August 17, 2019: Intuitive Eating is the Answer
"This time will be different," you think. You're trying a new wellness plan.
You stick to it for some time. Until you don't. Until you "fail" yet again. The frustration boils up within you, and you're stuck in this guilt and shame bath of, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?"
You may even feel like you have everything else in your life together...but for some reason, you just CAN'T SEEM TO STICK TO A DIET.
You want to be healthy. You want to feel good. You want to get over your food/exercise struggles and the stress of body image.
And yet, every time you try... you ALWAYS fail.
Ready for a wakeup call?
You've probably heard the quote, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result" by Albert Einstein, right?
Ok, so here's what the "wellness" industry (#dietculture) doesn't tell you. Every single "wellness plan" out there... it's the same. It's either an obvious diet or a diet in disguise.
Every single plan operates on the fundamental idea of restriction of some sort. Sure, they may say, "it's not about eating less, it's about eating more of different things!" And yet, they're ALSO saying, "avoid this food and that food..."
Our mind handles restriction the same way every time, no matter what... you'll eventually "crack." We can only "will power" our bodies and our biology for so long until it's destined to fail.
And it's not your fault, it's the diet's. In fact, you "failing" means you aren't plummeting into an eating disorder like I did.
So no wonder you feel like you're going insane. You keep trying the same thing (with a different name) over and over again. So OF COURSE the results are the same.
So are you FINALLY ready to figure this out once and for all? To free yourself from the stress?!
Intuitive eating is your answer. It's quite literally the opposite of dieting.
August 11, 2019: You are Enough Just As You Are
I don't know about you, but I wasted ENOUGH of my life in this place of never-enough-ness.
I've wasted enough of my life stressing out about calories in and calories out.
I've wasted enough of my life living in 'diet brain fog" ... going throughout my days not fully present because of the internal battle in my head and insecurity in my body.
I wasted enough of my life feeling ashamed after a binge.
I wasted enough of my life hiding my full self from the world because I didn't think I was good enough to be seen.
I wasted enough of my life saying no to plans, staying in instead of having fun with friends, not being in the picture...
Can you all join me in saying ENOUGH IS ENOUGH? WE DESERVE BETTER. (Drop your fave emoji in the comments if you're with me!)
The way I see it, we have this one life to live. And I can either choose to stay stuck or choose a new way of living and being.
I want you to know that you don't have to live in the stress and distraction of diet culture. THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO LIVE.
I want you to know, on a deep level, that you are enough just as you are today.
I want you to know that developing a loving connection to your body and yourself is possible for you, too.
I want you to know that YES, you can get to a place where your mind isn't overrun with those loud inner critic thoughts.
I want you to know that YES you can have a life where hanging out with your girls is a thing of pure joy... where you're fully present in the moment, enjoying their company, rather than stuck in your head.
I have your back, over and over.
August 1, 2019: The 70 Billion Dollar Diet Culture Industry Profits From Making Us Feel Like CRAP
Our culture is a diet-obsessed culture. (Or these days, it’s “wellness obsessed”)
Everywhere you go, it’s in your face.
You watch TV… it’s in your face. You’re on Instagram or Facebook… it’s in your face.
Heck, your co-workers probably put it….
…in your face.
There's always a new diet “guaranteed” to work. A solution to fix all of your eating and body-issue (and life) woes.
The truth is they never work. At least, not long-term.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been on a diet that I didn’t eventually end up hating.
Hate? Is that too light of a word?
Ok, let’s go with despise.
And I would know. I’ve tried SO many of them.
Weight Watchers, Atkins, Paleo, Whole30, Advocare, juice cleanses… to name a few…
Maybe you’ve recently tried Keto or Intermittent Fasting?
Here’s the thing: no matter how hard you try or how much weight you lose, you never ultimately feel satisfied with yourself.
(The time I lost the most weight… I was the MOST miserable. And, of course, the weight comes back, because... biology).
Diet culture teaches you a circle of hating yourself and your body.
Over and over again the message remains the same… “you’re not good enough.”
And that's the truth. In the cycle of dieting and obsession with our looks, our body size, 'clean eating,' ... it's a never ending cycle of "not enoughness." It's never. Quite. Enough.
That's why the diet industry is almost to 70 BILLION DOLLARS/YEAR. They profit off of us feeling like crap.
GIRL. That's why I do this work. I'm here to fight back. I'm here to support you in reclaiming your body, your SELF, your LIFE.
This work changed my life. And I've seen it change all my clients' lives, too. And guess what? If it's possible for us, it's possible for you, too. To live differently. To be HAPPY, FREE, CONFIDENT. Yup. For you, too.
July 27, 2019: The Impacts We Make In This World Is What Matters Most
Reminder. Looking really super attractive in the stereotypical, culturally admired way has never changed the world.
Nobody has changed the world by just standing around looking "good."
And yet here we are being told life's greatest accomplishment is matching our society's highest standard of “beauty.”
Can we all together call BS on that? Can we all come together and remember that we weren't put on this planet to "look good" - whatever that means?
Can we all come together and rally behind the fact that our life's greatest achievement should be about what we DO in this world, who we IMPACT in this world, how we make others FEEL in this world, the POSITIVE CHANGE we create in this world?
I mean heck, all those things matter way more than if someone fit's society's (very limited) beauty standards, right?!
I want to be remembered for who I WAS as a human, for how I made people feel, for what I did in this world, for the impact I made... what do you want to be remembered for?!
July 18: A Six Pack is Not Made in the Kitchen
I used to think of my stomach as my 'problem spot.'
I'd look in the mirror and pinch it and squeeze it and wonder why it couldn't just be smaller. I'd say the nastiest things, yearning for all the fat to disappear and for the six pack to magically emerge.
After all, I was told that if I worked hard enough and ate right, that six pack was just waiting to be discovered...
So of course I blamed myself. I blamed myself for having fat on my stomach. I saw it as wrong, bad, ugly. I thought, 'if only I had more discipline."
What I didn't know was that I was fed a lie. A six pack isn't 'made in the kitchen.' It's made in the womb. You're genetically inclined to have one... or not.
Even through my strictest dieting days and disordered eating and exercise... I STILL NEVER HAD A SIX PACK.
Telling someone “abs are made in the kitchen” is truly just a recipe for an eating disorder.
I remember the day I decided to make a conscious shift. I knew this time, standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom, was my most vulnerable. A time I was so used to saying the nastiest things to myself and my belly, especially.
So I decided to change the script. Instead of poking my belly, I started to touch her lovingly and say, 'thank you.'
It's a simple practice that first felt WEIRD (all new things feel weird) and now just feels wonderful. YES I STILL DO THIS.
I have an active practice of looking in the mirror and thanking my body for carrying me through life.
Call it corny, I call it life-changing, healthy, empowering, loving, WONDERFUL.
So here's to you, belly. Here's to wearing crop tops at Cycle, displaying your jiggles. Here's to wearing sports bras to yoga, showing your folds. Here's to wearing swim suits proudly and to loving you so much because of all you do for me every single day. You're the core of my body and house the fuel for my life. Whether you’re on display or hidden under a baggy hoodie, I love you.
July 11, 2019: Denying Our Hunger is Denying Ourselves of Our Own Needs
I was talking to a client in a Discovery Session the other day, when she had the most beautiful breakthrough:
"denial of my hunger is a denial of my own needs."
Chills. In our world, we're told that it's bad to have an appetite. That we should only eat X-amount of calories. That we should "push" though hunger. That we should only eat at certain times of day. I mean there are literally pills to quiet our appetite (don’t even get me started on those!)
What we're taught is to ignore our hunger. And my client is right: when we deny our hunger, we deny ourselves or our own needs.
When I think about eating, I think about it as one of the most important forms of self-care. And when we are able to choose what food sounds most delicious, energizing, wonderful to US, that is such a profound act of care and CONNECTION and you honoring what YOU need.
So... how might your days change if you started to feel your hunger as an indicator of you needing care and attention? What would happen if you started to honor that hunger? What if instead of seeing your hunger as a bad thing (how am I hungry again?!) you saw it as a beautiful thing: your body working perfectly to keep you fueled and healthy.
It's as simple as this: eating is self-care, and hunger is the signal that we are in need.
July 5, 2019: Intentional Weight Loss….Yeah, it’s Really Harmful
Alright ya'll. Here's the truth. Here's what happens when we intentionally lose weight according to the experts themselves, Linda Bacon, PhD and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD (many other studies show the same things as below, fyi) - and this is why I ethically cannot help you intentionally lose weight:
1. 95-98% of people who intentionally lose weight (whether it be through Keto or FASTing or Paleo, WHATEVER) will gain the weight back due to their biology. Their bodies weren't meant to go below their set-point range, and there for their bodies WILL work as hard as possible to put the weight back on.
2. Repeated cycles of weight loss and regain result in inflammation. *Note: studies also show that calorie restriction causes inflammation* & as many of us know, inflammation is a risk factor for many “obesity-associated” diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
3. In the words of Bacon/Aphramor, this weight-cycling damage may be one of the factors contributing to the higher mortality rates among individuals who have lost weight. YES: they have seen that people who have LOST WEIGHT intentionally have HIGHER mortality rates.
4. "Weight cycling has been shown to decrease metabolic rates at rest and during exercise, increase lipoprotein lipase activity (which makes the body more efficient at storing fat), and increase the proportion of fat to lean tissue in the body. With each weight loss–regain cycle, weight is increasingly redistributed from lower body subcutaneous fat—shown to have a protective effect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and high cholesterol—to abdominal visceral fat, which does not confer these protective effects."
June 27, 2019: We’re all different. We’re all unique. And our bodies are meant to be unique and different too
Here's the truth of the matter: our bodies are all DIFFERENT.
Even so much as our bodies digest food differently.
Dairy has gotten a BAD RAP in our world. And I get that many people can't eat it without legit feeling like crap.
But for me, it's the opposite.
My body needs dairy on the regular to function properly. Even though I LOVE almond milk, I realized I needed to buy normal, classic 2% milk from cows because if I don't have enough dairy every day, eventually my GI gets angry.
That's MY BODY.
In intuitive eating I work with my clients to help them become their own experts. Only YOU know how a food makes you feel. Only YOU know how your body is feeling physically and thus what kind of movement (or rest!) you need. Only YOU know how hungry you are. Only YOU know how full you are.
When we begin to be our own experts, and to deeply know that us doing what's best for us is all that matters, life becomes so much easier and we become much healthier, too.
So while I know so many people are PUMPED about the dairy free ice cream at Jeni's because dairy makes them feel crappy, I'll keep sticking to the traditional, because it's what my body prefers!
June 21, 2019: Our Bodies are SMART
Did you know that just as your body regulates your body temp without you having to control it (you shiver when you're cold, you sweat when you're hot, etc), your body also will regulate your weight without you having to control it?
This seems crazy, I know. And it's largely because for our bodies to regulate our weight, our bodies need us to NOT interfere with any kind of calorie/fat/carb/time restrictions. When we restrict and try to manipulate our weight, we are fighting against our body's natural ability to regulate our weight. We all have a set-point range that we all naturally want to stay around, and it's different for different people. That's why some people are naturally thin and others naturally fat.
When we try to intentionally lose weight and we drop below our body's set-point range, biology WILL take over and we will regain the weight, and we often regain MORE and then mess with our set-point (our bodies are trying to protect us from dying of starvation!)
Dieting triggers a reduction in leptin, which both increases appetite and decreases our metabolism. Chronic dieting results in less leptin release which researchers say could explain why dieting leads to people GAINING weight over time.
So for those of us who have spent our lives dieting, of COURSE we don't believe our bodies can regulate themselves! But, if we were to never diet and listen to our bodies, then we'd see our bodies would naturally stay within it's set-point range.
Aka: your diet is causing you to gain weight in the long term. Not your lack of "self-control."
You didn't fail the diet. Your biology just won. And it always will. Unless: eating disorders.
What's been so cool to see as I've given up intentional weight loss pursuits is that (and I don't weigh myself) but that my body has naturally stayed within what I've discovered is my set-point range. I don't try to control my body. I just connect to her. And she stays the roughly the same!
Eating/exercise only makes up about 30% of our total health. The social determinants of health (access to healthcare, socio-economic status, education, social and physical environment, etc) make up the rest (along with your genes). So it's also a myth to say that WE CAN CONTROL our health entirely. That's just a lie. We can just do our best in this area that we do have input in.
Ok SO. You want to do what you can to be healthy?
The intuitive eating approach is about empowering us to be as healthy as we can: mentally, physically, emotionally.
Listening to our bodies’ innate hunger and fullness cues is the best way for us to nourish our bodies in the way she is desiring each day. And no, this doesn't mean we do it perfectly. No, this doesn't mean we ONLY eat when we're hungry and we ALWAYS stop when we're satisfied. We're human. Being healthy means having compassion that we'll never be "perfect."
Eating a variety of foods is wonderful as well, and helps us to have an empowering relationship with all foods. It's important that we enjoy fruits/veggies/whole grains/etc AND things like ice cream, pizza + burgers without GUILT.
MOVING YOUR BODY! This is a BEAUTIFUL way to take care of yourself and is correlated with living a long life!
Sleep!! Our bodies need rest.
Drinking water! Hydration is so important!
Coping with stress! This is a biggie. How can we take care of ourselves mentally and emotionally? Honestly having FUN is really important.
What doesn't matter is if we lose weight in the process. So throw away that scale, girl. Ya just don’t need it 🙏🏼
June 14, 2019: IT ENDS WITH US!
This is how I've been feeling lately: ON FIRE and INSPIRED.
Why? Because I've had more calls and conversations than ever before where the message is loud in clear from the women I'm talking to:
"IT ENDS WITH ME."
When we dive into why finding food freedom and body acceptance matters... a beautiful, powerful, PHENOMENAL theme has emerged.
"IT ENDS WITH ME."
What does this mean? It means that diet culture and this belief that what matters most as women is our body size and how we look, and having a miserable relationship with food and our bodies, and feeling stuck and trapped and distracted in our bodies... it: ENDS WITH US.
Diet culture and the beliefs above... well, they're CULTURAL. And they get passed down from generation to generation. And even though we have the best parents in the world (mine ROCK) it still gets passed down due to the culture we live in. It goes from our great great great grandparents to our great great grand parents, all the way to our parents. And then... we pass it down to our kids. We don't mean to, but these beliefs are ingrained in us from all angles. And they impact how we think, feel and ACT.
And ya know what? How we act MATTERS. I don't have kids yet, but I know how I act around them in the future, the words I say about my body, the way I treat my body, the way I feed my body... they'll notice, and that's how they'll learn.
And the women I talk to know this to be true, too.
And over and over and over again I keep hearing them say, "IT ENDS WITH ME."
They REFUSE to pass this down to their kids.
I mean... chills.
THIS is how we change the cultural narrative. It starts with us. We heal for ourselves, but then we also heal for our future children.
We get to decide to have this impact. We get to decide to fight back to this culture that has kept us down for so long.
We get to decide that IT ENDS WITH US.
May 7, 2019: We’ve Been ROBBED
Some of you know, but many of you likely don't... that last weekend, I had the experience of a lifetime.
See, on April 3, I found out that I had been selected as a Finalist in the Health Coach Institute's big $10k Challenge to share my coaching success story on stage in front of 700+ coaches.
This has been a dream of mine since I first began my coaching journey 2 years ago.
The $10K challenge is about inspiring coaches to launch their business or to up-level their business, to step more fully into their worth and power so that they can create the impact they desire in this world.
Because I'll let you in on a little secret... a good coach? She does what she does because she cares about IMPACT. She cares about changing the world.
So on April 26, I shared my story of going from disordered eating and exercise to an empowered woman passionate about sharing intuitive eating with as many women as she possibly can.
And... well, the audience voted me the winner of $10,000.00!
I'm STILL pinching myself.
But here's what really mattered to me more than winning $10k. What mattered to me was sharing my message that WE ARE MORE THAN OUR BODIES. What mattered to me was sharing my message, my truth and THE truth that we aren't all meant to be small and that the quest to be small KILLS US.
It didn't feel like I won... it felt like this deeply important MESSAGE won, and that is what made me so excited, that is why the "win" mattered so much to me.
And I want to tell you something. Ever since then, I've had more conversations than ever (within a short period of time) about this work.
I've talked to SO MANY WOMEN in the past week about how we've been robbed.
We've grown up on the cultural narrative that what matters most about us, as women, is our body size and what we look like.
It's been ingrained in us, our mothers, our grandmothers, our great grandmothers, and on and on, that our most valuable asset is what we look like.
And do you know what the result of this is?
Suppression. As Naomi Wolf says, it's the strongest political sedative of our time.
As woman after woman shared her story with me, I was reminded more and more JUST HOW MUCH we've been robbed of our LIVES.
This story, that our looks are what matters most, has forced us to live distracted lives.
It's forced us to believe that we aren't good enough.
It's forced us to stay silent in meetings at work, because we don't believe our voice matters.
It's forced us to not chase the promotion.
It's forced us to stifle our intelligence, our creativity, our passions, because we are so DISTRACTED and HUNGRY by this narrative that what we look like matters most.
Oh, so we do something great? But oh no, the photo isn't the best? Guess what we focus on? THE PHOTO. We completely disregard the ACCOMPLISHMENT, or we diminish it because we don't look the way we think we should.
This narrative has forced us to play small, to hide, to discount ourselves.
When I talk to women in my discovery sessions, it's so inspiring to hear how letting go of this narrative, how stepping into a space of intuitive eating would set them FREE.
THIS IS WHY I DO WHAT I DO.
Because we've been robbed.
We've been robbed and lied to for too long now. And now it's time to say ENOUGH.
Now it's time to fully step into a space of FULLY BELIEVING AND KNOWING that how we look is the least interesting and least important thing about us.
Now it's time to fully step into this space of FULLY BELIEVING AND KNOWING that who we are as HUMAN BEINGS is what matters.
It's our intelligence, our strength, our weaknesses, our courage, our passion, our insight, our authenticity that makes us special, that makes us phenomenal.
When I think about why I do what I do, and why I'm so passionate about it... THIS IS WHY.
WOMEN ARE INCREDIBLE. WOMEN ARE POWERFUL. Honestly? The world NEEDS us.
So it's time for us to come out of hiding. It's time for us to smash the lies that our looks are what matters most so that our most authentic, powerful selves can shine and serve the world in the way we were born to serve.
As I said at the end of my talk in Phoenix at Health Coach Institute Live...
What makes you special, what makes you lovable, what makes you healthy, what makes you PHENOMENAL.... is NOT how much space you take up in the world, but what you DO with the space you take up.
So what do you say... ARE YOU WITH ME?
May 2, 2019: I Totally Get Why Intuitive Eating Can Freak You Out
Intuitive eating can really freak people out because of this whole idea that we ditch the rules and give ourselves FULL PERMISSION to eat whatever we want.
Most (including my former self!) think, "if I throw out the rules and eat whatever I want, I'll go nuts and binge and over eat and gain tons of weight and throw away my health!" Yes, we think this because diet culture has turned on our inner rebel HARD with all the rules it's placed on us!!!
But... this isn't want intuitive eating is.
Let's think about it: if we just ate whatever we wanted without connecting to our bodies + noticing what feels good... does that sound very intuitive?
If we ate pizza and cookies and chips for every single meal and over ate ALL the time and binged and always thus felt like crap... does that sound like what our bodies intuitively want?
Heck no! Our bodies naturally want to FEEL GOOD. That is intuitive eating: listening to our bodies so that we can feel SO good (mentally, physically, emotionally).
Our bodies will tell us what, when and how much they want to eat... if we learn how to listen and respect this process.
Intuitive eating is an EVIDENCE BASED PROCESS of learning how to listen to and trust our bodies again.
We go through it step-by-step.
At the beginning might you feel like you're eating tons of foods you never used to? Sure! But this is all ok! It's a part of your process. It doesn't last forever, honestly for most it's a short time, because we notice: oh man, my body doesn't feel good!
When we work the 10 principles we arrive at a place of FREEDOM. We eat in a way that feels good. We move in a way that feels good. Our brain isn't distracted by all the food thoughts. Honestly? It's like we're just NORMAL around food again. It's no big deal. Eating becomes easy again.
THIS is intuitive eating.
Why I’ll Never “Compliment” Your Body
When I studied abroad in Italy the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college I gained weight and came home on a mission to lose it before the semester started. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I was going to be working at the rec center teaching fitness classes, and told myself I'd only be taken seriously if I looked a certain way.
I kept my calorie intake to 1200 a day. But made sure to work off at least 500. So really, 700.
It was also this summer that I started binging and purging.
My diet had no room for error. I HAD TO LOSE THE WEIGHT. It was all or nothing. So when I "messed up," I developed a way to "get back on track."
I did lose weight. Thanks to severe restriction and a trusty finger down my throat. Healthy, right?
I hope reading this, you hear my pain. Here I was thinking that my worth as a future fitness instructor, and my worth as a HUMAN, was dependent on my body size.
So I was hungry. And starving. And exercising endlessly. And filled with guilt and shame when I ate anything that wasn't approved. I couldn't enjoy a dinner out with my friends or family. I knew my penalty came later.
I'd sit in front of the toilet crying. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I just stick to this diet, why couldn't I just lose the weight, why couldn't my body just look like it's supposed to?
At the same time... people were complimenting me.
When I got back to school, 20 pounds lighter, people noticed. I was showered in "damn girl, you look great!"s and "omg you're so skinny!"
I was the least healthy I had ever been in my life. And yet, compliments of "YOU GO GIRL" surrounded me.
The weight came back. My body wasn't meant to be that size, and the compliments stopped.
I will never comment on your body size because of this. Because although the compliments were well intentioned, they destroyed me.
I never want to reinforce the idea that smaller is better.
I have no idea what your story is.
I'll compliment who you are as a PERSON, but I'll never talk about your body.
March 6, 2018: Aging is a Privilege
Our bodies are meant to change. We're not meant to stay in our 20 y/o bodies forever. Our skin isn't meant to stay tight and firm.
We age. And our bodies age with us. Our bellies get softer. Our hips may grow wider. Little lines accentuate the creases outside our eyes. Our foreheads begin to wrinkle.
Our culture tells us these changes are bad. That we should be fighting the signs of aging. That we need to pump our face with botox and fillers. That we should cool-sculpt the fat off of our bellies.
But I want you to know that our bodies, our faces, our SELVES are meant to change.
Just as we change and grow over the course of our lives as human beings, collecting memories, knowledge, wisdom, love, heartbreak and hurt... our bodies change and grow too, right along with us.
I want you to know that we get to choose how we see the aging.
Do we choose to buy into diet culture and see aging as bad? To see wrinkles and changing body fat as ugly? Do we choose to fight it? To hide it?
Or... do we choose to see that aging is truly beautiful thing. A privilege.
I truly see aging as a privilege. Maybe it's because I've seen many friends leave this earth so young.
I see aging as something that is not guaranteed. I see each year as something we are so incredibly lucky to be experiencing.
I don't want to hide it. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I want to celebrate my life. And this means celebrating the change that goes along with each passing year.
It means seeing my wrinkles as a collection of memories from the laughs I have been so lucky to share with friends.
It means seeing my changing body through a lens of deep gratitude, for all it has allowed me to do, for the life it has enabled me to experience, the places it's let me travel to. The people it's let me hug. The children I hope to someday birth.
We choose. To see change and aging as something we need to hide... or to see it as a privilege we get to celebrate.
Fitness Instructors, Do No Harm.
I was talking to a client about her relationship with food and exercise.
She came back to me for our next session and said, "damn, Julie, I didn't realize how many food/body/exercise shaming messages I get every single day, especially at the gym."
Food and body shaming is everywhere... and, honestly? A lot of it comes from a well-intended place. For instance, if you're a fitness instructor, you likely have a mission to empower people to be healthy and strong. That is SUCH a positive intention! Thank you for that! However... if we aren't aware of how our language impacts our class-goers (both in class and on social media) we can be doing much more harm than good. We may be causing people to feel ashamed about their food choices, see exercise as a punishment, and see their bodies as "needing fixed."
And what does this do? It drives disordered eating and exercise behaviors (or full on eating disorders), body shame, and lots of negative self-talk, body bashing and ultimately lowered self-esteem.
This is a topic I was passionate about from the early days of my fitness career due to my own disordered relationship with my own body. I began teaching boot camp style classes in 2011, from there I got my personal training certification, cycling, and most recently yoga.
I studied this very topic in graduate school: how the language we use in the fitness room impacts things like self-esteem and body image.
I'm writing this post because we have a responsibility to do no harm to our class-goers. We would never want to hurt them physically, and we go LENGTHS to avoid physical injury, however... when it comes to mental and emotional health, we are hurting people every day.
So let's look at our language here, and see how we can empower, rather than shame our class participants. Here are a few rules of thumb:
1. Please, don't use food as a motivator to exercise, or honestly even mention food at all. For instance, saying things about needing to work off the weekend, that burger, the donut, Thanksgiving, Christmas cookies...
When you say this, it subconsciously tells people that they are bad for what they did this weekend/ate, and it shifts the workout from being something positive they are doing for themselves, to something negative: a punishment for "being bad."
This is a form of food shaming. If you've never experienced a disordered relationship to your body, you probably wouldn't think twice about saying this, you may even just think it's funny. But for anyone in your class who has struggled (and honestly, most do) it reaffirms to them that they should feel ashamed and guilty for their food choices.
Many people are already very hard on themselves for what they eat already, so when someone in a leadership position (a fitness instructor) says out loud that, yes, they should work off that burger, their inner critic is reinforced and they go deeper into their self-destructive hole: burger, BAD, salad, GOOD.
When people think they "were bad" for eating certain foods, it encourages a disordered relationship with food, where people attach their morality with their food choices. It keeps them at war with food and their bodies. Likely it will lead to food and body obsession, and a cycle of unhealthy yo-yo dieting.
2. Avoid motivation using "beach body" language or any other sort of language that turns our bodies into objects to mold and fix.
When we tell people they should work out to look a certain way (or to get ready for the beach), we are objectifying their bodies. We are reaffirming that yes, our society's thin ideal is something we should strive for, that there is a "right" way to look, and that we should want to look that way. It also, therefore, tells us that if we do not have that certain body, that we are not healthy/strong/beautiful. We are telling them that they need to look a certain way to wear a swim suit.
For most people, the thin ideal is physically impossible, so all this language is doing is keeping people obsessed with an unattainable ideal.
Furthermore, we are telling people that ultimately, they are objects, their bodies are objects, and thus, all the amazing things about them who make them truly special don't matter as much if they don't LOOK a certain way.
We are once again shifting the workout from a positive thing to do for health and feeling good to a negative intention: working out to "fix" your body that apparently is not "good enough" as it is already. The workout again becomes a punishment.
3. Encourage people to workout to EARN the cookie (or any other food).
This is similar to telling someone to work "off" the food they ate. Telling someone they need to earn their food tells them that they don't deserve to eat unless they exercise enough.
Again, if someone has a harmful relationship with food and exercise, if anyone has ever had an eating disorder, you are then just reinforcing the fact that they do not deserve to eat unless they "earn it."
4. "No pain, no gain."
I'll often hear instructors encouraging participants to push past the pain. This is dangerous. Yes, it is good to motivate people to work hard, and yes, getting uncomfortable is ok, but pain has no place in any class.
So what can you do?
1. Focus on the mind-body connection.
You don't have to be in a yoga class to focus on a mind-body connection. Focusing on this connection is hugely beneficial for all class participants. Most people run around their days rushed and thinking about all the things on their to-do list. When we provide time in class for people to check in with themselves, we are empowering them to pay attention to themselves in a whole new way. For all we know, this might be the only time all day when someone asks them to check in with THEMSELVES, to ask themselves what they need. That is powerful!
2. Focus on FEELING good.
Instead of motivating class participants to look good, focus on motivating them to feel good. Ask them to notice how they feel, mentally, physically and emotionally. Then, ask them what they need to do to FEEL GOOD walking out the door. For instance, is there anything in them (stress, frustration) that they want to let out during the class? Do they have good energy they want to harness and share? Or is there a goal they have, something they want to do in class that day? This empowers your class participants to ask themselves what they need on that given day. Sometimes, they might need an emotional release, while other times they might have a physical goal in mind. Allow THEM to decide.
3. Use the power of intention.
At the beginning of class, empower your students to create their own intention. Ask them to focus in on why they're here, what this class gives to them, empowers them to do. Ask them to see their goal, their purpose, the reason for their work out. Encourage them to connect to that intention throughout the workout. When they're needing extra motivation, bring them back to their purpose. "Why are you here?"
*Extra points here if you remind them that calories don't matter, that we are more than our calories in, calories out!
4. Focus on the POSITIVE.
Throughout the class, focus on building positive thoughts, like "YES WE CAN." Sometimes people need that simple reminder that they got this! Other reminders like, "you're stronger than you realize," allow them to feel encouraged that you see their strength, you believe in them... it helps them believe in themselves, it helps them realize their own strength. I've had plenty of people tell me that this message empowers them outside the fitness room, it empowers them to realize that in work, at school, at home, they are stronger than they think, and when life gets tough, this message is gives them the extra strength they need.
5. Use the Adult Tantrum.
In some classes, I'll dedicate a certain song to LETTING SH*T OUT. I'll give my students an outlet to let out their anger. We all have things that piss us off, so this is an opportunity to PHYSICALLY LET IT GO.
After class, a participant came up to me and thanked me for that opportunity, she said, "toddlers are able to have tantrums when they're mad or stressed, they stomp their feet, punch pillows, scream and shout and cry. But as adults, we don't get to do that... but in class we did, you gave us a way to physically let out our stress. It felt SO GOOD."
6. THE MANDATORY PRE-CLASS DISCLAIMER.
In yoga, I was taught to always start class by giving a "permission statement." A statement where you give people permission to listen to their bodies. It may sound silly if you always listen to your body, but many people (I used to do this) go to class, and feel the need to do everything the instructor says, even if it doesn't feel good in their body. They feel like if they don't do what the instructor is saying, they're "failing."
This "permission statement" is so important because you, as the instructor, the leader, give the students permission to listen to their bodies, which is the most important thing of all, and to feel encouraged to leave out anything you say that doesn't feel good in their bodies.
Here is how my permission statement sounds in the yoga room:
"As always, you guys, this is your time. I have a plan for class and will move you through sequences. But please, feel not only empowered but ENCOURAGED to listen to your body. If something doesn't feel good, don't do it. If you're craving something extra, add it. Make this practice uniquely your own and don't worry what anyone else is doing around you."
*I'll often reinforce this through class by saying, "I love the choices I'm seeing!"
Here is how my permission statement sounds in my cycle class:
"You guys, only YOU know how you feel in your body. I have no idea! So, if anything I tell you to do doesn't feel good, please feel free to opt out! Just don't do it!"
7. The Ultimate Reminder.
I love reminding my students that we are SO LUCKY to have our health and strength and ability to be moving our bodies in this way. We so often take it for granted! I'll use a motivator like, let's push simply because WE CAN. Let's celebrate the fact that our bodies can move!
*I did this last week and had a rider come up to me and thank me. She told me that her mom had passed away a year ago from ALS (a disease that takes away your ability to move your body). She said it really hit her hard, that she is so lucky to move her body, that it's not about the love handles or what she ate, it's about celebrating her ability to move.
Ultimately, as a fitness instructor, you have an amazing opportunity to inspire and empower people every day to live a long, healthy life in and out of class. That is incredible. So let's take this job seriously. Let's start a revolution and build a fitness industry that actually CARES about the mental and emotional well-being of our class participants. It is not just a good thing to do, it's a responsibility we have to support the holistic well-being of all people.
So what do you say: will you be a part of the solution?