Ew, there’s fitspiration in my internet

The topics of food-shaming, fat-shaming, growing social media pressures, and the obsession with the external physical shape – and all the other topics that they border on – are far too broad for the scope of this blog.

But I have wanted to write something about food shaming and the growing “fitspiration” trend for a while now, because it’s all getting rapidly out of hand.

My problem with fitspiration in a nutshell: its fans claim that it portrays a healthier image of women; instead of being skinny and passive, they are muscular and depicted doing some sort of physical activity. However, whether they continue to be sexualised and objectified, or whether they appear to be taking matters into their own hands, they still very much promote one type of body and one type of body only (sorry for sharing all of those photos… if you’re anything like me, you’ll be quietly seething right now). As somebody who has exercised in one way or another for years, in various gyms, with various friends and partners and acquaintances, I can promise you I have never seen a woman who looked like a fitspo model.

And I certainly don’t look like one. Even less so now than I might have done a year ago, when I was unquestioningly traipsing to the gym 5-6 days a week, feeling inadequate if I left without struggling to walk down the stairs, eating the same thing day in day out, and never finding the time to see friends.

And yes, there are times (too many times) when that makes me feel inadequate as a personal trainer; shouldn’t I be dedicating every scrap of spare time to making myself look and act as perfect as clients hope they can become?

Well, no. And that’s why I’m writing today, even though many people have covered the topic way better than I ever could (a couple of my favourite sources here and here). While there is an awesome “No Diet Talk” movement, I do fear that many fitspirationers will look at it and go, “Well of course they’d say that, they’re fat” like some of the commenters to Jes Baker’s TED talk on Body Love (because of course, fat people don’t have a right to an opinion, especially not where their own bodies are concerned).

Yes, exercise may be a healthy practice. Yes, eating a variety of colourful, fresh, and unprocessed foods may be a healthy practice. But those two alone will not make you look like a fitspo model – for that, you would need to add extra muscle bulk in the right proportions (regardless of where your genes or your favourite physical activity would want you to add muscle bulk), then you would need to strip the fat off them to reveal their shape and striations. That’s without even talking about photo shoot day (last-minute dieting, clothing selection, lighting) or post-shoot days (image-editing). It’s a long and specific process, and there’s a reason people get paid to do it. It’s not going to be all happy, healthy, green-smoothie-sipping, heavy-lifting, going-home-to-a-hearty-meal-after-a-long-day fun. It’s work, and like most jobs, it comes at the cost of a number of lifestyle sacrifices.

But surely everyone should be encouraged to eat healthily and to exercise, even if they know they’re not going to look like a fitness model?

I think this is where the lines have become blurred. For a while, people knew models and images weren’t realistic, and continued about their lives. Now it seems that even those who are sensible enough to disregard unrealistic figure expectations, buy into the whole “eat clean, train hard”* message that I assume fitspiration is responsible for spreading. And they expect others to buy into it too, under a thin veil of trying to promote widespread health. Sean of Fat Gay Vegan told of a ludicrous virtual encounter in which a follower expressed their disregard for his diet because they expected a vegan blogger to be posting photos of “healthy” food.

So… does that mean we should all forget about trying to eat more fruit and veg, stop going to the gym, and should I be ashamed of being a personal trainer?

I believe sport and fitness and “healthy” eating (more on that below) are still relevant, and can happily coexist with confidence and peaceful lifestyles.

I see the role of the personal trainer as helping people live healthier lives. I don’t believe than an hour in a gym every few days (or even every day) constitutes an active lifestyle – it’s all about the other 23 hours (or 47, or 71) in between, and I was delighted when Stephanie of I Train Therefore I Eat reported that to be one of the key messages of the summit she attended. However, sometimes it’s hard to get active when you don’t feel comfortable in your own body; walking up the stairs leaves you sweaty and out of breath, stretching feels odd and uncomfortable, your limbs just feel cumbersome and your back hurts. Personal trainers should be training bodies to be more comfortable and functional in everyday life and for the long term; addressing muscular imbalances that can cause knee, back, shoulder and neck pains, improving cardiovascular fitness so that necessary everyday activities are no longer a burden. Unless you are a competitive athlete with one very specific goal in mind that you are willing to make sacrifices for, there is no point training so hard that you can’t do anything but lie on a couch for the rest of the day.

As for healthy eating, I think we need to understand that there is no healthy diet (I use the word “diet” to mean “eating pattern”, not “weight loss/food restriction method”). There is, however, a diet (or a number of diets) than accompanies a healthy lifestyle.

A healthy lifestyle encompasses the physical as well as the psychological and emotional. And those encompass the social too. So I don’t think that a flawlessly “healthy” diet in terms of nutritional value, that means you are unable to enjoy the foods or drinks you would want to for social (friend and family gatherings) or emotional reasons (stress, cravings), that means that you feel guilty if you do find yourself eating something less “healthy” in the nutritional sense, that means you have to worry and stress about preparing food in advance even though it’s late and you’re exhausted, or that means that you’re spending more money than you can afford in order to purchase the most fashionable superfood, is a healthy diet – because it doesn’t fit in to a healthy lifestyle.

Personal trainers need to help their clients enjoy life, by teaching them that they can feel healthy and happy and confident no matter what they eat or how often they train. To do that, it may be necessary to read between the lines; “I want to lose weight” could mean “I am not comfortable with my body”, and “I want to get fitter” could mean “I am not comfortable with my lifestyle”, and so on. Wanting to lose/gain weight and wanting to become fitter/stronger/faster is fine too, as long as it’s because you really want to achieve that goal and not because you think it will make your life better or you a better person.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you want or believe, what you should want or believe, what you will want or believe.

* It is worth pointing out that food is not dirty (nor is eating), and it is neither possible nor healthy to train truly hard at every single session for the rest of your life.

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Sunday thoughts: 20th July 2014

Ah… a pretty much perfect weekend after a slightly tense week: a decent lie-in followed by brunch with a friend on Saturday (which only took me 1h to get to!); a relaxed Saturday evening with pizza and a documentary; a solid’s night sleep albeit a bit shorter than I’d have ideally liked; a Skype catch-up with the family; a wander with Ben to a newly-discovered farm shop to pick up some bargains and frivolous purchases; then home for a late lunch in the garden, and now a cup of chai whilst I sit in a big and bright living room harnessing my thoughts.

New things I have learnt this week

After a fairly quiet and relaxed start to the week, a fairly large translation sent my way on Tuesday took up a couple of days’ worth of free time and thought capacity (sure, I had about three hours a day of unused transit time spent sitting aimlessly on public transport, but I cling on to that as time to plan client workouts, my own workouts, to doze off occasionally, and to clear my head). The translations got me learning a little about hairdressing and re-writing my translation-specific CV, but other than that:

  • Complaints of feeling uncomfortably bloated – I felt like I had a rubber floatation device stuck around my waist – led me to think about the possibility of water retention. Basically, with the hot and slightly more humid weather, the body can become coated in a layer of sweat (sorry) and thereby becomes less efficient at expelling more water. Electrolytes become unbalanced, the body starts to get all out of sync. As Ben has spent a lot of his career dealing with athletes and clients trying to regulate their weight, he was pretty switched on to all of this; I started loading up on electrolytes and water, made sure to wear newer breathable clothes (as opposed to some of the very old lycra training tops I still hold on to, which lose some of their moisture-wicking ability), and stuck a little bit of cardio into my week. I feel like the electrolytes made the biggest difference, and within the day I went back to feeling “normal”. My weight is still a couple of kilos higher than it normally is has ever been which could be a sign of fluid retention… but then I haven’t weight myself in months, have been lifting a lot more than I have consistently in years, and anyway I know better than to pay much attention to the number on the scales!
  • With a little time to kill one evening, Ben tried to instruct me how to swing a golf club – or more specifically, how to swing a golf club and hit the ball. Swinging I had no problem with. Hitting the ball proved easier than I thought. Hitting it in the right place so that it actually clears the ground and travels in vaguely the right direction, another challenge entirely. I’ll go back to hitting things with fists and feet (and elbows, and knees) I think. Isn’t that what they’re for?!

New things I have eaten this week

  • I visited Vital Ingredient for the first time with a friend and despite not being hungry and already getting a salad, I couldn’t resist the idea of a green smoothie. I love how you pick up your plastic smoothie cup pre-packed full of greens and take it to the counter to be blended with some apple juice. I did not love how they used terrible blenders and gave me a cup of apple juice with shredded greens floating in it. I still drank it, but I got very little enjoyment out of it, and I was particularly distressed at the thought that this might be some people’s first (and last) experience of a green smoothie. So disappointed.
  • My first visit to Nama, on the other hand, was no disappointment! After much deliberation (and an agreement to get different meals so we could try as many dishes as possible) my friend Necla opted for the “Green” pizza while I chose the Thai coconut curry over the sushi platter I had been considering, mainly out of curiosity for how to produce a curry out of raw ingredients. Nama Thai coconut curryI still don’t know how they did it – and to be honest I was paying too much attention to the conversation – but the vegetables were just tender with some bite to them, the curry was creamy and delicately spiced, and the kohlrabi rice was toothsome and refreshing. Very tasty… buuut I think the pizza might win!Nama green pizzaWe had pretty much both decided not to get the very tempting-sounding juices or smoothies in favour of desserts. I was immediately drawn to the special strawberry mousse cake, though my heart did cling on to the idea of the fermented mocha cake… Luckily, Necla was happy to order the latter so we got to try a bit of both!Nama strawberry mousse cakeThe one big negative about these cakes was that there wasn’t nearly enough of them. Otherwise, super tasty and beautifully presented… I loved them both but was perhaps most impressed with the flavour of the mocha.Nama mocha cheesecakeThe food was good, the decor and vibe were clean and bright and relaxing, the staff were cheerful and friendly… Despite the prices, I will definitely go back!

Other highlights this week

  • Ben has been great this week and made dinner for us while I was either on my way home or frantically working at a translation. Lots of lovely summery grilled dinners they were too, so much fun to eat!
  • The thunder started growling as we went to bed (far too late) on Thursday night… so we stayed up to watch the thunderstorm! I saw the streaks of lightning, and the road outside the house turned into a river… It was fun to just enjoy something as simple as sitting in the dark looking out at the elements on a warm summer’s night.
  • We received a huge order of BAM clothing and I love it all so much. Money definitely well spent.
  • Chatting away at lunch yesterday was the first time in a while I have completely forgotten about the time. I have no idea where three hours went over the course of a light and uncooked meal, but I loved every uncounted second of it.
  • Oh and Necla bought me the sweetest house-warming gift: a multi-section lunch box! It is actually not an overly well-known fact on this blog that I adore Sistema portable-food related accessories – and yet somehow Necla just knew! I promptly accessorised.Sistema lunch cube So many times in the last few weeks I have wanted some fresh bits and pieces to snack on throughout the day, rather than having to save leftovers (doesn’t happen), make a portable meal (too much effort), or buy food while I’m out at work… and there’s only so many sweet and nutty snack bars I can eat in a day (probably about 3) before I start craving something crunchy and savoury. I already can’t wait for my lunch/snack tomorrow!Lunch box
  • When Village Pizza happens, it is always a highlight.
  • Today has just been lovely. With the weather sort of in between two worlds, we were neither up for staying in all day, nor for basking in the garden all day. So we set off in search of Garsons farm shop which I suspected would be underwhelming and overpriced. It was neither; obviously there were some expensive products in there but some of the local produce was actually very tempting and reasonably priced. After much (much) examination and deliberation and hovering around the olives, we picked up a bunch of freshly grown beetroot which called out to me with its jungle of bright green leaves. Ben bought me a jar of salt and peppercorn pickles from the reduced section which I had been eyeing up, mainly because one slice looked like a smiley face (see Instagram). And we found some vanilla chai tea on offer – reduced from a fiver to £1.99! But look at my beetroot:Beetroot and shadows

I hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend guys! I have a few bees in my bonnet this week so I’m hoping I’ll find some time to put them into words and share my thoughts with you all this week.

Whatever happens, have a lovely week!

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Sunday thoughts: 13th July 2014

I cannot believe the Allergy and Free From Show (and V Delicious) was just last week! And the theatre! And brunch at Lotus Cucina! This week – and particularly this weekend – have been so full of people bouncing around, weather doing full 180s on us from one minute to the next, late nights and naps on trains and buses… I’m not entirely sure I can recall much before Wednesday, but I’ll do my best: Continue reading

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The Superfoods + Snack Bars Show

Reading through last year’s recap of the Allergy + Free From Show and V Delicious, I am touched by how excitable and naive I was. And a little alarmed at how much more cynical I have become in a year.

The strange thing is that overall, I feel I had a much better experience of the show; I had already seen or heard of most of the exhibitors, so I knew which stalls I wanted to battle to get to, and which ones I was happy to drop large amounts of money at. Continue reading

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Monday thoughts: 7th July 2014

So it looks like all the good I did by posting twice this week, I undid by neglecting my Sunday thoughts. Knowing my Sunday was going to be uncharacteristically jam-packed, I could have prepped them on my quiet Saturday, but my heart wasn’t really in it… and what are Sunday thoughts without peace and love? Continue reading

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The Inbetweener

Mid-life crises, sitting on the fence, being “in between jobs” (or, as I refer to my current training situation, “in between gyms”), grey areas, limbo… Being in between things is heavy with negative connotations.

I mean, they’ve even made a hugely popular TV series and movie inspired by the awkwardness that accompanies being of an age that is somewhere in between childhood and adulthood.

We desperately fill our time in between more “important” things with phone calls, reading mindless newspapers and magazines, scrolling through social media on our phones. I, for one, know I get intensely frustrated when plans change last minute and I find myself with loose fragments of time to fill, too short in which to do anything meaningful, but too long to satisfy with a quick breath of fresh air and a stroll in the sun.

But what if the in-between is all we have? Continue reading

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Free love

Lately, in between being busy with clients, training a bit more, looking after the house, and spending time out in the sun, I haven’t had a huge amount to say that has been worth writing about, especially as I hope most of you have been out far from the internet, soaking up sunshine and brewing happy thoughts.

I can’t pretend I didn’t spend a lot of that aimless time thinking about whether that makes me a bad blogger or not… but eventually I settled on “not” as an answer. I don’t get a report card or a medal at the end of this, and there is no foreseeable end anyway. In conclusion, I can do what I want. Continue reading

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