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If you can't love yourself.... why body positivity and fitness belong together.

A few weeks ago I wrote up my weight loss story, and I promised that I would follow up by more closely exploring some of the useful things I learned along the way which have left a lasting impression in how I feel about fat loss programming, and how I support my fat loss PT clients.

One of the key things I learned is the immense role that self esteem plays in fitness. On a personal level, I had to learn to be OK with where my body was, and find the motivation to nurture myself, before I could properly break into a programme of good nutrition and consistent exercise. I truly believe that exercise should never be punishment for what you ate but a celebration of what your body can do, neither should depriving yourself of food be punishment for how your body looks. Long term good health comes from enjoying being in your body, eating good food and getting the most out of life.

On a more general level it is something I see when coaching clients, either for nutrition or personal training - you don't get results from negative motivation. Time and time again people (usually women, but not always) come to me saying things like:

"I hate my legs - we need to do something about them"
"I'm so lazy and I've got so fat"
"I've got no willpower and I can't stop being greedy"
"I ate chips at the weekend, so work me hard, I deserve it"
"I failed at my diet, I'm crap at this"

It actually kind of hurt me to type that. But this is what they are telling me, and if that's what they will admit out loud to a coach, you can be sure that what they are saying to themselves in the privacy of their own heads is a whole lot nastier.

For many people who struggle with their weight their relationship with their body is so broken that we can't even talk about "loving" their body, it's more about learning to be civil with it.

Part of my role is to turn that around. Sometimes very openly by setting mindset habits that help them to build a more positive image of themselves, or at least stop being so hard on themselves for doing stuff that is absolutely normal. Sometimes it's more a question of using positive language myself and modelling good mindset, or shifting the focus from aesthetics, or weight and onto goals like strength or eating more delicious, healthy foods.

So it seems clear to me that body positivity, or at least body acceptance is an important part of many people's journey to good health.

The battle for balance

An issue I often come across, particularly in online circles, is whether body acceptance is somehow "giving a pass" to an unhealthy lifestyle. Then at the other extreme, does fitness as an industry push things too far the other way?

There are certainly some fitpros out there who seem to base their business around the inadequacy people feel about their bodies, and to be straight, I have a big problem with that. It seems to me to be no more honest than the diets that promise a quick fix, then are there to sell you the programme over again when you put the weight right back on again.

If you hate your body at 90kg, it's likely you will find something to hate at 60kg, because a lot of the time, it's about a whole lot more than fat percentages.

Look at these people.
They are running and they are happy.
People who run together are happy. Do running.
If we can see fitness, and good nutrition, as an act of self care. If that run can be "me time" not an obligation brought about by too many doughnuts (kidding obviously, too many doughnuts isn't a real thing is it?). If lifting weights, mindfully, listening to chilled out music and revelling in the sensation of our contracting muscles could be our way of taking time away from the kids, or work pressure. If we could be allowed to enjoy the satisfaction of sitting down to a well balanced, healing meal post-workout. Then wouldn't more people feel like doing it?

Can we change the narrative from "you aren't good enough" to "you are worthy of this awesomeness"?

There's no point in telling people that they are going to end up in poor health, if in the same breath you tell them that they are less valuable because of how they look. How is that supposed to make them care? Shaming people doesn't help them, concern-trolling doesn't help them. Any decent coach will tell you that the most important thing we can do is have unconditional positive regard. To accept people without judgement and treat them as valuable, worthy individuals from the outset.

So does that mean being positive and accepting about all bodies, regardless of shape, size or health? Yes, it absolutely does. Because there is no alternative that can make you not a terrible person.

Unless we are their doctor, we aren't in a position to make comments about their potential health, and we can't go around giving out advice or even health information unsolicited. What are we, some kind of heart disease street preachers?

What we do is accept that all people are worthy of our respect and compassion. And that all people have the right to bodily autonomy. If they use that to approach us and ask for guidance, that's great, we will continue to treat them with respect and compassion. If they don't, well that's up to them, we have no right to pressure them and certainly no right to bully them. And that is why fitness and body positivity belong together.

Lets change the narrative from "your body is wrong and we need to fix it" to "your body is amazing, let's take really good care of it and get the best out of it"

Have you seen my Zazzle shop? It's awesome! You can get a whole range of body positive logo shirts, plus my Functional as F**k shirts, and a load of lovely looking, fun workout gear.


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