This Brooklyn Gym Focusing On Positive, Health Body Image Has No Mirrors Or Scales On The Premises

If you are like any of the other few billion people around the world who has at some point struggled with low self-esteem or negative self image, you will have no doubt tried any of the well-known tips and tricks that are usually recommended by magazines or media – diets, fads, and of course various gym routines. But going to a gym or a fitness center can be intimidating at times, especially with all those mirrors everywhere, and can become a turn-off.

If any of this sounds familiar, then you will love hearing about this particular gym. Located in Brooklyn, NY, the Very Personal Training center is designed to be an antidote to all the barriers for people who are intimidated by other centers. It was opened in August 2010 by founder Dani Tsukerman to specifically cater to the aforementioned type of gym-goers.

VPT is far more than just a place to get toned for the summer (as if we’re not already being bombarded with those articles now that the season is approaching…) or to lose weight. It is a place focused on helping each client being at their optimum health focusing on lifestyle coaching and nutrition services as an integral part of any workout.

“I wanted to create a place for people like me, who feel stuck,” she recently told SELF magazine. While there are a number of fitness centers focusing on healthy lifestyle and nutrition, VPT ensures this is their focus by foregoing mirrors and scales. You won’t hear any “beach body” talk around this place.

“We don’t have scales, we don’t do measurements, we don’t ask you how much you weigh, we don’t care. We set goals if you want to, but it’s really movement for the sake of moving, just because you can,” Dani told SELF.

While her clients may not initially know how different this place is and immediately ask about losing weight etc, Dani says she is able to pivot their focus away from weight loss to confidence building and helping them set goals for that instead.

“One goal might be that they want to wear a swimsuit, so it doesn’t matter if they look good in it, just that they have the confidence to do it anyway. We don’t do bride workouts, but [we want to help] someone feel confident walking down the aisle…People have anxiety because they don’t think they look good or know what they’re doing,” she explained.

A quick look on the VPT website and you will see empowering messages already sharing a mission that is very different to the “LOSE WEIGHT NOW” and “get those summer abs you’ve always wanted”-type statements so common in gyms.

“It’s about being proud of your body through safe, engaging sessions that transform what you see in the mirror. It’s about clearing your mind of the dangerous and damaging influences of fad diets, fad workouts, and pop media‘s insistence that whatever shape you have is never the right one,” says a description on the site.

Dani’s desire to create a safe and affirming space for any body type and mindset came from her own journey, struggling to accept her body the way it was. From the age of 7 she started to dislike the way she looked, feeling guilty about eating certain foods, and by age 11 she had begun testing out diets. When she was 15, Dani had spent so much time restricting her diet that she weighed only 100 lbs. She knew this was wrong but found it hard to change her habits.

“The 1 percent of me that couldn’t let go kept winning…I felt so alone because I couldn’t share my secret with anybody…I forced myself to be so afraid and try anyway. I forced myself to do the thing I feared the most, which was eating,” she said.

She ended up in hospital for 3 months due to her heart rate being so low, and her body stopped menstruating as she weighed so little. After leaving hospital she starting binging and purging, before moving onto her next body obsession in college which was exercising excessively. She hired a personal trainer at a gym which then became the catalyst for an idea which would eventually become Very Personal Training gym.

Her personal trainer allowed her to learn about not being afraid of failure, as well as learning to do things she had no idea her body was capable of. It completely changed her mindset on the whole purpose of taking care of your body and fitness in general.

“[My trainer] started training me and my whole world opened up. Something shifted for me, I didn’t realize this was what I needed…To do things I couldn’t before and own it and be super proud of it gave me this pride and confidence,” she told SELF.

On the VPT website, Dani shares more about how she is using her personal experience to help others.

“I struggled for years with my own weight and body image issues. I’ve been seven different sizes and nothing I ever tried seemed to work. Through fitness I learned so much about my own body, how all bodies actually work, and most importantly, myself. I was finally able to realize that “perfect” doesn’t exist, put the old me behind me and let go of the things that were holding me back,” she writes.

“After years of work studying the connections between exercise and nutrition, the psychology of weight management, and of course exercise science and programming, I finally felt and saw results. That insight and expertise is what I use to train your body and help you clear your mind in a way no mega-gym or quick-fix diet can touch.”

Dani became a personal trainer herself and realized after working in gyms that the emphasis on losing weight and the presence of scales and mirrors were triggering in many ways. While weight loss is something she includes in her plans with clients if they want it, Dani makes sure that isn’t the focal point of why they are there.

“I wanted it to be not about the number or what you ate yesterday, but about what you feel today. I don’t care if you run an 8-minute mile, I care if you’re doing it out of punishment. I don’t care if you ate brownies, I care if you feel guilty,” she said.

Prospective clients can choose from one-on-one sessions to group classes where they will have the opportunity to set personal goals that benefit them as a whole, not just to look good or lose weight. It’s not about competition with others or achieving any sort of “standard”.

“We don’t name classes things that are like, ‘ASSet’ that say that’s what you’re working on and that it should look certain way,” she said, adding that there is no focus on one particular body part.

Having struggled with disordered eating, Dani says she and her training team will not work with anyone who currently has an eating disorder unless the have been sent by a therapist. This is where the focus on lifestyle counseling, good health and positive body image become integral. She wants to help “carry the burden” of those struggling with an eating disorder.

“We work with people who have a toxic relationships to food and themselves. And we show them how to get out of that toxic relationship…We’ve helped countless people understand there’s a different way and you don’t have to do it alone and you can be honest about [your struggle]. And I’m not just teaching something in a textbook, it’s something that I’ve lived. I can help you. If I can do it, you can,” she said.

If this sounds like the kind of gym you wish was more common, you are not alone. If you are in the Brooklyn area, go check out Very Personal Training, or read more about their mission on the website.


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