Personal Trainer Teaches Us A Major Lesson With This Photo Of A Seatbelt

"This is a 'big' deal."
02/07/2017 01:51 am ET Updated Feb 08, 2017

Over five and a half million people across the United States have a gym membership.

In total, they spend 54+ million dollars every year in membership fees alone. Add this into the amount of money people spend on athletic wear, supplements, and products to “burn fat fast,” and you’re looking at a huge, moneymaking industry. It doesn’t take a lot to realize that, in the midst of ALL of this, the soul behind “getting fit” sometimes gets a bit… lost.

Do you workout to extend your life or simply to look great in Instagram selfies?

Do you push yourself doing cardio or lifting to improve your quality of life, or to fit into a specific dress size that you think is the answer to our eternal quest to happiness?

This week, LA-based trainer Blake Elarbee, CSCS, reminded us what fitness is really about, and illustrated a big lesson about life at the same time. He shared a photo of his client sitting in an airplane seat, wearing a seatbelt without an extender. His client (who started her journey to become a healthier and happier woman at age 37, weighing in at over 356 lbs, and unable to walk a single city block without stopping in pain) sat in her seat like this for the first time in years. For the first time since her early 20s, she did it without “worrying” about her body and the intense anxiety that comes with flying as an obese person.

The <a rel="nofollow" href="https://www.instagram.com/blakelosangeles/" target="_blank">photo that Elarbee </a>shared on his
Instagram / GreaterAt40
The photo that Elarbee shared on his social media that started it all!

Here’s the message he shared on his Instagram:

Ok guys, this is a “big” deal. For those that don’t know, my amazing friend/client Sarah is now under 300 lbs (down from 350+ when we started). Her journey is still just beginning to unfold, but I want to share this HUGE “non-scale” victory with you guys. First off, training Sarah has been an absolute pleasure, and incredibly rewarding for my own personal growth as a Trainer, but also as a human. I have helped hundreds of people build muscle, tone-up, and lose weight over the last decade of my career, but Sarah has been my largest client. My job has always been rewarding. Helping people change their body and improve their fitness, health, and physique is an awesome job. However, I have never seen someone’s life change as dramatically as Sarah’s has. Many of you may think that you can empathize with others people’s struggles by trying to put yourself in their shoes, but you really have no idea what they are actually going through. Have you ever had to sit next to someone plus-sized on a long plane ride and thought to yourself, “This sucks. This isn’t fair. This person should lose weight, or at least buy two tickets so I don’t have to be inconvenienced by their body touching mine and taking up MY space that I paid for.” I’m sure we’ve all thought or experienced that to some extent. Well, have you ever considered what it might feel like for THAT person? Do you think that they enjoy or want to make you feel uncomfortable? Can you possibly imagine how it must feel for THEM? Maybe it doesn’t bother them if they are an asshole, but Sarah happens to be the sweetest, kindest, most selfless person that I know. All she does is care about others, and you can’t possible imagine the guilt and anxiety a person so caring and understanding of others must be going through to have to inconvenience someone else AGAINST their will. When Sarah and I talked about this at the beginning of her journey, it really hit home with me. Her sharing her experiences with me has blessed me with a new level of empathy for others. That is why this is such an important milestone for us. For the first time, Sarah can fit into a plane seat WITHOUT a belt extender. I bet you didn’t even know they make belt extenders. Guys, the take home message here is, we ALL have things that we struggle with. Family, work, addictions, relationships, you name it. The only difference is Sarah has to wear her struggle on the outside. Every. Single. Day. She doesn’t get the luxury of hiding her struggle from others the way we get to so conveniently. The next time you are “inconvenienced” by someone else, first ask yourself, I wonder what it might be like for them. It will only make you a better person! Congrats Sarah! You can sit next to me anytime my Friend!

*Pardon me we have something in our eyes!*

In full disclosure, that client is me. I’m Sarah. And I’m sharing this for a few reasons.

First, to remind us what the heartbeat and soul of health and fitness are about; it’s not just a means to an end (like saying “I want to be thin for my wedding day” or “I want to get skinny because my boyfriend broke up with me”) but a lifestyle. It’s about becoming healthier, extending, and improving your quality of life.

Fitness isn’t about “selling you stuff” or shaming you into feeling you have to fit into a perfect-looking box. It’s when the art of self-improvement, setting goals, and smashing them becomes both the journey and the reward.

Unfortunately, this idea often gets lost. It drowns in a sea of products, marketing, and social media ― all of which often shine a spotlight on the “after” instead of the process.

Second…Because I know dozens of women who are scared to go to the gym for fear that others will make fun of them. Paralyzed to be judged, they stay rooted in place. If I know these women, then there have to be hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of others out there who are also scared.

Don’t be. Yes, there may be some judgmental people at the gym, but their judgments shouldn’t concern you. Their judgments speak more about their character than your worth has a person. There are more Blakes out there, and you can find them at every gym across the country.

If you are looking for a trainer, then advocate for yourself. Ask questions. Do the research. Talk to people. Everyone deserves to be believed in and supported when they are committed to self-improvement. No matter if you weigh 150 lbs or 350 lbs; the minute you walk into that gym and show up for yourself? You got this.

But mostly because every person in life can benefit from stepping outside their perspective to learn what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Are you judgmental of fat people? Do you look at them and go “Ew, gross, that could never be me” and scowl? How about practicing a bit of kindness and empathy first? This doesn’t just apply to overweight people but ALL people.

Many of us have pre-determined opinions about people, who they are and what they are worth based on their body, their appearances, their race. Some of these pre-fabricated opinions are small, and some are large. Do you automatically assume that…

  • People who wear glasses are smart?
  • Ripped, buff guys are meatheads?
  • All gay men are flamboyant, and all lesbians are butch and manly?
  • All Muslims hate Americans?
  • That the African American person walking down the street behind you wants to steal your purse?

See? Got you there. Maybe you laughed at the first few examples… but it got real when we talked about the “BIG”prejudices.

The thing is, all prejudices are bad. Across the board. Sometimes prejudices look small and harmless (like saying “fat people are lazy and gross”) and some look big and scary (like saying “Mexicans are drug dealers and rapists”).

In truth? One paves the road for the other. Prejudices exist because people form attitudes and judgments about social groups before they have enough information on which to form an opinion based on fact. Or, when, in the face of factual information, one still insists on believing what they believe because their opinion is superior.

If you can believe that all fat people are unmotivated and lazy, and you can believe that all buff guys are shallow, you can just as easily believe that all immigrants are dangerous. And that we need walls and bans to keep out the “bad guys” instead of looking honestly at who those “bad guys” really are based on fact.

So why does this even matter? Why am I telling you this story? Because this is how we grow. As people and as a society. This is how we make progress. By admitting we have pre-conceived notions of others and by being willing to learn that these pre-conceived notions are wrong. By stepping OUTSIDE of our experiences and being willing to be empathetic to others. To learn, and see, new things.

We’re entering a social and political climate that, for many people is scary. If you are unsure as to how you can contribute to making the world a better place, think about what you can control personally in your life. Do you have assumptions about groups of people? Are you willing to learn new things about them? Change starts within you; it’s an inside job. What are you willing to learn?

CONVERSATIONS