If you’ve read my work before, you already know that I am a Health at Every Size advocate, working to fight weight stigma and support body respect in ALL bodies. Why do I do this work? Because weight loss programs and even some fitness programs are seriously harming both our physical and mental health. From obsessive thoughts, undereating, weight cycling, relationship problems, sleep issues, and more, the diet industry is incredibly hazardous.
Before I was a Health at Every Size and Mental Health advocate, I was (and still am) a Fitness Professional. I’ve been teaching group fitness classes for over ten years and love encouraging fun ways to move our bodies.
The Fitness Industry Can Be Destructive and Exclusive
In 2008, I remember learning in a Group Fitness Instructor Training Program to never give cues like “slimming thighs” or “toning arms” while leading a group fitness class. However, they had group fitness classes called “Washboard Abs” and “Calorie Killer.”
In 2013, I was part of a “Love Your Body” week at another university but remember the majority of the Group Fitness Instructors being in smaller bodies.
In 2016, I led a fitness workshop on Positive Language. I taught instructors how to encourage movement for wellness, not for body image aesthetics and calorie burning. I was also the lead coach for a fitness challenge and was required to measure participant’s thighs, hips, waist, and arms both pre and post challenge.
What’s wrong with this picture? The inconsistencies are so clear to me today, after reading Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon. I thought I was promoting body respect but was seriously derailed by the fitness industry and thinking that I’m fighting a “War on Obesity.” These ideas are heavily ingrained in fitness culture. Want to learn more about why weight loss isn’t healthy? Check out my blog post “Why You Should Stop Dieting and Start Living Your Life”.
The Way We Talk About Ourselves Matters
Almost daily, I encounter someone using language that feeds the socially constructed “thin ideal” or the idea that we need to “exercise to burn calories/earn food.” Just in the past week, I’ve heard some of the following:
- “I’m so sad I haven’t been able to come to class in a few weeks; I can feel my belly getting jiggly.”
- “Now I can have that cocktail later!” as the participant leaves the class
- “I need to workout everyday between now and Saturday when I leave for the beach!”
In these moments, I’m usually not sure how to respond. I know exactly why people have these thoughts and say these things. We are often taught the myth that smaller bodies are better/prettier/healthier. Smaller bodies are unhealthily praised. The notion of the “thin ideal” is shameful, non-inclusive, and therefore, harmful. For more info on why we shouldn’t encourage or praise weight loss, read this blog post: Here’s Why I’ll Never Compliment Someone’s Weight Loss.
Let’s Work Towards Changing Our Language
While I can empathize with people making these comments about “getting ready for beach body season,” I do wish I could help them modify their language to be more self-compassionate. Here’s some things I want them to know:
- Your body deserves love and respect as it is, right now.
- Food is fuel and can also be enjoyed. We don’t need to “burn it off” or “earn calories for later”.
- It’s unlikely that you can shame yourself into health. Compassion and listening to your body is a better path to your wellness goals.
- Carbs aren’t bad. No food is bad. Food is food.
- There are a ton of other really amazing and interesting things about you, besides the shape/size of your body.
- You don’t owe it to anyone to look a certain way.
- The size of your body has very little to do with your health. We can be healthy at a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
This work is very important to me because I regularly witness the lack of empathy towards people in larger bodies. If you are someone or know someone who struggles with body acceptance, is on a diet rollercoaster, or could just benefit from talking to someone about these issues, please reach out! I can either support you or refer you to someone who can.
I love movement and hope to help others find enjoyable movement. However, the majority of the fitness industry needs a serious overhaul before it does more damage.
With good intentions,