The Fitness Community and Body Image

Hi everyone! Welcome to my blog. I am so excited to be able to use this blog as a platform to share my fitness related thoughts and knowledge. This post is near and dear to my heart and it's something I have been meaning to share for quite some time. I want to talk about body image in the fitness industry and how it impacts folks inside the industry and outside the industry. I'll start by saying that I have struggled with body image for most of my life. I became overweight in high school and later lost 50 pounds through diet and exercise. This had a very profound impact on my life. Being overweight impacted me emotionally and physically. I was teased and I felt unworthy. I was also physically tired often. I wanted to be thin so badly. So, I ate 1,600 calories per day and began power walking daily. Eventually, I reached my goal weight and I was ecstatic. But that feeling was accompanied by a crippling fear of going back to being overweight. I developed a fixation with healthy eating and disordered eating patterns. I would do anything I could to avoid going back to being overweight. This included dieting, purging and chewing food and spitting it out.

Despite my terrible relationship with food, I became enamored with fitness because it made me feel empowered, confident and emotionally charged. I was always putting in my maximum effort to get better, faster and stronger. I was hooked on the feeling of achievement that fitness gave me. I wanted everyone to feel as amazing as working out made me feel. So, I decided I would become a personal trainer. As a personal trainer, I could truly help people lose weight and have more confidence than they ever thought possible. This was my calling and I moved to Philadelphia from Upstate NY right after college to pursue my dream.

I loved being a personal trainer and I still do. However, I had not considered the impact that being in the fitness industry could have on my already shaky relationship with food. Clients would frequently ask me what they should eat to lose weight and some of them were already at a healthy body fat percentage. I was always trying new "plans" to optimize my leaness because I felt it would make me marketable, so I always had suggestions. I'd encourage them to track their calories or pay attention to their macros. Of course, these things can work. But I was missing the ability to recognize that motivation for weight loss must be positive in order to be truly healthy. If wanting to lose weight is motivated by a feeling of inadequacy, then the journey becomes challenging. Minor setbacks begin to feel like failures when you perceive that you will be "better" when you lose weight. The truth is that we are great either way. We are still worthy regardless of our size. Of I could go back in time, I would tell these clients that they are incredible just as they are.  Despite this, the fitness industry if flooded with ads promoting lean and chiseled bodies and slogans like, "Get fit for Summer." I believe there should be a greater emphasis on the myriad of other positive things exercise can do. Cardio can make your heart stronger and more efficient. Exercise is as effective as anti-depressents in treating depression. For folks in their 50s or older, exercise can help prevent damaging falls. These are things that bring real value to a person's life.  Let's focus on embracing our value as human beings, six pack or not.