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No place for shame in self-improvement

When I began this blog I wrote a post that outlines my ethos in health and fitness. I want to take those ideas and expand upon them.

Today I want to look at this bit

"Positive results are achieved through positive means."

And more specifically I want to take a quick look at the culture of shame and guilt that sometimes creeps into fitness, and why I believe it is detrimental, to individuals and "Fitness" as a concept, and an industry.

There's a theory that says that we have to hit rock bottom (or some variant therof) before we can truly commit to a major lifestyle change. That people need to feel dreadful about their current situation before they can properly invest in the change. I'm not sure whether I buy into that or not. I think that it is definitely possible to make small, manageable changes to our lifestyle, by choice, from a positive place. A complete change in lifestyle does take a serious trigger - but I would question whether, as a personal trainer, I should be encouraging people to make difficult, major changes that they are unlikely to sustain. Surely it's all about gradual, achievable steps. Baby steps forward, not a giant leap followed by the inevitable slide backwards.

Even if we assume that the rock bottom theory is true, is it ethical, or even helpful, to "encourage" the process by adding to the negativity? In my mind, that's just bullying, and certainly not behaviour becoming of anyone who states an aim to help an individual improve their circumstances.

When I decided to expand my work from dance/yoga instruction into Personal Training, I really wanted to work with people who didn't consider themselves to be "gym people", and that made me think hard about what it was about gym culture (real or perceived) that was putting people off exercise.



Coming out of the bellydance community, I am very acclimatised to a culture of body positivity. Within the dance community women are considered beautiful not because of the shape or size of their body, but for how they move it. At the same time however I see dancers, pros and hobbyists, who are working on their fitness. Hard. Not to change their looks, but to improve their body function.

18 months ago I was 20kg heavier than I am now. I was still very fit, smashing my way through 5 HIIT workouts a week, plus around 10 hours of dance training and teaching. But I wasn't losing weight, because I wasn't trying to. When I decided to lose the weight, it was not a decision that came out of shame or self loathing. I was happy with the strength and function in my body, I was performing regularly and feeling good about myself. I just didn't feel quite like me and I wanted to see if returning to my pre-baby weight ironed out the last niggles and made me a bit more comfortable within myself. I can guarantee that if someone had told me to lose weight because I looked somehow unacceptable I would have retreated to a quiet corner and quite possibly ended up caring less about my fitness.

Everyone has their own story, but I know that in mine, being accepted as I was helped me to have the drive to take care of my body, out of love, not shame. That's something that I believe is very important.

Negative emotions often lead to negative behaviours. Learning to be positive and non judgemental about your own choices keeps you on track. It is shame that leads you to the chocolate box when you "mess up" and "break your diet", because somehow you decide that a single choice defines you and your potential. It is shame that keeps you away from the gym when you've fallen out of the habit and regressed a little, because you forget that you are worth the effort.

Shame is a natural response, when it grows organically we can work with it; but lets be mindful of it and lets not introduce or feed it, because there's little place for it in a healthy mind or body.

Brene Brown has some interesting things to say about dealing with shame, starting here:






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