way they feel about them­selves. That’s what it did for me.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO A NER­VOUS WOULDBE PLUS-SIZE RUN­NER?

Walk through your fear. On the other side, the re­wards are in­cred­i­ble. Fit­ness is a ve­hi­cle to body confidence and feel­ing good. The other op­tion is to not do it – to stay where you are. Don’t let what oth­ers think be the thing that stops you from liv­ing your ath­letic dreams.

Louise Green is not a woman to mess with

PASS­ING IT ON In­spired by a per­sonal trainer, Louise now runs a plus- size bootcamp.

BIG STEPS Louise (right) has trained more than 1,000 plus- size­women

Big Fit Girl: Em­brace the Body You Have is pub­lished by Grey­stone Books, £10.99

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