Which Camp Do You Sit In?

Recently my consumption of social media has got me back to thinking about something I touched upon in a podcast back in January.

Possibly because I follow a lot of fitness based accounts and pages I feel like there are lots of different messages out there at the moment. I mean they’ve always been out there but Lockdown and the impact of the fitness industry feels like it has made more noticeable- perhaps I’ve just got more time to notice, perhaps people are putting their messages out there more forcibly.

There are accounts pushing weight loss, accounts pushing detoxes, accounts pushing fitness transformations and the ideas around obesity and it’s connection with Covid (even Boris has said he struggled to fight it because he was fat). At the other end of the spectrum there are accounts promoting body positivity, health over size, intuitive eating. Between these two camps (if you like) some overlap in moderation between the two whilst others are firmly in one camp and critical of the other. Trigger Warning is something I’ve recently started to see on posts more frequently, with the notion that someone posting about food or training or body image in a way that disagrees with the reader in any way may trigger some terrible emotional response.

Is it any wonder people get confused about diet and fitness. When there are so many conflicting and emotive messages on a topic someone is already a little confused about anyway they muddy the water.

Personally I tend to agree with both sides of this coin. I don’t believe you should be made to feel like you need to look a certain way or be a certain size or eat a certain way. Equally however, whether you are overweight or not, if you are not happy with something and want to change it in a healthy way then you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about that and like you are betraying a body positivity movement. Much like feminism shouldn’t mean women who chose to stay at home over becoming a CEO shouldn’t be made to feel like they are betraying women kind, people who want to work towards a physical goal shouldn’t be made to feel bad.

Again, I’d say many fitness professionals would agree – it’s a balancing act. We don’t go up to people in the street and tell them they must work with us to lose weight. People come to us, they have seen our services advertised and they want the service offered. Equally, whilst many PTs these days specialise in the type of work they do, not all our clients are the same. Some may be looking to lose weight, find motivation, need encouragement to stick to workout schedules. Other clients may be the opposite and need help training sensibly or gaining weight. Advice that works for one person could potentially be damaging for another.

Of course that’s where the internet and posting about fitness gets tricky. Generally a post will have a target audience. If it’s about losing weight for instance, the writer really wants to get across the importance of reducing calories. Could someone with a potential eating disorder latch onto that advice? Maybe, in the same way that people who need to lose weight could latch onto something about intuitive eating which could be very useful to someone who needs to move away from calorie counting because it sounds appealing but in actual fact is unlikely to help them lose the weight. We always tend to manage to seek out the information that fits our agenda lets face it.

But this is the point, not everything written on social media will be for you or relate to you or be relevant to you. If you are recovering from something and know certain things could be triggering, removing those types of accounts from your feed until you are in a position to be able to read without feeling a reaction is surely a better move than the writer not writing the post (assuming here it’s a responsible, factual post). If you don’t agree with calorie counting and you are happy with your diet then don’t do it, if you find it useful, do it. Lose weight if you want to, if you don’t, don’t. I do believe that obesity is an underlying health condition that predisposes you to be more adversely affected by certain illnesses. So does smoking and drinking. Whilst I’d always encourage people to look after their health whether they want to exercise or eat a balanced diet is no more of my business as how much they drink or whether they smoke is, unless that is, they make it my business by coming to me as a client.

I also believe education is important. It is everyone’s choice to decide what to do with their body, but I’d like it to be an educated choice and there are many basic blocks of health and fitness and diet that people often do not understand, and in place have a series of myths and misconceptions about food. When people say you should eat and do what you enjoy that’s right, but what if you you enjoy is the food and lack of movement that is causing you health issues, at that point a message which is inspiring to already active people who maybe put too much pressure on themselves and need to be reminded they are enough could be damaging to someone who really does need to make changes and maybe needs more structure.

I think judgement is negative, from both sides of the coin. We need to remember that our message normally has a desired audience, an avatar, yet anyone can see it. Therefore it could potentially affect someone in a way we didn’t mean it to. I don’t think there is much we can do about that but that’s why I prefer a more measured message- a message which gets your point across without dismissing the other side. There is never one right way with diet or fitness, when people in fitness struggle with that notion it’s not hard to see how confusing that would be for consumers.

Understanding points of view other than your own and seeing their merit even if you disagree it’s automatically a bad thing or something that weakens your own standpoint.

Mental Health Awareness Week Musings

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week.

There has been a shift in recent years, with a greater willingness to understand how problems with your mental health can affect people.

Mental Health is not something you only need to be aware of if you have depression or another illness, how you think, feel and process things will affect your well being regardless.  It’s the understanding of this that has led to a rise in the notion of Self Care.

Self care is taking time to look after yourself, and could be as simple as getting an early night, eating a nice meal or going for a walk.  Equally though self care can be about your mindset, about being kind to yourself in the way you view yourself.

That could mean changing those you surround yourself with – be that in person or who you view on Social Media – if they cause you to doubt yourself.  It could be about accepting you cannot change the past and instead forgiving yourself or others for not being perfect.  It could be reminding yourself that whist not everyone will like you or always agree with you that doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong.  That one small mistake doesn’t define you so you don’t need to beat yourself up about it.  That you are allowed to change your opinion on a matter or a person and not be judged.  At one point or another I’ve had to learn how to be kind to myself on all those fronts to improve my own relationship with myself.

Looking after yourself is important and weeks such as this are good at raising awareness of the importance of looking after your mind as well as your body and encouraging people to speak up if they need help.

It is heart warming to see people offer to be there for people if they have problems or worries and need to talk.  From my own experience I can tell you that sometimes, if you have a problem that is affecting your mental health opening up to someone even when they offer seems too hard.  I eventually opened up to someone, not because they invited me to, but because they had shown themselves to be someone I felt I could trust and who would not judge me, so for me this is the type of person I would like to develop into – someone who is (however opinionated I can be at times still) approachable.  So I think awareness weeks such as this encourage us to consider our own actions, mindset and we both how we feel ourselves and make those around us feel, because the chances are, the time you may be able to help someone could come without you ever realising or inviting it.

The actual theme of this years awareness week is body image based.  Being a fitness professional I am extremely aware of the battles people can have with their own body image and it is often a fine line we walk between encouraging people to work towards their goals whilst also not confirming any negative feelings the same people may have about their body.  Much of what I’ve said above applies to our eating habits or training in almost the exact same way.  Learning to be kind to yourself if you didn’t hit your calorie deficit that week, accepting our training will not always go perfectly, not seeing anything less than 100% as failure.  Making these kind of adjustments to your own mental dialogue can improve your relationship with your body dramatically and make you feel so much more positive.