Nine years in the fitness industry working at a number of gyms as everything from a weightroom supervisor to a personal trainer to a yoga instructor has given me plenty of time to reflect on the industry as a whole. I work in health and fitness because I know people find lots of good from pursuing it, even if there are some misdirected ideas floating around. Today’s post is about some of the things people don’t talk about, or don’t talk about enough--in my opinion. So as not to simply complain about things without offering up a solution, I’ll include a point about what I think would lead us to a better place. I want to contribute to a health and fitness world where people are empowered and take care of themselves because it feels good and because they live from a place of self-love.
1. Healthy is as healthy does, not as healthy looks.
Magazine covers, Instagram posts, facebook photos. We live in a visual world, and it’s filled with people who are marketing themselves as health and fitness gurus. But much of the time, there is more than meets the eye going on in a photo. Cover models diet down and dehydrate themselves miserable to look like the picture of “fit” for a photo shoot, people edit and perfect their photos before sharing them, and we are offered up these images as the picture of health and fitness. It is not your fault if you thought being fit required you to have a six pack--but it doesn’t. People in the fitness industry take pride in pushing their bodies to be as lean as possible, and overemphasize appearance as an indicator of health. The skinny woman who starves herself and runs herself ragged with exercise is not healthier than someone who by appearance standards appears a little more average but exercises and eats well on a daily basis.
Solution? Shift the emphasis away from the outcomes (weight, appearance, etc.) onto the things we can control (nutrition, exercise habits, self-care, etc.).
2. A perfect body does not mean a perfect life.
A perfect body is usually associated with a perfect life. In fact, some people spend so much time pursuing a picture-perfect body that they end up neglecting other areas of their life. My body obsessions were part of the reason I needed an extra year to finish my undergrad and undoubtedly distracted me from other things I might have been doing—dating, travelling, living my life. Even with abs, your life will still be a roller coaster. You could still get fired from a job, you might still lose someone you love, and break-ups could still turn your world upside-down. There is a sense—an illusion, really—of control that comes along with feeling like you are running your health and your body as a fine-tuned machine, but there are things in this world that will never be in our control. Our bodies will age and ultimately fail us, and while it’s our job to take care of them, making this our life’s work seems like a misuse of the time we’ve been given.
Solution? We should prioritize health and fitness, of course, but only to give us a platform from which to live our lives. Remember that you can only control so much, and your body and health is just one part of your life.
3. We struggle too.
I know that I am not the only trainer in this world who has had an eating disorder. I see lots of other people working in gyms and in the world of health, nutrition, and fitness who have danced or crossed the line between a passion and an obsession. I know of very few people who don’t have some body issues these days, and while I don’t think that should stop someone from working in the field, I do think we need to be careful to remember that we’re all human. Nobody really has all the answers to living your healthiest life, and most professionals in the field have had their own struggles.
Solution? Respect professionals in the fitness industry who own their struggles and who help you feel like you are in the driver’s seat of your own.
4. Be careful who you trust.
With the interwebs today, just about anyone can establish themselves as an expert. A simple certification takes a weekend to complete in the world of personal training or fitness instructing, and there are many courses you can take and complete simply by paying the money and going through the motions. We all have bodies, so we all can become experts at taking care of ours—but all of our bodies are different. So many people end up working in this industry because fitness came easy to them. They assume that it should come easy to other people, and this can lead to some big gaps between the experiences of clients and customers and those of the people who have had it easier or who fell naturally into careers in health and fitness.
Solution? Trust the people who are authentic and whose philosophy on health and fitness resonates with you.
5. It’s really not that complicated.
Naturally, to sell people things, they have to be convinced that they need or are lacking something. The newest diet or training program is the one that will finally help you lose the last 10lbs, they say, convincing you that you just don’t have the right information. Really, health and fitness is not rocket science. You might very well need to work with a professional to learn how to nourish your body or how to train it in the gym, but for the vast majority of people, it’s a lot simpler than the fitness industry and media make it out to be. Presenting it as more complicated than it is and as something people can’t figure out without help sustains the industry, of course, but at the expense of providing people with the simple, useful, and sustainable information that they could really take and use to live healthier lives.
Solution? Be wary of anyone who tries to convince you that health and fitness is overly complex. At the end of the day, remember that eating well and moving your body can be simple.
The fitness industry has its good and its bad. I have found both some of my greatest struggles but also my greatest lessons from working on my own body and of course on its body image. I work in the field because I want people to feel better about themselves and take better care of their bodies. I hope that this post helps you do just that, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Stay healthy, and stay happy!