I started my coaching career in a “globo” gym. The personal trainer on our staff and the owner of the gym never saw eye to eye, and after a blowout argument in the back office one night, we were left without a fitness instructor. I was just out of high school, and worked at a gym because I liked working out, and I needed to make money to help pay for college. The owners of the gym saw that I had a good understanding of training, and had made great results for myself, and asked if I was interested in filling the now vacant position. They offered to pay for any certifications and necessary education to obtain them, so I agreed. And a few months later, I was taking on clients.
Jeremy’s progress after six months of training. He was consistent with his workouts, and made some adjustments to his nutrition. When I told him he could probably have made even more progress if he had really dialed in his nutrition he said “It’s whatever, I feel good and I’m happy with how things are going. I’m not going to beat myself up if I never get a six pack.”
When I first started coaching, I thought I had to be an expert in biomechanics, kinesiology, nutrition, and a whole host of other science related topics. I studied my butt off, and went from standing at the front desk, checking people in, ringing up gatorade sales, and mopping floors, to being in charge of people’s physical future, and that’s when I quickly learned a very important lesson. All the scientific knowledge may be a prerequisite to doing the job, but it’s only half the battle. For most, the idea of being fit has deeply rooted emotional ties. Many people begin exercising after a bad break-up, not just to make themselves more “marketable” to new potential partners, but to help relieve stress, or distract themselves from the emotional fallout that comes with ending a romantic relationship. Others start exercising because they fear losing their partner. Many people start because their doctor tells them if they don’t do something they won’t live to see their kids or grandkids grow-up. Whatever the reason, it’s very rare that someone steps into our gym and says something clinical like”Having normal blood pressure is very important to me.” The reasons, are almost always much deeper than that.
Most also start exercising under the premise that something is “wrong” with their body. It has too much fat on it, its muscles aren’t big enough, certain segments are too big in circumference, some segments are too small in circumference, it’s not shaped like a “V” or an “hour glass.” It’s too weak, too slow, or not durable enough. Couple the premise of something is fundamentally “wrong” with you, with a strong emotional investment, and you are setting yourself up for disaster. “Body Positivity” is the counter to the idea that something is fundamentally “wrong” with us.
Where does Body Positivity fit in?
Fitness can be measured in almost an infinite number of ways, but each individual has their own measuring stick. Coaches and trainers should try their best not to influence the goals of their clients, but sometimes the goals of the clients do boarder, or crossover, into dangerous territory. Because client’s goals are so deeply rooted to their emotional self, dissuading someone of a potentially harmful goal can be difficult. You may be wondering how “harmful” exercising or dieting could really be, but there are hundreds of examples. From people passing out on bicycle rides due to under eating and over exerting themselves, to having heart attacks from steroid abuse because they are obsessed with being “bigger,” or people developing eating disorders like bulimia because their relationship with food and their own body was absolutely destroyed. These, of course, are more extreme examples, but I’ve also seen young men develop tendonitis in their elbows from doing push-ups and curls every single day, and young women abandon their social life because they are too afraid of indulging in “bad foods” when out with friends.
The idea of Body Positivity seeks to be a counter-concept to all that. It’s the idea of appreciating your body for its positive attributes, rather than just focusing on its “short comings.” Every person I’ve ever coached in my 12 years as a professional has had strengths, and they’ve had weaknesses, and the amount of people I’ve seen give up on themselves, because they didn’t make progress in one single aspect of fitness, despite making immense progress in so many other areas, is heartbreaking.
Being Skinny Won’t Make you Happy
Something that doesn’t get talked about a lot in fitness, is the danger of a client actually reaching their goals. It doesn’t get discussed for two reasons: Many people self-sabotage before they achieve their goals, so the success rate is low, but also, no one really wants to admit that sometimes when someone reaches their goals, things get worse. If you’ve told yourself that the thing keeping you from being happy is the adipose tissue around your midsection, what happens when you trim up that waist, and you’re still miserable? Why do you think so many professional athletes lives fall apart after they retire, or people’s lives are ruined after winning the lottery? Happiness must come from within, and that is what body positivity promotes. If you think your life is going to be drastically different having six-pack abs, I promise you, it won’t be. Instead of being chubby and miserable, you’ll be hungry and miserable.
What Body Positivity is not
First of all, body positivity is not taking a hypersexualized photo of your body, and using the hashtag #bodypositive. Being positive about your body comes from within, posting provocative photos of yourself to garner “likes” on social media is seeking validation externally. That’s not body positive. There are also those who are quick to label anyone trying to be positive about their own bodies as “lazy” or “excuse makers.” Their elitism is thinly veiled with claims of how overweight people cost taxpayers money by driving up healthcare costs. Ironically these same people have often indulged in illicit drug use to help them achieve their ideal aesthetic, or suffer from a whole host of untreated mental health issues related to their poor relationships with food or their own bodies. While there undoubtedly may be people out there who fly the body positive flag as a means to justify their very clearly unhealthy habits, the overall message of the body positive movement is an important one: Take time to recognize the amazing things your body can do, while you’re working to improve the things it cannot.