By Natalina Earls
When it comes to exercise, are women truly from Venus while men are from Mars? In my opinion, they may not be from different fitness planets since they both love friendly competition and getting stronger and faster and fitter. Still, they might just be from different poles of this planet when it comes to how they think and talk about their bodies. Having trained in co-ed gyms and now training mostly women, I would argue that body image is the biggest difference between male and female clients.
Bombarded daily with unrealistic body ideals, many women berate themselves about their bodies and obsess over the scale. Negative body image isn’t just a female problem, but it is certainly more common for women to hold negative concepts about their bodies. According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, “by the age of 13, 53 percent of girls say they are unhappy with their bodies.”
Not only is negative body image an obvious impediment to happiness, but I truly believe that it is also an impediment to long-term success in health and fitness. People tend to treat their bodies better when they respect their bodies.
Make positive talk about your body part of your fitness regiment. Changing those internal voices is not easy, but there are some steps to avoid negative self-talk while you’re exercising.
- Plan ahead and have a mantra about your body to go to. For instance, “my body gets stronger and healthier with every workout.
- Don’t weigh yourself for at least a month after you begin exercising and eating right. The first couple of weeks, people often gain weight, which can send people into a downward spiral due to their frustration. Give your body a chance to adjust to your new lifestyle. Or better yet, ditch the scale for good and pay attention to how you feel! Are the stairs easier to climb? Is your energy level higher?
- Never use pictures of somebody else’s body to motivate you. Odds are that the picture you’re looking at is of a person who started with a different body than you and has been professionally trained for years to maintain that body. Not only is this unrealistic, but it has been shown to actually decrease success in eating well and exercising.
- Make a list of things you like about your current body. As you make healthier choices, keep another running list of things you enjoy about your increasing fitness level.
- Be aware of critiquing other women’s bodies. Make note when you think or say something disparaging about the way another woman’s body looks and reprogram by thinking a positive thought.
If you can’t do these things for yourself, consider doing them for the younger people who look to us to understand and evaluate their own bodies. Many of us remember our mothers being on diets, saying they looked fat, or just looking in the mirror contemptuously. These things stick with us. Our mothers and sisters and aunts are our real-life role models and can offer an alternative to the media’s ideals of beauty.
Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist specializing in parenting and body image, advises to also avoid making moral judgments about food in front of your children. For instance, don’t say, “I was bad today. I ate chocolate.” If your child asks why you’re not having desert, you might say something like, “It doesn’t make my body feel good.” Or when you’re eating a healthy dinner, comment on how strong good food makes your body or how good it makes you feel. Don’t connect weight and food; connect health and food. When you talk about exercise, make it about how your body functions, not how it looks. The fitness industry as a whole is culpable in perpetuating the focus on female form rather than function, and we could all stand to think about how we portray fitness goals and talk about success.
Natalina Earls is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer with additional credentials in Spinning, TRX, Barre, Boot Camp, and Kickboxing. Natalina has years of personal and professional experience in various fitness methods and is an avid runner and obstacle race enthusiast. She currently operates The Edge Fitness for Women in the Edgewood neighborhood of Cranston. The Edge Fitness offers personal training and small group fitness including spin, barre, boot camp, kickboxing, and strengthen and tone.