Dear Fitness Professionals, Don’t Food Shame Your Students
For those of you who read my blog, you know that I don’t usually use this space to hop atop my high horse and rant. Today, that ends. (Laughing but serious)
I promise that I will not completely go off the rails but I had an experience recently that I’d like to share along with my thoughts. I initially told myself that I would let it go but the fact that it keeps popping up in my mind tells me that I should put it out in the world in some way so here it goes.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout class at a fitness studio that I shall not name (I’m doing my best not to be petty). On the morning of the day of my scheduled workout, I woke up sore from my workouts earlier in the week and decided to cancel the class. Despite the fact that it was six and a half hours (no exaggeration) before the class would start, I was told that I would be charged a $15 “late” cancel fee. Being the broke/frugal-minded woman that I am, I decided that I would go to the class and just take it easy.
I am one of the unicorns who braves the daunting sprawl of Los Angeles without a car. If you know anything about using public transit in LA, you know that you have to be strategic. Over the years, I have learned the ins and outs of the system and learned to clump activities in ways that are geographically/transit friendly. After a long week, I decided that I wanted to grab myself a gluten-free veggie pizza from Pizza Rev in Koreatown (I go to them specifically because they give you unlimited toppings on a personal size pizza). Google and I planned my afternoon and it made the most sense for me to hit up Pizza Rev before working out. While I anticipated the awkwardness that might result from me walking into a fitness studio with a pizza, I honestly didn’t care. (I should also mention that the studio that I was going to has been known to have special events where they gave students donuts after class. #noshadebutshade)
I walked into the studio with my pizza. The person teaching my class acknowledged that I was bringing pizza into a studio. I briefly stated that I don’t drive and I had to get my pizza before hand. I should say that this wasn’t an attempt to justify anything. It was very matter of fact.
Fast forward to mid-workout. One of the exercises was a weighted plank row. As I mentioned, I was sore and told myself that I wouldn’t go all out during this workout. So instead of coming into full plank with my knees lifted, I opted to come onto my knees and do my rows from there.
When the instructor came over and encouraged me to come into full plank, I was not phased. After all, encouragement and accountability are the benefits of taking group classes. But when she proceeded to cite the fact that I had brought pizza into the studio with me as a way of convincing me that I needed to work harder, I was peeved.
Girl, you don’t know my life.
I barked something back at her (I honestly don’t even remember what I said) and finished my workout with permanent side-eye.
So why am I ranting? I’m ranting because this fitness instructor’s approach to motivation is problematic. Mainstream food/fitness/health culture teaches us that food is our enemy. As opposed to thinking of food as a vehicle for nourishing our bodies, we’ve been conditioned to see food as the thing that makes us fat and unhealthy. Food is what keeps us from looking like the people we see on movie screens, runways, magazine covers. These ideas are particularly targeted to women. Don’t enjoy food too much or your body will become offensive to society and make you vulnerable to their scrutiny. This same culture makes us believe that we have to earn our food, especially foods like pizza, through exercise. It’s not surprising that so many people drive themselves insane calculating how many calories they’ve eaten at a given meal, or even in a given day, so that they can try to burn that same amount or more at the gym. It’s a toxic mentality that pushes us further away from building a healthy relationship with our bodies and the foods that we consume.
The good news is that, I feel secure in my body. I have spent time and energy learning about the foods that I eat and studying how my mind and body responds to them. With this foundation, no one can make me feel bad about anything that I choose to eat. If I opt to eat crappy processed food, I do so understanding the choice that I’m making and how it might affect my body. I stand contently in my decision.
But what if I didn’t have this foundation? What if I harbored insecurities about my body or, heaven-forbid, suffered from a eating disorder? Comments like the one that this fitness instructor made could have had really harmful psychological and emotional effects.
So fitness instructor who shall not be named at fitness studio that shall not be named, I would employ you to be a bit more mindful with the ways that you go about encouraging your students. There are so many ways to empower, shame should not be one of them.