Ask Amanda: Size Me Up

I meant to write this entry weeks ago when the whole Lady Gaga body shaming thing came out, but other #AskAmanda inquiries came up, and I had to save my little soapbox for a while.

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ZING!

But now, I’ve been thinking about my dear Lady as well as some other recent body-related posts I’ve seen (female boxer Alicia Napoleon on what being “beautiful” means; H&M’s new body positive advertising) and I just feel like it’s the right time to talk about an issue that underlies so much of the communication, presentation, and function of the fitness industry – especially as it applies to women*.

(*Male readers, by the way, don’t think you’re “excused” from the conversation – if you choose to leave, you’re just part of the problem.)

“The problem,” by the way, is this: the true definition of fitness as an ideal should be a strong, healthy body, mind and spirit – but the working definition of fitness in our culture is a muscled yet somehow miraculously lean body without much attention to the whole “mind and spirit” thing and even less to the whole “life in balance” thing.  Throw in the fact that many female representations of “fitness” are often just regular (underweight) models wearing sports bras, and I think the issue is quite clear.

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Not hating on how she lives her life, but it probably doesn’t involve a lot of exercise – or food.

Think of how fitness companies sell their products – whether it’s gym memberships, vitamins, group classes, fancy equipment, clothing, whatever – it’s usually by showcasing these impossibly “fit” bodies (and again, if we’re talking about women, usually “fit” and “skinny” are frustratingly and inaccurately interchangeable, since visible muscles can actually have the opposite effect on sales) and promising that the product/apparel/supplement will deliver them as quickly as possible.

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She has no muscles; he has a bunch; somehow they both got the same result from 6 minutes with a hand-held vibrator?  Let’s use our brains here, people.

In a word: wrong.  And in another word: misleading.  And allow me one more: destructive.

Even if these companies have the best of intentions, they’re still delivering the age-old message that the only reason to get fit is to have a hot (thin/muscled, again, depending on gender) body, and if a certain method doesn’t guarantee a hot (thin/muscled) body, it’s not worth pursuing.  Screw you, tai chi.  Forget it, low-impact cardio.  Sayonara, stretching.  Our fitness culture screams push, starve, sweat, burn – rarely if ever, balance; and nearly never, fitness at any size.

Furthermore, advertising and communicating this message does double damage in that it negates the actual reality of achieving hot (thin/muscled) bodies, which is that it often takes much more sacrifice and social isolation than the average person is willing to commit, and that a hot body is no more a symbol of true health than a Louis Vuitton bag is a symbol of true wealth – it’s just an easily identifiable status symbol, and just as shallow.

I once had a client tell me that she would not have signed up to train with me if she didn’t “want my body” – how I interpreted that was, if my body shape and size didn’t meet her ideal of what a fit body should look like, she would negate the decade-plus experience I’ve had professionally training clients and hire someone who “looked the part” better than me.

I’ve had it with that type of bullsh*t.

Because I specialise as a weight loss coach, you may think it’s a bit hypocritical for me to harp on the hyperfocus on body size and shape as a problem, since it’s exactly that “problem” that keeps me in business.  But I counter with this: I specialise in helping people get to their healthy weights, with lots of lean muscle, functional mobility, clean nutrition, and personal growth along the way.

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Mmmm, I’ll have an extra large serving of downtime please.

Not a single one of my clients is encouraged to take supplements, go below normal recommended calorie targets, slog away hours of cardio, or even give much credence to the raw number on the scale (I emphasise the importance of body fat percentage and body measurements as the appropriate progress metrics for fat loss).  No one in my gym gets by calling themselves “weak” or “fat,” and I really try to discourage (particularly female) clients from pointing out singular body parts as “problem areas” and rather encourage a full-body fabulous approach to training.

I refuse to accommodate women who tell me they don’t want to get “too muscular” (for the record, it’s never one happened, because gaining muscle is not an easy feat for most of us) from training with weights, and I absolutely have no patience for clients who choose to starve themselves or do hours of cardio to “lose weight” rather than do it the right way.

Before I lose focus (and I know, I’m almost there), I want to leave you guys with the summary point of all this: how you look on the outside is only one (often misleading) indicator of how you’re functioning on the inside, and no one – not even your doctor, not even your trainer – can assess your health and fitness just by looking at your body shape or size.  You control your real health outcomes with attention to clean eating, resistance training, and proper sleep and stress management, and when you do those things well, you’ll see exactly what your healthy body is supposed to look like.

Have you ever had comments about your body, fitness, or size that hit a nerve?  How do you – did you – deal?

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Breaking Down

Those who know me know I never get sick.  BECAUSE I DON’T.  Except when I kind of do.

I woke up yesterday after 8.5 (glorious!) hours of sleep with drymouth and a scratchy throat.  I knew what it meant.  I just refused to accept it.  I worked all day yesterday, ran 6.5 miles at 7:30pm, got home around 9 and still had two hours of work to catch up on.  I fell asleep at around 11:30 and had to be up at 5, at which point I thought I’d just “power through” the day.

Well, that “power” lasted about three hours.  I took two clients.  I ran 4 miles.  And then I came home and barely made it to the couch before passing out again.  

I hate this feeling.  How do people deal with this?  I want to keep pushing and pretend I’m OK, but I acknowledge when my body is sending me a loud and clear message.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s a Simpsons Marathon on TV, let’s just be real.  That will make anyone feel better.

I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully feeling better, and definitely trying to pump myself full of sleep and vegetables – the only two cures that I truly believe in.

What are your surefire “feel a cold coming on” home remedies?

Gym Sins & Other Bitching

Somebody told me today was National No Complaints Day, which of course inspired in me the deep need to complain about my workplace.

Working at a gym, you see the odd (and often unseemly) side of otherwise normal people.  People who typically have decent hygiene sweating all over machines without wiping it up.  People who have the wherewithal to use indoor voices in their daily lives somehow turn into the loudest grunters at the squat rack.  It’s like people leave their normal selves at the gym door and turn into some alternative being once they’re faced with iron and treadmills.

But beyond my general complaints about smell/sounds/oddities, there are certain things in the gym that make me shudder and cringe – and sometimes fill with rage.  They are so profoundly offensive  that I have time and again considered asking my boss if we can “police” them to the extent that we withhold memberships from repeat offenders (she said no, BTW).

Dropping weights.  If you are strong enough to lift them, you should be strong enough to place them gently back on the floor or rack.  Otherwise you’re not a tough guy, you’re a lazy douche.  

Leaving weight plates racked on machines.  Similar to the above – I’m glad you’re awesome enough to squat 280 pounds on the Smith machine.  That should also translate into being awesome enough to unrack your weights so that the little old lady who wants to squat the empty bar can get under it without being crushed.  Yeah, thanks.

Using the elliptical.  This machine is so pointless it enrages me to see people try to use it for exercise.  If you have a knee replacement, struggle to balance on your own two feet without falling over, or don’t care about actually gaining any cardiovascular fitness from your exercise, by all means – elliptical away.  But for the able-bodied and calorie-counting among us, find some actual way to work out (my recommendation?  Rowing machine.)

Trying to “save” machines with a towel or water bottle.  You know what happens when someone leaves a machine “marked” with a sweaty towel?  I slip on a latex glove, toss that towel in the bin, and go about working on the machine I need to use – now.  If you want to set up a fancy circuit, use free weights – and corral yourself a little space.  Otherwise, the machine is up for grabs if your butt isn’t sitting in it.

Checking your phone during a class.  If you want to waste your precious workout time checking your phone while sitting on a bench, go ahead – not my problem.  But  when you’re in my Spin class, taking up a bike that someone on the waiting list would’ve loved to use, and enjoying a program that I designed specifically for your workout enjoyment, you better damn well listen up.

And finally, talking to someone who is clearly trying to work out.  The gym is not social hour.  The gym is not a place to pick up ladies (or gents), nor is it a place to conduct formal business.  If the person in question has earbuds in, is lifting a dumbbell, is running at high speeds, or is otherwise engaged in actual exercise, it’s probably not time to launch into the discussion about your weird toe growth or your kid’s school class or some other inane topic of distraction.  Zip your lip so I don’t slip my grip, ok?

What drives you crazy in the gym?