Why the Fitness Industry Should be Talking About Body Image

This month, February, marks 10 years that I’ve been working in the fitness industry. Woooheee. That’s a long time to be pushing push-ups! From the beginning of my tenure at BCSF we never marketed our program to be about 6-packs or getting beach-ready bodies. We promoted ourselves to focus on the fun of working out, about getting the most effective workout with smart instructors that knew the human body inside and out. So that is to say, there’s never been a time where I helped to market fitness in a way that was shaming.

But if you would have asked me my thoughts on why we did this 8 years ago, I would have told you that it’s because we weren’t a cheesy, shallow program. That we were a serious program and serious programs just didn’t need to do that. I liked it, of course, but I didn’t think about it *too* much.

Back when I started with BCSF, I was on the periphery, doing administrative work. It wasn’t until 4 years later that I started teaching classes. And I suppose that is when I really started to consider how prevalent shame was in the fitness world. I remember distinctly the first time I told someone in my class that we don’t do “negative self-talk” in this space. It was kind of a liberating feeling to give people this strong boundary that evoked positivity.

But, overall, body image was a tough, elephant in the room kind of topic for me. It was really hard to wrap my head around the idea that as a trainer I could be body positive to everyone. To every shape and size. That isn’t to say I didn’t FEEL that way — I did. I just didn’t know how to admit it. Because it felt like a cognitive distortion to say I am a trainer, someone that makes a living helping people change their bodies and on the other hand say that body size didn’t matter to me. Like, I felt it was somehow my professional obligation to believe that healthy = skinny. And since being healthy was always my ultimate goal, I felt torn. I didn’t know how to reconcile these two facets of my world.

pullup image get unstuck

In short:  I knew I had these feelings about body image positivity, but I could never quite put my finger on how to truly promote this. In the freaking fitness industry.  When I started reading Erin Brown’s work about 3 years ago is when I started to feel less alone in my thoughts on body image.

Since then, I’ve spent countless hours considering just how and why we should be talking about body image in the fitness industry. Because I am certain I am not the only trainer that has struggled with this. And to be frank, I’d say society at large probably would suggest it’s a joke that the fitness industry, which they likely see as generally the type of people in #fitspo images, would even consider talking about positive body image. But I’m here to tell you that, I’ve come to the assertion that the fitness industry is actually the perfect and most obvious choice as a venue for talking about body image positivity.

And here’s why:

We’re Already Talking About Bodies. A LOT. It’s literally what we do. We talk about how they move, where they move, limitations on movement, how to improve movement. It’s seriously BODY, BODY, BODY over here. Why in the hell would we not consider talking about these things in the fitness industry?!

We’ve Kind of Fucked up. We are part of the problem and I kind of feel like when you break something, you should help fix it. Just check out the #fitspo hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. It’s not good stuff people. It’s full of jacked ladies and men espousing the no excuses mentality onto the world. They have forgotten that inspiration should be positive and empowering. The fitness industry at large thinks that making people feel shitty about their bodies is the best way to sell their products. And I suppose that the dollars follow this, but the crazy thing is, is that research consistently shows that lifelong change in people comes from positive, intrinsic motivators. It’s possible that the fitness industry would be even more financially successful if they helped people find those positive motivators, eh?

It’s Our Bread and Butter. We are our clients inspiration. We are modeling an “ideal”. Most of us feel it’s our duty to walk the walk when it comes to being fit – right? We feel the need to keep up our fitness routines because being a trainer that doesn’t exercise would feel inauthentic. Right? But I challenge you to consider how authentic it is to be a trainer that isn’t body positive. Bodies are how we make a living. So, if your attitude shows signs of being negative towards the bodies of some individuals is this authentic?

We Have the Power. Within the world of fitness, we have the power to teach people skills that help them appreciate their bodies for what they can do, rather than what they look like. Almost every woman I know that lifts heavy, lifts for reasons beyond looking good. It becomes about lifting more weight, about getting better at technique and becoming fascinated by the process of lifting rather than the chiseling of our triceps and delts.

 

The ultimate irony is, in my opinion, that when you’re approaching fitness from this perspective some interesting things start to happen. One, we often get more fit. Why? Because we’re training because WE LIKE IT. When we like things we do them more often and more consistently. And because we are training more often, we often get those muscles and definition we were originally seeking. It’s kind of a funky, cool, little feedback loop.

flexingsillycat

So, truly, in my opinion there is ABSOLUTELY no downside to being a trainer that espouses a body positive attitude. You might fret that you are less legit as a trainer, but trust me, you’re not. It’s not wrong to think of your clients as awesome human beings that are capable of so much and that are valuable far beyond how jacked they are.

And frankly, ultimately all it takes is acting kind towards your clients. Pretty sure we can all do that right? Right. Good.

 

 

The Unsexy Truth About Dieting

Why do I say that moderation is the best way to eat, the best way to lose excess fat?

It might seem intuitively wrong to say that, right? Because we all know that restrictive diets will cause you to lose weight. I know someone right now that has lost 26 pounds on his own prescription of a vegan diet with zero to little protein.

Funny enough, though, I have never met a person that can restrictively eat and remove entire food groups from their diets for years on end. And the thing is? Most of us don’t want to be at a healthy weight for a little while. We want to be at a healthy weight for a lifetime.

green goddess

Moderation is honestly the only thing we as humans will actually do for a lifetime.

Because you will slip-up on that plan. You will eat more carbs than your low carb plan “allows” you to eat. My friend above will likely be noshing on steak and pizza before April Fools Day.

But besides dealing with the physical act of what binging can do to you, the problem becomes: how do you handle it when you go off of the “program”?

For most people what happens is that they enter a cycle of self-loathing. It begins with “I was so bad.” Then a shame cycle turns into the What-The-Hell Effect. Or, as I like to call it, the “I might as well finish the whole box…” effect.

jenny cooks lamb

Here’s how a well-adjusted eater handles that instead:

*Understands that restriction breeds cravings. We want what we can’t have.

*Practices self-compassion when they eat something less than healthy or overeats. They know this one food, this one meal, this one slip-up doesn’t mean anything about who they are as a person.

*Understands that a restrictive diet is merely an experiment and that there is no holy grail program of healthy eating (trust me, I would have found it, if there was!).

*Understands that what you eat doesn’t have any moral bearing on who you are a human being. You’re not bad for eating a bowl of ice cream. You aren’t awful because you perceive yourself to have less will-power

Now, if you feel like you’ve tried moderation and it didn’t work, there are reasons for that too. Moderation takes work to develop how that looks for you:  for example, you still can’t overeat, just because you’re not following a strict plan! Really, it all comes down to laying down a base of good habits. Habits are the key because they become a part of “I don’t have think about this, I just do it” spot in our brain. It takes less effort to make healthy choices, when it’s simply a part of what you do every day. The more we have to fret over a choice, the more likely we are to choose the one we are most familiar and comfortable with.

protein pancakes

For example, I don’t have to think about washing my hair so much — I can just do it because I’ve done it thousands of times before. This is how fit and healthy people are about all the aspects of their fitness and eating lives. Trust me. If you’ve ever wondered how some people have all the luck and being fit just comes so easy to them? Well, firstly, you are right:  it does come easier to them. But it’s not because they are better than you, but because they’ve made it a habit.

The good news is that literally anyone can re-frame things in their life to make healthier choices the go-to, the obvious, the more comfortable choice. It won’t happen overnight, but trust me, it will happen. And I say this as someone that thought plain yogurt was “weird” 10 years ago to not being able to leave Whole Foods without a pint of the stuff these days– I can safely say that your tastes, your preferences? They aren’t as set in stone as you might think. You’re malleable. It might take you hundreds of baby steps, with 50 steps back every month…but it will happen!