The holidays - the time of year when all fitness related marketing turns into “Do x to burn off all the calories you ate!” and everything is trying to be made “guilt-free” and “healthy”. I find this wording extraordinarily irritating because not only does it imply that food should have “guilt” associated with it but we all must be preoccupied with calories and restriction and you know, hating our bodies. It’s pretty easy to identify how pervasive and ridiculous this is in the media but what about the other subtle ways these messages find their way into our lives? Take a great example - social media.
The other day while scrolling through Facebook, looking for an article link ironically about how words and phrases impact coaching (here it is), I came across someone’s status that I had quickly dismissed earlier. It was the status of an old acquaintance/former student of mine from at least 5 years ago whom had recently had back surgery and was seeking advice on how to “tone and lose weight” to shed some unwanted pounds. I’m actually a bit surprised that I moved past it so quickly earlier since the words “lose weight” are actually kind of a rarity in my news feed - now the words “gain”, “ice cream”, and “squat”...those are regular staples. Anyways, I took pause to read a few of the comments that this status had provoked - my expectation was to see the standard “eat less, move more” advice and see that I did.
[I eat ice cream pretty regularly and I don't hate myself.]
These are what a few of the comments said (paraphrased):
- “If the restaurant has a drive through, you can't eat there. Also, cutting out all sodas and artificial sweeteners.”
Actually, decent advice. I like it - the phrase “you can’t eat there” is a little off putting but overall, not horrible. At this point, I’m pleasantly surprised.
- “I did intense home DVDs & Zumba twice a day. I can’t comment on the diet part because I suck at diets”.
Slightly less awesome. Twice a day workouts are probably not necessary - and neither is some cardio with a side of cardio. Pretty typical advice though - I like the notion of at-home stuff (she’s pretty shy so I could see that working for her). The phrase “I suck at diets” makes me so, so sad. Look at that sentence - the person is blaming themselves and saying they suck because they have a hard time restricting calories (to unrealistic numbers probably) and making big changes at all at once. You don’t suck, diets sucks.
- “Count every calorie! Most people really, really underestimate how much they are eating. I don't exercise much at all (stationary bike, 30 minutes a few times a week), but sticking to a 1400 - 1200 calorie diet since January has helped me lose over 50 pounds. Also, finding online groups for social support has helped me, too.”
Oh. Damn. First off, the social support thing is great - I like that. But then, oh jeez. I believe calorie counting or macro counting can be a helpful tool (keyword: TOOL) for SOME people. 1200-1400 calories? Just no. NO. At this point, I just want to say “NO. STOP. Unless you want to royally f*ck yourself for the next five years, please, don’t. I promise you can eat more food and really good food and feel better.”
[yes, you can eat food, and lots of it]
In my head, as I’m reading this thread unfold before my eyes, I can’t help but feel a bit..weird? judgey? kind of mean? I consciously stop myself and ask - what am I judging here? I don’t know these people and frankly, I didn’t make any assumptions about them in anyway. My issue is with the information they’ve been given - the same information I had told to me over and over and over again. And while it made me angry, I was surprised at how genuinely sad I felt. I just want to hand everyone a barbell and a steak and give out free hugs and say “See?! It doesn’t have to suck! And most of you all, YOU DON’T SUCK!”. But that’s not reality. And furthermore, while I sincerely wish that 99% of women would squat and deadlift and clean something, I get that it’s not everyone’s “thing” (although being strong and gaining muscle and having a nice butt seem like pretty awesome things to me).
[if you ask me, axles are pretty awesome]
I don’t care what anyone “does” - just can we stop all of the hating and punishment oriented behavior? This cycle of cardio-ing calories into oblivion to “burn off” that piece of pie, the “I suck at this” phrase, and the constant restriction and deprivation. Why is it okay and in fact, expected, for women to be in a war against themselves? Think about it - as a society, people EXPECT you to hate yourself. How messed up is that?! It continually blows my mind that this type of behavior and it’s accompanying messages are not only tolerated but bought into and the message continues to be perpetuated by women and more frightenly, young girls. In most cases, it’s not the person’s fault that they pass on damaging and faulty info - if it’s all you have known then there isn’t much else to go on. The sheer number of messages (both verbal and nonverbal) that the average person receives each day and how many of those tie their self-worth to physical appearance, tie “health” to “tiny”, and tie loaded words like “disciplined” and “happiness” to a small pant size and abs, is mind blowing. That’s a lot of negative messages being blasted at someone every single day.
Instead of having the message be “deprivation, restriction, and punishment”, the conversation should be centered arounds like “celebrate, enjoy, thrive” because you don’t suck. In fact, your body is pretty awesome since it’s, you know, keeping you alive. So let's change the conversation.