If I’m being completely honest, I can’t tell you how or when Lauren and I connected on Instagram but I knew we shared similar views on diet culture as soon as we did. When I asked her to write a guest post about dealing with diet culture while working in the fitness industry, she was on board immediately. I really respect and agree with Lauren’s approach to fitness. She understands that exercise is more of a celebration of what your body can do rather than a means to lose weight.
In publishing guest posts on my site, it is my intention to elevate and amplify voices that can speak to topics that I’m interested in but can’t necessarily cover myself. In her post, Lauren offers her unique view on diet culture from the perspective of an exercise physiologist, yoga instructor, and nutrition coach with degrees in both exercise science and nutrition and dietetics from Western Carolina University.
As always, thank you for reading!
Dealing With Diet Culture as a Fitness Professional
Being a fitness and nutrition coach in the world of diet culture is, in a word, frustrating. Frustrating to want the best for my clients but know that they beat themselves up if they don’t make the “progress” the world tells them they should make. Frustrating to read articles, often written by other fitness professionals, telling them they should be trying this diet or this form of exercise to “torch calories” or “melt fat.”
There are tons of ways I wish I could change the fitness industry, but the number one thing I wish I could change is how we track progress. The main issue here comes from the trainers themselves and the assessment done in the first meeting with a new client. For most trainers, this involves some sort of body composition assessment. Sometimes it’s as simple as stepping on the scale. Sometimes it’s a fancy scan (called a BIA) that looks at body fat percentage. Sometimes it uses a measuring tape. Sometimes it uses calipers to literally pinch the client’s fat to figure out their body composition.
Yeah, those last two are the worst. I’ve done them before. I’ve done all of them before. I was taught in school (both for exercise science and for nutrition) how to do them and that it was a great way to measure progress.
As a newbie trainer, I did them at the request of clients or other fitness professionals. But now? I’m done. I’m done measuring the circumference of someone’s thigh and pretending that matters at all. I’m done having a woman who is feeling stronger and more confident from her training look at me while I do a BIA scan to see if the number will validate her hard work. Her hard work validates her hard work.
But Lauren, how can we track progress if we don’t do that assessment?—UGH. Oh, I don’t know, maybe by seeing that you can lift heavier weights with more ease. Maybe that you can squat pain-free for the first time in years.
I don’t care what the circumference of your bicep is. I care that you got a good sleep last night. I don’t care that you went up 1% in body fat even though you’ve been working your butt off. I care that you feel more able to keep up with your kids. I don’t care if you reached your “goal weight” if you gave up enjoying holidays and nights out with your family to get there.
Fitness culture still expects us to use these numbers to validate our clients’ work. I’m over it. In my assessment, I want to focus on your movement patterns, your range of motion, and how your body feels. That’s what we’ll reassess in the future to check our progress.
I want other fitness professionals to view their client’s transformations the way I do. Not as a before and after picture. What matters most is the way my clients learn to view themselves and the work they are putting in. If they are getting stronger, more confident, more capable, experiencing less pain, and fewer limitations in life then they are killing it on their fitness journey.
But it’s important for the client to see it that way, too. That’s where it can get tough. We need the entire fitness culture to change in order for me to stop having clients come in, broken down and beaten up by a lifetime of hating their body and trying to shrink. This is why measuring tape is nowhere in sight during my first (or any) visit with a client. I’m thankful more and more people, professionals and gym-enthusiasts are starting to learn that shrinking is not the answer.