Why we need the Body Positive Fitness Alliance

You know when something is on your mind but you can’t quite articulate it? And then you stumble across a website or a blog – or (gasp) a real life person – who says everything you’ve been thinking, so that you end up nodding incessantly like one of those nodding dog toys (whilst resisting the urge to hug said person/computer)?

I had that a couple of weeks ago when I discovered the Body Positive Fitness Alliance. And now I have finally found the words to tell you why I am so excited about it. Spoiler alert: #partofthesolution.

Seven Pillars of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance

As you know, things have been a bit quiet around here for the past few months. As well as being busy and on holiday, I was seriously questioning my role in the fitness industry. Not my job – I love working with my clients, and I know that I am having a positive impact on their lives in some small way – but my career and aspirations and other such grand things. I cringe at people posting their workouts on social media, I try desperately to extricate myself from conversations about fitness with anyone other than a client, personal trainer social media accounts and newsletters bore me to tears and, frankly, I spend less and less time actually “working out” myself. All a bit strange for someone who has chosen fitness as a career.

And yet, I still believe that fitness is important, and I stand firm in my vision to make it more approachable and accessible to everyone.

Seven Pillars of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance

When we become personal trainers, we learn how to get people stronger, faster, fitter, leaner, better… But what if a client came to me – as many did – who wasn’t interested in those things? Would I be deemed a “good” personal trainer if I trained somebody for years and they lost no weight or body fat? Conversely, if a client came to me wanting to lose weight despite being at a healthy weight, what right do I have to question or ignore their goal, given than I am not a health professional?

At the heart of these dilemmas lies one fundamental question: What is health anyway? The World Health Organisation – who, you might suppose, would know a thing or two – haven’t amended their definition since 1948:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

I love this definition. It embodies everything that I already felt about health and wellbeing, a lot of which was confirmed to me as I researched for my nutrition essays:

  1. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and general health, and there never will be
  2. We know very little for certain about the human body and what it needs to be in a state of optimal health across a life span
  3. Physical health and mental health are inextricably intertwined, along with socioeconomic and cultural factors

Seven Pillars of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance

While fitness professionals are not health professionals, we can have a direct impact on physical, mental and social wellbeing and, therefore, health.

Ideally, personal trainers would be encouraging mental and social wellbeing by being encouraging, positive, compassionate, and understanding of each client’s unique set of needs and preferences. So that quite easily takes care of a lot of the issues I raised above: as long as we work with a client in a way that makes them happy, allows them to lead a fulfilling social (and professional) life, we should be doing fairly well.

Seven Pillars of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance

But aside from purely fitness-related goals, what role does a personal trainer play in a client’s physical health? A discussion of the effects of physical activity on overall health would take up several blogs to itself: various studies have dissected the effects of changing exercise type, frequency, volume, and intensity on morbidity; others have looked at body weight and body composition in relation to disease and morbidity; still more have combined one or more of these areas, or focussed on one specific disease such as type-II diabetes; and that’s without even beginning to talk about genetics and culture and socioeconomic factors. So let’s not pretend that personal trainers can really have too significant an impact on long-term physical health.

One of the very few things we do know about long-term health is that being active is important. Or rather, being less inactive is important. That distinction is crucial: what you do in the gym, or even whether you go to the gym at all, matters little. And it follows that what your body looks like matters even less.

Unfortunately, the “obesity stigma” is a very real thing, with very real effects that can be devastating not just to mental health but also to physical health. It’s easy to see how this would become a vicious cycle: an overweight person who feels discriminated against is not only going to want to avoid those areas that feel the most judgemental (like gyms), but they are also less likely to want to take care of their health due to resulting feelings of worthlessness, and that’s without even starting to talk about the effects of depression and isolation.

Seven Pillars of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance

That’s where the Body Positive Fitness Alliance comes in. Yes, there is a place for personal trainers and fitness professionals who believe in a multidimensional approach to fitness! We can promote health and wellbeing by encouraging people to be more active – and we don’t need to measure their progress by how they look or their body composition.

I set out on my personal training journey two years ago with one firm vision: that everyone could be more active in a way they could enjoy, and reap the health and wellbeing benefits. I wanted to be the one who encouraged the most gym-phobic, exercise-averse individual to find something they enjoyed doing and to get lost in it. Not to bitterly drag themselves to the gym, not to track their weight and body composition ritualistically in search of self-flagellation (“I’ve put on weight, that’ll teach me to eat two slices of my own birthday cake!” or incentive (“Yes! My body fat percentage has gone down! I mustn’t ruin it now by over-indulging…“). I felt a need to help everyone reconnect with their own body and its unique strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and needs.

I felt this was important, but I couldn’t really have told you why. Then I read the Body Positive Fitness Alliance’s blog post entitled “The Problem with Gyms“:

A recent survey from the Physical Activity Council revealed that one in four Americans didn’t exercise at ALL last year. Not once, in an entire year! 28% of our population did not engage in what their bodies were DESIGNED for for 365 days straight. Let that sink in for a minute.

Gyms have always been weird to me, even as a gym owner. The thought of creating a space where we have to go and perform motions which imitate the work our bodies were designed to do on the daily simply because our daily lives have been reduced to sitting behind desks is a little existentially mind blowing for me, to be honest. 

Of course, the figures relate to the American population, but I think it can apply to most of the so-called Westernised world. We know physical activity is important and beneficial to mental and physical health, and yet a large proportion of us are not engaging in it, probably because we don’t feel there are any appealing ways of doing this; either because we feel out of place in a gym setting, or have been led to believe it will take too much time or effort to achieve any benefits.

It is important to emphasise that an hour or two a week spent in the gym or consciously exercising is great, but for many people the physical impact will be pitiful compared to anything that could achieve by getting up and wandering around the office for five minutes an hour. And yes, that might be all it takes! More importantly, it might be all a person can manage to start with, and that effort shouldn’t be belittled. The time a client spends with me should be a) fun and b) designed to inspire and help them become stronger and fitter in such a way as to encourage daily movement (for example; getting fit enough to take the stairs, or reducing back pain so that walks can be taken in lunch breaks).

Seven Pillars of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance

One last thing: body positive approaches often get sneered at as cop-outs, or soft approaches. I think this is grossly mistaken. In fact, I would argue that it would be far easier to get a person to lose or gain weight at any cost, than it is to provide fun sessions that are immediately rewarding and beneficial to long-term health, whilst being mindful of the individual’s physical and mental state, within their time and budget constraints.

I’ll leave you with thought, folks. There are still a lot of things I would like to say on the topic, a lot of studies and reviews to be unearthed and linked to, and in the coming weeks I’d like to share some of the lessons I have been learning on my new yoga journey. But in the meantime, do have a look at the following resources if you are equally passionate about promoting body positivity and forging a new fitness industry:

Please share any other resources and thoughts in the comments! Thanks for reading, as always.

Oh, the vegan Duke of York

I am not great at being spontaneous. As much as I love the idea of setting out for a day of unknown adventures exploring the streets and market-stalls of London, sniffing out and picking up vegan treats as I go, it never quite comes together; any hint of spontaneity is stamped out by train timetables, the picking out of changeable weather-appropriate layers, and the realisation that going anywhere or doing anything in London usually requires spending money which, when there’s nothing you have your heart particularly set on, can feel a touch prohibitive. So if I can avoid spending three hours on public transport, getting rained on, only to find myself parting with a week’s worth of grocery money for a substandard falafel wrap… well, I’ll make plans that steer me clear away from that experience.

It may have taken me only just over 24 hours to get myself to the Startisans food market at Duke of York Square when I heard that Vegan Sweet Tooth would be making their debut… But it has taken me weeks months to get my hands (and mouth) on the gorgeous Italian food served up by Sara of Pomodoro e Basilico. Continue reading

Happiness habits

Shortly after I spent ten days at a silent retreat, I read a brilliant quote on Twitter:

It is not necessary to meditate for one hour a day,” it said – “unless you are too busy; then you should meditate for two hours.”

 I thought that was perfect, and to this day whenever I catch myself making excuses not to do something (you know, like, several times a day), that line runs through my head.

After all, we all perform many little tasks mindlessly every day, without even questioning whether we have time for them. Brushing our teeth; showering and/or washing our hair; for some of us, exercising; Instagramming our breakfasts… In a world where we are increasingly prioritising productivity, certain daily non-work rituals still squeeze their way into the schedule.

Lemon beauty

When life gives you lemons…

I am as much of a fan of ticking items off a to-do list as the next person. But every so often I get carried away by my own whirlwind until I come crashing down in some unfamiliar land, slightly dazed, with no idea how to get back to a place where I can just stop and breathe.

I’m sure we’ve all been there, and we have all known what we needed to focus on: sleeping a little more or a little better, eating more home-cooked meals more of the time, prioritising exercise or creative hobbies… But it’s those exact times when dedicating more time to any of these seems the least possible.

So I start with my happiness habits. These are little things that anyone can do, starting anytime, that cost no money and very little time or energy. Hopefully they get the ball rolling towards a more peaceful life balance – and if not, each individual tip is just as beneficial in its own right! Try them and see…

1. Screens stay out of the bed. I know rules are meant to be broken… just not this one. The blue light from our electronic devices suppresses the release of melatonin, and stops us from feeling sleepy. That’s without even considering how long our phones, tablets and laptops can keep us distracted for! My phone gets switched off and left in the living room, and I really notice the difference in how much sooner I turn the light out and how quickly I fall asleep.

2. Moisturise. I have taken to rubbing a little coconut oil into my hands and feet as I get into bed. It gives me a few moments to thank those over-worked and under-appreciated parts of my body, but it also raises the barrier between the day’s work and the night’s rest. Plus, I can’t use a touch-screen with oily hands, should I have been tempted…

Smoothie on the go

3. Smoothie. I used to be really good at cooking a big batch of something on a Sunday evening for my weekday meals, but now that my schedule is less predictable I find it harder to motivate myself to spend a couple of hours cooking at the end of my weekend. I’ve found that although I usually have enough food with me for the day in snacks like nuts, fresh and dried fruit, and energy bars, they just don’t feel as satisfying as a filling, multi-ingredient meal. Blending up a smoothie in the morning is super quick and easy, especially with a NutriNinja or equivalent as you can throw everything in, leave it to do its thing for a minute while you get ready, then just screw the sippy lid on and go!

The peaceful smartphone

4. Unclutter. I love the idea of a distraction-free iPhone, but you know what – sometimes I like a bit of a distraction. What I don’t like, is a multitude of notifications poking me incessantly; if I glance at my phone to see more that a couple of items that need to be dealt with, it really makes me feel twitchy. So I had a good sort-out of what I need and what I enjoy using on my phone, creating a much more streamlined and peaceful home screen and user experience.

My three steps to a more peaceful smartphone

  1. Delete apps you don’t use. I also moved all the default apps I never use but can’t delete to a separate folder, on my second screen.
  2. Move apps you use occasionally to the second screen. I dislike Facebook intensely so I deleted the app, but I kept the Messenger app on the second screen as there are a view people I stay in touch with exclusively through Facebook.
  3. Turn off notifications for anything non-urgent. I like to respond to calls, voicemails, texts and emails in a timely manner, so I have kept those notifications on. But social media is rarely urgent, so I have turned all of those notifications off, so I only check up on them when I want to.

These small changes have made a huge difference to how much I rely on my phone, and how deeply I get sucked in once I’m on it.

[And yes, you’ll notice my background picture is my “When Life Gives You Lemons” photo from above… it reminds me to stop and appreciate beauty.]

5. Break the cycle. This is undoubtedly easier said than done! It involves trying, wherever possible, to break the cycle of frustration and aggressiveness. Anyone who has used London public transport will know how quickly things can escalate when two egos clash. My little trick is to smile at whoever is behaving in the most brash, frustrating, and inconsiderate way. It helps dissolve my ego, and removes tension for others to push against. You have to try it to believe it!

So there you have it. My first five baby steps on the road to better sleep, better nourishment, and more peace in my day-to-day. I’d love for you to give any of them a go and let me know how you get on!

More importantly, tell me: what are your go-to happiness habits?

Vegan Sweet Tooth London

This month, April 2015, marks my sixth veganniversary – six years of being vegan (not counting the comparatively brief stint when I was a teenager).

In that time I have evolved a bit as a vegan; while avoiding animal food products never gave me any headaches, I was a little slower to catch on to vegan cosmetics. Thankfully, now almost every non-vegan product in my bathroom has been phased out, with the exception of some eyeliner that I have had since before I was vegan (I know!), and a couple of perfumes that was given to me as a gifts before I became discerning enough to re-gift them before opening.

The vegan lifestyle having now become second-nature to me, I now focus on prioritising more ethical products too, wherever possible. And if I can pick a local and/or independent business over a chain or mass-produced product, I’ll happily spend a little more if required. Knowing that spending money will have a tangible, positive effect on someone, it just makes parting with the cash even sweeter. When you hand money over to an independent business owner, you might just be that exchange that turns their day from average into successful – be it from the financial reward or just from the personal exchange. And well, if you get cake out of it…  Continue reading

My story for Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015

In the spirit of the “fresh start” I am giving this blog, I feel it is the right time to share a different kind of post with you all today.

National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week is coming to a close in the USA, and Eating Disorders Awareness Week is ongoing in the UK. In honour of NEDA week, Gena shared her personal experience with an eating disorder over on Choosing Raw, and it resonated so deeply with me that I was inspired to do the same.

b-eat Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Even as I type these words I am questioning whether I will actually publish the final post. Am I qualified to write about this? Isn’t it a bit melodramatic and self-important? Continue reading

Come here often?

Hi there. Have we met?

Perhaps we knew each other a while ago, or maybe we just feel like we’ve known each other forever. It’s still me, but maybe it’s not quite me. We’ve probably both changed quite a bit. I hope we still get along!

I didn’t leave a note because I was all out of words. Just like that: one day they were there, the next – nothing. But slowly, as I knew in my heart of hearts they would, thoughts of this humble patch of the internet with my name on it started to tug at my heartstrings and my fingertips.

Things might change a little around here. I’m not too sure yet how, when, or why, but it’s time for some spring cleaning. Nothing too intense, don’t worry; that’s not my style. But I’m feeling different feels and I hope this reflects that. Join me for the journey. Let’s have some fun with our words and our thoughts and remember what we cared about before everyone else decided to tell us what to care about.

These are some of the things that have been happening, in as little order as I can impose:

+ I wrote two essays, both of them brilliant and frighteningly poor at the same time. I hope my awareness of their shortcomings means they will actually have none… that’s how it works right?

+ I ordered room service in a hotel for the first time in my life. At midnight. Home Alone anyone? Thank you, Fairmont Dubai, for one of the most memorable vegan impromptu dinners I have experience thus far (and for the slippers).

Fairmont Dubai vegan room service

+ I made a delicious (albeit slightly modified) sunshiny breakfast quinoa from a Zsu Dever recipe to hit your bookshelf soon. I can still taste it, it was that good.

Zsu Dever breakfast quinoa+ Ben and I bought a bed! It felt so grown-up lying down on the beds in the bed shop with a view to actually buying one for once.

+ If I could eat sun-dried tomatoes and/or za’atar in every meal, I would. So I do. I would also like to eat the avocado toast from Double Take Café every day, but it lives in Toronto, Australia, so thank goodness for za’atar and sun-dried tomatoes (but how good would this toast be with za’atar and sun-dried tomatoes?!).

Double Take café avo toast

+ In Australia I saw a dolphin leaping, a sea-eagle soaring, some insanely big jellyfish jellyfishing, a pelican choking, and a giant rat. Nature is great, but it isn’t great at cuddles which is why we have cats.

Mika+ I got a new tattoo, but it feels like it has been there forever – in a really good way! I knew what I wanted for years but could never picture it in my mind’s eye. Luckily, Sooz at Fifth Dimension Tattoo is some kind of psychic visionary and created the most perfect tattoo for me that I could ever have dreamed up. It’s like she knew me better than I knew myself. It was scary at first and then just crazy awesome.

Cherry tree tattoo+ I went back to a grappling training session for the first time in over a year! Well, I thought it was grappling. It was submission wrestling. It was a breath of fresh air in a suffocating January (figuratively – literally it was more like gasps of sweat-soaked air in a brutally crisp January).

+ I spent some quality time with a friend before she moved back to Turkey. It was sad to see her go but I was super grateful for the bonding we got to do which, let’s face it, never would have happened had she been sticking around. She also made me these totally crave-worthy almond butter biscuits. They are perfect flight snacks!

4-ingredient flourless cookies+ Ben bought us a Nutri Ninja (with Auto-IQ)! Believe the hype. So far my best concoction has included mango, kiwi, banana, strawberries, spinach, pumpkin seeds, matcha powder, and soy milk.

+ We got to look after a dog for a day and got given a bag of Monmouth coffee (Finca Malacara A, since you asked) and a shiny new cafetière for our efforts. Mornings are a different beast, and so am I.

Cat coffee chillSo that’s what’s been. I want to give everything on here a little revamp at some point, but mainly I want to get a little more personal. In my time off I indulged in a lot of reading of other blogs, falling out of love with some, but much more deeply in love with others, and I realised that the blogs I love the most are not necessarily the ones with the prettiest pictures and the best recipes, but the ones that are held together by one author’s voice and passion and honesty.

So in the spirit of treating others as I’d like to be treated, I will try to open up a little more on this space that is my own. If I could serve you some of my fancy new coffee and those melt-in-your-mouth flourless almond butter cookies while we chat, I would.

Tomorrow I’m planning on sharing the most personal post I ever have shared on here. Beyond that, I’m not sure what will be next, but please join me in jumping off at the deep end.

Thanks for sticking around, and speak soon!

Sunday thoughts: 7th December 2014

Is it just me, or do weeks where you start with a day or two off seem longer than the full Monday-to-Friday routine? This has undoubtedly been my most productive week maybe ever but certainly since going independent (and yes, sleeping, eating and training all count as productive, as does napping on the bus when you are stuck in traffic without moving for 20 minutes). So if anybody feels like getting me an early Christmas present, I could do with a couple extra days of the week. Preferably weekend days, but beggars can’t be choosers. Continue reading