I feel awful for anyone looking to the fitness industry and diet culture to learn which path to take. It’s seems overwhelming when many concepts, beliefs or approaches are so polarized.
I work with the general population and my mission is serve as a link between the evidence based community (the folks that are grounded in research and proven data) and the rest of us. I found that most people don’t even know what the evidence based fitness community is or how to comprehend what they are talking about (I sometimes have trouble understanding what they are talking about). Consequently, folks end up listening to companies or diets that are marketing directly to them through sales reps, instagram or social media. Much of what I have seen involves people swearing their way is the only way and bashing anyone who doesn’t feel the way they feel, this happens less with evidence based folks but it even happens there.
An all out war in my community broke out recently because a Dr. made bold claims stating all diets were bad, have a 95% failure rate, and that people who dieted have a higher mortality rate. SO NOT TRUE! Talk about fabricating, twisting and cherry picking data to support your claims. She claimed to be about body positivity and proceeded to call a fellow Dr. who is more fit than she was, gross and disgusting…WHAT? How is that professional or helpful to anyone who is looking for guidance? I believe she intended to attack toxic diet culture but instead she attacked all forms of dieting and anyone who wanted to change their bodies. Thereby shaming anyone who actually wants to change their bodies and believing that they could.
Then there is the concept of healthism which places a moral value on optimal health, implying that all those questing for increased health are better than those who don’t. If optimal health is valuable to one person then they are free to pursue it but they do not get the automatic moral high ground to look down on a person who may not have the same values as they do. I am sure we all know people like this, they make claims like if they can do it anyone can and they view anyone who doesn’t workout and eat the way they do as lazy. Healthism, places the responsibility of illness on the sick, claiming that all illness is preventable through a healthier lifestyle. My problem here is that it doesn’t take into account what obstacles could actually be contributing to an inability or unwillingness to pursue a healthier lifestyle, it fails to look at the whole human. I think we can all agree that we benefit from movement and more whole vs. processed food but, when that package comes with a heaping pile of guilt it is likely to turn a person off to the concept of health and therefore becomes counterproductive Health becomes moral and lack of health immoral thereby promoting shame which to many can be paralyzing.
What about the body positivity movement? it seems like a wonderful movement. Shouldn’t we all learn to feel more positive about our bodies? Unfortunately, frequently the body positivity movement is very biased against anyone who diets or is fit. Why cant we feel positive about our bodies but still choose to be fit or diet? Where did either or come from? There is a movement called HAES (health at every size) and for the past few months I heard snippets or bullets about the movement, it sounded good, promoted self acceptance and employs a weight neutral approach to eating, all of that seemed great to me, I have many clients who could totally benefit from that approach. I decided that if I am quoting the movement I had better read the book. I was fully prepared for the book to be biased toward the weight neutral approach but I hadn’t expected diet to be a four letter word. The book is completely anti diet, not simply biased but 100% on one side, black vs. white and right vs. wrong.
Here’s the issue, what if someone is truly uncomfortable in their body and wants to lose weight because it’s something they want, it’s important to that person and aligns with their values? Why are they now being shamed for wanting to lose weight? Here we go with more confusion. So this person is hit twice, they feel shame for being larger and shame for wanting to be smaller? That is not my definition of body positivity.
I am sure we can all agree that shame in general isn’t helpful to anyone.What would happen if we all took the lid off the box, walked toward the middle and began to question what we as individuals want for ourselves? I imagine that we may find a bit more of a sense of peace within our bodies. The stress and struggle of dieting would certainly decrease. If it so happens that we do want to change our bodies we greatly increase our chance of success when we approach it from this angle.
I invite everyone reading this to swim in the messy middle, a term used by Gabrielle Fundaro and Shannon Beer when describing the Comprehensive Coaching approach . The messy middle is the space where we, as humans prioritize our own values. We get to decide what feels right for us and why. We are able to find a path toward our ideal outcome that supports our lifestyle, without suffering and without excessive tradeoffs. This approach isn’t really on any side it simply asks that we identify our values, needs and wants before choosing our path.Why is that never introduced as a possibility? Having autonomy over ourselves leads to long term adherence, a problem whose solution continues to evade most of us. Here is what my messy middle looks like, I like my body, I enjoy lifting weight and dieting, I enjoy the art of changing my body, (I do see it as art by the way), I stand on a solid foundation and I choose to make changes. Is this even allowed? Am I breaking some cardinal rule? I don’t think so. In fact there are many people in my industry who feel this way and promote the middle of the road but, we dont fight, scream and yell or sell lies so you may be less likely to hear about us.
I became involved with comprehensive coaching because I dont believe in good or bad, right or wrong, on or off. Polarized approaches offer little help or support. In my experience they only confuse people who are desperately seeking a solution to their problem. It is that level of intense desperation that fans the flames of these polarized opinions. I enjoy coaching toward the middle, thats where the truth is. Here is some truth from the middle.
All diets aren’t bad BUT spending your whole life miserable trying to be thin sucks.
Not all diets fail but you will have greater success if you find one that supports your lifestyle and is easy to adhere to.
Not all fit people suck but the ones who assume everyone can look like them are probably assholes.
Not all heavier humans are lazy.
Not all fit people are self centered egomaniacs.
Anyone can reap benefits from exercise if they choose but, if they are being motivated by shame its unlikely that they will find joy in the process.
If I can leave you with just one suggestion it’s to know yourself. You are most familiar with your values and lifestyle. Dont assume that anyone in a position is an authority, Please take these folks down off these pedestals and give yourself a voice. Start by asking what is important to you and why. Let that information guide you in your process.