As a fitness professional, not only are you the the gate keepers to healthy and critical conversations to exercise and nutrition but also of self-care and positive body image to every women who walks through your gym.
A women's relationship to her self is one the of the most important relationships she can have and it's your job to help her nurture this relationship using the expert tools you have at your disposal; exercise and nutrition.
Far too many personal trainers take on the role of body image coach and therapist and with out realising it, cause more harm than good. If you are a fitness professional and a woman asks 'what advise would you give to someone who has low body image', or 'how can I feel more comfortable in my skin' please don't EVER say any of the following;
- It's just really important to, you know, like, feel comfortable in your skin.
- If you don't like something, change it.
- Try this diet/cut out X/restrict Y.
- Do more of this exercise to target your 'problem spot'.
This advice is damaging (and kind of dumb) so here are some things that you can try instead.
Why Weight Loss
Ask her WHY she wants to lose weight and with compassion challenge this belief. Of course it's important for a woman to feel comfortable in her skin but it's even more important to challenge her belief that weight loss is the only way she can feel comfortable. The 'why' behind weight loss is very significant.
Many women feel ashamed of their bodies, to the point where they are embarrassed or disgusted by them. To make sure that you are not inadvertently making her feel worse watch out for these signs you might be body shaming; viewing leanness or slimness as an attribute of self control and health, being critical and judgmental of her by assuming her weight is a lifestyle choice or indulging/entertaining any critical and body shaming comments she directs at herself or others.
If a client ever says "I am so fat", your response should not be "no you are not!". This type of response reinforces the belief that fat is a bad thing and something to feel ashamed of.
Explain what Self Acceptance Really is
Self acceptance and body love are not what most women think it is and because she is coming to you for help it's important to guide her in the right direction. Your client does not need to, or have to, change something she doesn’t like about her body in order to accept and love herself.
Self-acceptance means embracing and accepting our strengths and weakness. It means accepting your self in spite of your deficiencies.
Flaws, weaknesses, mistakes and failures are a part of life and we should never feel ashamed, embarrassed or weak because them. It is not your job to fuel her body hate or shame by designing a programme to target her problem areas. You are in a position to help someone accept their body, which means that over time they will start to respond to and treat their body differently. This is a very powerful. To help you do this, you can start by encouraging her to spend more time showing appreciation for all the things she can do, and her life in general. Your client doesn't need to fall in love with every part of her body.
Food is OK
There's a fine line between thinking carefully about what we put into our bodies and obsessing, restricting, counting or making it fit! You might think your cool and sexy diet is for her, but all most diets do these days is promote quick fixes, restriction and complexity.
Whilst it’s easy to define a healthy diet by the foods that we choose to eat, the real magic lies in how in how we, as women, feel about those foods and ourselves as we eat them. It's ok that we enjoy food.
Do not be part of the reason we may feel fear, guilt or shame around our choices. If she won't be eating the same foods at 20, 50 and 80 years of age than rethink your plan.
Exercise is about more than calories
Todays fitness culture abuses the gym for its appearance altering side effects. I have seen far too many personal trainers passion for fitness dissolve into an obsession with leanness. As a trainer you need to be careful that this passion doesn't rub off on your clients. The greatest gift our fitness can give us is health, vitality, longevity and confidence and the greatest gift you can give your client is this belief as well.
Never EVER reduce exercise to a weight management tool. Please. Just don't.
Exercise is one of the most powerful tools you can use to increase your happiness, energy levels and wellbeing. Sadly, exercise is probably one of the most under-utilised tools for reducing depression, stress and anxiety! But how is that exercise has such influence over our physical, emotional and spiritual health? Because exercise changes how you see and feel about yourself. It is not all about macros, abs and calories.
I used to hate my legs. I still have my moments. But when I reflect on what they can do I feel so proud, beautiful. I feel more than enough. Because of exercise I learned how to challenge my belief that my legs were not beautiful.
The first time I strength trained was like an awakening. I saw beyond the weight and felt connected with my inner strength. I began to believe that that my body is beautiful, because of what it CAN do.
Remind her of what her body CAN do
Her body is not an object to me moulded, chizzled, melted or sucked in. Her body is a vehicle to help her connect with her strength, agility, speed and movement. You can help her feel proud/grateful/appreciative because of all the things she can do. Help her to fall in love with movement.
A women's body will change many times through out life. We are complex and unique - our body, mind, emotions and spirit are always evolving with age, experience and life. Our body is not permanent but that doesn't mean we can't love her, exactly as she is.