body positive

A Letter to Fitness Instructors

Copy of Dress to Kill.png

Hey all! I hope you are having a great week! This post is a way for me to get out something that has been weighing on my mind lately and to hopefully make a difference.

I have been taking some awesome group fitness classes at the same studio(s) for the past 3 years. I can't even believe I have been going that long since I was so scared to go in the first place but here I am, still taking my place at the barre most days of the week. They offer a wide variety of classes, none of which are easy. They are fast-paced, high energy, kind of addictive and I like them. Maybe I like them too much. I started because I wasn't happy with my body but I've continued because it makes me stronger and better in many other ways. I've mixed up my schedule over the past 3 years with different classes, different times and different instructors trying to find which ones suit me best. I have a few instructors that I prefer and I few that I tend to avoid, but I think that is the same for most everyone. I need someone that plays great music, can keep my attention for the full hour and puts me in a great mindset. I don't think that is too much to ask for (eye wink, tongue out emoji).

Over the last year or so I have been paying much more attention to what is said by the instructors during classes, and it's mostly great. But there have been times that I've thought to myself, "wow, did you really need to say that"? Maybe because of my work with Intuitive Eating. Maybe because I feel that no one should feel guilty about their body size or what they ate or drank last night. Maybe because I feel exercise is not a form of punishment. I am more aware of my previous disordered eating and thinking toward food and exercise, maybe even some orthorexia behaviors. This has made me a little more sensitive to the words spoken during these fitness classes. I know that I am not the only one that is dealing with orthorexia and disordered eating. There could also be some women in the classes with a full-blown eating disorder. So, words matter. They matter a lot to someone who could very easily be triggered by those words to continue the disordered behavior.  

So what kinds of things might be unmotivating or triggering in a fitness class? 

  1. Talking about being there to workout because of something you ate or drank the day(s) before. Food shaming. 
  2. The instructor talking about their own guilt due to eating or drinking habits.
  3. Talking about burning calories as motivation to keep going. 
  4. Showing or talking about a big calorie burn after class. 
  5. Saying that cardio is the most important part of the class. 
  6. Talking about needing to earn something by working harder (earning a meal, a drink, a relaxing day, etc)
  7. Talking about fitting into skinny jeans or a bathing suit and tank top for summer. 

So, I am certainly not saying that these types of comments are causing eating disorders or disordered eating. I am also not saying that I hear them often where I personally do fitness classes. These comments can, however, trigger someone who is already experiencing it to continue with those behaviors. They can change a mindset from positive to negative pretty quickly and put the focus on negative thoughts and behaviors vs. positive ones. And, to the fitness industry, I get it. I get that people are coming in to change their body. I get that people want to be leaner and stronger. I get it. But I think if the focus is on the good stuff, they will want to keep coming back and if they are taking classes like I do, their body will change. 

Here are some eating disorder statistics from The National Eating Disorders Association:

  • Between 3-4% of women and 1% of men will suffer from anorexia at any given time.
  • The best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness.
  • Among overweight and obese adults, those who experience weight-based stigmatization engage in more frequent binge eating, are at increased risk for eating disorder symptoms and are more likely to have a diagnosis of binge eating disorder.
  • There is a strong link between exercise compulsion and various forms of eating disorders. 
  • An estimated 90-95% of college students diagnosed with an eating disorder also belong to a fitness facility. 
  • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.

What are some positive, motivating comments that can be made in fitness classes? There are lots of ways to do this. Dig into the mindset, the psyche, and the heart. We all go to work out for different reasons but we all have a heart and mind in addition to our body. I reached out to one of my fitness instructors a while back to thank her for having positive comments on mind, body, and soul instead of how we look. She nails it every single class! She made a comment in last week's class that she is "bored with focusing on looks" and instead we should be "loving ourselves and our people well", which I totally appreciated. Here are some other ways to provide motivation in a positive way:

  • Share a positive quote or a word to think about for the day
  • Encourage participants to set a goal or intention for the class 
  • Tell the class how great they are doing or how strong they look. It doesn't have to be individualized. 
  • Talk about how lucky/grateful they are to be moving their able bodies.
  • Tell them it is just as effective to do a modified form of the exercise. 
  • Anything else motivating and encouraging that doesn't talk about looks, size or calories/food. 

I love fitness and I love being part of a fitness community. I have my own reasons for going to work out and they might be different from the next person. No matter what those reasons are, we deserve to feel good, positive vibes each time we walk through those doors. Let's put the focus on well-being and not just on calories, food shame and body size. Words do matter and can make a difference in someone's life and their struggles.



How to Have a Body Positive Holiday

Photo credit: Photo by  Pro Church Media  on  Unsplash

Photo credit: Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

It's Thanksgiving week and I am really looking forward to some good quality family fun. We are going to eat, drink, play games, laugh and tell the kids no 500 times but it's going to be great. To be honest, that isn't something I usually say around the holidays. I am usually anxious about the food, the drinks, the conversations, and so many other things.

What are we having? What and how much am I going to eat? Is there something for everyone? Did I eat the appetizer too close to meal time? Is there enough food for everyone? Do I eat the crust or not? Do we have to talk about what diet everyone is on? Do we have to talk about how much weight everyone is trying to lose? Do we have to talk about how great everyone else looks in their jeans? Do we have to talk about food the entire time we are together (yes, that often happens with my family!)?

All of these anxieties = eating more = feeling worse.

I am so much more aware of how things and words make me feel as I'm more aware of my problems with body positivity and disordered eating. I also know that the worse I feel about myself, the more I try to manage what everyone else is doing or having. "Wow hunny, that's a lot of stuffing" may be a phrase I've said a time or two.

I really have been much better and happier around food recently and I'd like to just ride that on into the holidays. I try to focus more on the environment and the experience of enjoying time together rather than if my face will be puffy in the morning from my dinner.

Photo credit: Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Not everyone understands the thoughts and anxieties of someone struggling with eating problems ranging from an eating disorder to emotional eating and that's ok. Not everyone understands the triggers that can really send you spiraling into a dark hole of never-ending negative thoughts and that's ok too. So I thought I'd share some tips on how to have a positive holiday gathering while trying to avoid unintentional body and food shaming, especially if you have someone at your gathering that might be a little more sensitive and my guess is that we all do.

1. Avoid talking about weight.

This includes their weight, your weight or anyone else's weight. We are all probably guilty of saying how great someone looks or commenting on how much weight they've lost (or gained...seriously who does that?). It places an importance on weight and weight does not define someone. Compliment someone on their beautiful sweater or something else. Ask about their kids, their job, black Friday plans or anything else that might be important to them.

2. Don't discuss what is or isn't on their plate.

Everyone is in charge of their own plate and what is going in their own mouth. Commenting on their food could make them feel like they are doing something wrong or like everyone is watching them. I don't feel like it's harmful to give a shout out to the chefs during the meal, however.

3. Don't discuss how long you will need to spend at the gym after eating the pumpkin pie!

Just eat the pie and enjoy it for goodness sakes. It won't go to your ass tomorrow, FYI. This should not be normal talk by anyone anyway. But it could validate someone with disordered eating behaviors that might normally have those thoughts. Exercise should not be punishment for eating.

4. Offer an activity to do outside of the kitchen.

Make it easy to step out of the kitchen and not be near all of the food and everyone talking about the food. Have a coloring station. Maybe some board or card games going. Turn on the football game.

The holidays can be a time where it is easy to trigger negative thoughts in someone with current or previous disordered eating. It is obviously unintentional but the brain doesn't always decipher the difference. When in doubt, discuss politics...just kidding =).

Let's be thankful for our loved ones, our able bodies and the food that nourishes them. I am looking forward to keeping the holidays super positive and enjoyable this year and I hope you do as well.

Happy Thanksgiving friends!