For most of my time in the fitness world, I refused to identify as a “fitness” person. I didn’t want people, especially clients and patients to think I was obsessive with my diet and lived at the gym.
Because to me, that was fitness. I wasn’t, and am still not into fitness. Or at least not that kind of fitness. It turns out that fitness is bigger than what I thought it was and what I was shown and exposed to 24/7. Just because the industry standard seems one way, doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever.
In fact, it’s time for a change.
It’s time to shift away from obsession, restriction, and extremes; and to move towards acceptance, variety, and the middle ground.
Diet culture has had a firm grip on the fitness industry for too long. It has led to literal OBSESSION over food, exercise, and our bodies. To the point that we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves. All we know is dieting and weight loss, even at the expense of our health. Don’t believe me?
Think about these questions for a moment:
How many foods are on your “do not eat list”?
How many social activities have you missed due to feeling guilty for skipping a training session or not being able to eat your pre-planned meal?
How many times have you found yourself eating a food until you’re sick because you have restricted it from your life for so long you feel you have no willpower?
How often do you ignore your body’s cries for a rest day, only to drag your exhausted butt to the gym and put it through yet another grueling workout where all your lifts sucked and you weren’t able to make progress, or worse yet, injured yourself…again?
How many times have you tried on a pair of jeans and cried because they didn’t fit. And then preceded to run down your list of things you’ll do starting Monday to finally lose that weight. How often do you wonder how everyone else seems to have so much self-control and willpower with eating?
It can be super frustrating. And disheartening. I know because that was me. Years ago.
I would start out really well with the whole gym and eating healthy thing “under control” until life threw me a curveball (because that’s what Life does). Whether it was a switch in my schedule, a poor night’s rest, a party, the gym equipment I needed being used, it didn’t matter. Literally anything would throw me off. And I’d tumble right down into a fuck-it-all spiral. Any “willpower” I had would evaporate. My logical brain would take a nap, and my emotional brain would take over.
Sometimes that would look like giving up on my entire training session for the day. Or maybe just my normal eating habits for the entire weekend. At worst, it would look like giving up on all of it alltogether for months.
It happened over. And over. And over again. A cycle of being “on” and “off”.
Unfortunately this is the story of almost every single woman I work with. If this is you, you’re not alone, and I’m here to let you know that nothing is wrong with you.
Well, nothing except that maybe you’re surrounded by diet culture and it’s caused you to become obsessed with dieting, fat loss, being thin, and manipulating your body into some obscene social standard.
Diet culture has us all thinking we need to be dieting 24/7. That our entire purpose on this planet is to present bodies that are good to look at. That we aren’t worthy until we have achieved that mission.
It has us complementing weight loss and judging weight gain in friends, family members, and people we hardly know. It’s made us think that confidence is earned through creating a thin, “perfect” body.
It has allowed Multi-level Marketing (MLM) Companies to exploit our emotions, frustrations, powerlessness, and desperation with flashy words like fat burning, catabolic, anabolic, clean, etc.; sexy transformation pictures over a short period of time; and empty promises of finally getting the confidence and happiness you have been searching for.
The irony of it all? We seriously suck at creating long-term weight loss. At least 80% of weight loss is unsuccessful, and 95% of diets are unsuccessful in the long term.
So what gives?
If it isn’t working, it’s time to change something. It’s time to stop chasing fat loss and shrinking and a perfect physique and obsessing over fitness. It’s time to start learning how to actually care for your body, and create sustainable long term habits.
We have to shift away from this obsession with weight loss, and start focusing on behaviors that promote true health & well-being.
How can you know what your body needs for the day if all you can think about is fat loss?
Maybe if you were able to check in with your body and get some rest when your body needed it, you wouldn’t feel that your willpower sucks, because your brain would be able to help you make better decisions. Yes, that actually happens- too little sleep results in less logical thinking (pre-frontal cortex) and more emotion-driven decision-making via an increase of the emotional center of the brain (amygdala). This makes you more likely to engage in risky behaviors with less logic.
All that is science talk for “less sleep = less ability to make smart decisions that will benefit your health”.
When you are chasing fat loss, all that matters is getting in your exercise to burn calories. Your decision-making is clouded by an obsession with manipulating your body instead of caring for it. This is why most people skip rest days even when they need them or will literally trade sleep for exercise. They are too attached to “burning calories” and are afraid they’ll gain weight. When it’s all about weight or fat loss, guilt and shame keep you from being able to make decisions for your health in the long term.
That is the never-ending cycle of diet culture.
Switching gears away from weight or fat loss and towards behaviors that nourish your body is like lifting a 12 ton weight off your shoulders. It allows you to:
- Give yourself permission to rest when you need and to make decisions that are centered on what your body needs.
- Heal your relationship with food.
- End the restriction <–> binge cycle that is holding you hostage from staying consistent.
- Eat a doughnut on a Sunday morning, and feel satisfied after 1 or 2, without feeling guilty that you “fell off” again.
- Eat and move on with your life.
- Enjoy exercise again.
- Focus on the life experiences your body provides for you.
- Enjoy your life again.
Letting go of weight loss and dieting allows you to take back your power that’s been stolen through diet culture, a little at a time. It starts with letting go of fat loss and the idea that your happiness and worth are tied to how your body looks.
While we can’t control every reminder and reinforcement from diet culture, we can control how much of it we support with our time, energy, and money.. And in that way, we can be the catalysts for change in the fitness industry.
Here are 10 immediate action-steps you take right now:
- Surround yourself with people that remind you that there is more to life than dieting and living at the gym.
- Delete or block all your MLM friends that want to sell you their newest “clean” shake or 21-day transformation challenge.
- Stop following accounts of people who you think are “body goals”.
- Start following a vast array of bodies on social media, especially ones that look like you. Fitness and health do not have one “look”.
- Buy yourself clothes that fit you NOW that you feel good in.
- Support, like, and share content from anyone who promotes these messages and emphasizes health over just fat loss and achieving a particular physique.
- Invest in coaches and programs that are credible and don’t prey on your insecurities.
- Remove yourself from conversations and relationships solely focused on self-deprecating comments and dieting.
- Fire coaches or trainers who prescribe very restricted diets, shame you for not sticking to their plans, or encourage the “no excuses” mindset that makes you feel guilty for skipping a gym session for some rest.
- Stop buying waist trainers and sucking in and trying to shrink. Let your belly relax so you can breathe and utilize proper core stabilization strategies.
We can change the face of fitness. Diet culture doesn’t have to be this rampant. It is up to you and me and everyone to upgrade the industry.
We’re in this together!
PS. I’m not anti-fat loss. If that is your jam, cool. I am here to help those who struggle and obssess due to the constant reminders from diet culture that we need to be small and thin and obsess over shrinking. I am well aware that some people may benefit from fat loss for their health, but the statistics show we suck at sustainable fat loss. Therefore, something needs to change.