“How do you start a revolution, Lori?”
This was the question that appeared softly and somewhat unexpectedly in my mind several weeks ago as I navigated the experience I am about to share with you.
The following “call to action” email showed up in my inbox after I had been investigating a local martial arts facility’s introductory kickboxing program. After landing on the program’s sales page, I was immediately disenchanted. What I had believed to be an exercise program teaching various martial arts techniques was instead being marketed to me as a “Rapid Fat Loss Program” with body shaming manipulation tactics sitting front and center. Normally in a situation such as this, I would have simply taken my disappointment, grabbed my boxing gloves and purchased a heavy bag to set up in my basement.
Then this email showed up.
And after reading it came strong emotions and the question,
“How do you start a revolution, Lori?”
Subject: Really? I mean…really!!
Call me crazy, but I’m a little surprised you still haven’t taken me up on this incredible offer for my rapid weight loss program:
21 Day Fat Furnace
If you really want to get lean, tight & toned fast (and I’m guessing you do or you wouldn’t have even visited my site), then this is the ideal first step.
Remember, not only will it help you sculpt a flat sexy belly incredibly fast but it will also give you the momentum you desperately need to easily slide back into your skinny jeans in no time
So DO IT NOW before it gets lost in the shuffle of life. :)
This kind of fitness industry mentality and marketing is one of the fundamental reasons why I have mostly worked out in my home and on my own for the past few years rather than in a gym or class setting. After escaping a decade and a half long eating and exercise disorder, I now know what a truly healthy relationship with exercise feels like and I also know what it is to love and accept my body whether it’s fit or not. I am no longer willing to participate in programs that do not support and encourage, women in particular, to treat themselves and their bodies with the utmost compassion.
So the answer to my question comes.
You start a revolution by using your voice. You start a revolution by setting up the boxing ring not in your basement, Lori, but in the front yards of those leading the charge in a fractured system. It is time, with all I have learned and the awakening I have had to the insidious nature of gender based shame within the fitness community to say,
“This does not work for me and here’s why”
Dear Gym owner,
Several weeks ago I saw an advertisement on Facebook announcing your martial arts facility opening up in my area. I was excited! I’ve done a bit of kickboxing in the past and I LOVE the way it makes me feel. From wrapping my hands like a pro and sliding them into my gloves to hitting the bags with jabs, hooks and roundhouse kicks, this has always been a form of exercise that brings my body great joy. In short, I was stoked to give your classes a try.
That was, until I went to your sign-up page. Sadly, rather than finding information there about the benefits of kickboxing as an amazing and empowering workout or testimonials about the inspirational nature of your instruction, I was instead assaulted with a “21 day Rapid Fat Loss Program” complete with body shaming copy such as continues in the follow up email you sent above.
I understand that this kind of marketing is commonplace across so many industries and I also know that you have likely been taught that in order to create higher volumes of sales conversions for your business you are right on point in speaking to your customer’s supposed “pain” in this way.
I want to tell you that it sucks.
It sucks that as a woman, I am continually being told the story that changing the size and shape of my body is the primary reason I should be motivated to exercise. It sucks that the fitness industry and the media in general are constantly telling me through both direct and indirect language and images that my body is somehow wrong. It sucks that you, as a supposed fitness ambassador, are purposefully attempting to invoke within me the absolute worst feeling emotion there is, that of shame, in order to sell me your services. And worst of all, it sucks that there are still SO many women who will respond to these despicable marketing tactics by believing the lie that they must have that “flat sexy belly” you so aptly highlight in order to be considered an acceptable and worthy human being.
You make a lot of assumptions about me in this email. None of which are true and none of which compel me whatsoever to give you my business. Allow me to take a moment to shed some light on just how these marketing strategies contribute to the oppressive and sexist narrative that lies at the intersection of fitness culture and women’s bodies.
I dislike and am looking to change my body. As crazy as it may sound, I actually believe my body is truly beautiful exactly as it is. This includes the times when it’s running fast and doing push ups on the regular as well as the times it’s content being more sedentary and several “skinny jean” sizes larger. Let me ask you, would it not be incredibly satisfying to contribute to a movement that allows more women in the world to feel this way? As a fitness leader, you have the power to do that.
I exercise to lose weight. Through the journey of healing a distorted body image and exercise addiction, I happened upon the secret to creating effortless and consistent exercise. SURPRISE! It has absolutely nothing to do with weight, body shape or size or even health. The secret is actually PLEASURE (with a side of presence). Finding the pleasure in movement has, for me, superseded the need to invoke weight loss as the deity of motivation. In fact, the aesthetics of my body and my constant displeasure with it actually proved to be the biggest road block in creating a functional and non-disordered exercise practice. In other words, trying to lose weight through exercise actually impeded my body’s desire to get to it’s natural weight and shape.
Shaming my body will motivate me to exercise (and also to sign up for your classes).
I wonder, would you send this same email to an interested male participant? Is he also “desperate to slide back into his skinny jeans”? I am so much more than my physical form and I ask that you treat me that way. Becoming cognizant of and choosing to rise above the use of language that degrades my body as a female is one of the biggest keys the fitness industry has to unlocking true acceptance and healing for generations of women.
There is a better way to do this; to spread the joy of exercise and to invite more people to experience the pleasure of movement. And it’s a way that not only can build your business into a success but also exudes integrity and raises up the industry and the human species as a whole. It’s time for the fitness industry to evolve and I am asking you to be a part of the evolution.
Stop shaming my body.
Instead, tell me the story of what inspired you to create this martial arts community. Describe to me the feeling you had when you first stepped into the ring to spar with an opponent. Talk to me about passion and purpose and how this sport has contributed to the fabric of your life. This is what moves me to want to work with you. And this is the ace marketing plan that will inspire love affairs with movement in lasting and truly connected ways.
The Meaningful Movement Project
Several times last year my less than 2 year old car refused to start. I would be out and about running errands, jamming the tunes and knocking things off my to do list and boom, I come out of the grocery store ready to move on to my next destination, out the key in the ignition and nothing.
The first time this happened I called roadside assistance. A very lovely man in a very large shiny tow truck navigated his way through the mall parking lot to locate me and proceeded to jump the battery. “Wow that’s a pretty new car to not be starting”, he commented. Yep! hashtag truth, tow guy. I cancelled my afternoon appointments and made my way to the dealership.
I was thrilled when they were able to take a look at my car immediately and an hour later, the service manager handed the keys back to me, “We’ve run the computer diagnostics and everything checks out as A-OK”.
Wonderful. Must have been a one time thing. Off I go, errand-ready once more.
Then it happened a second time. Dead car. The flow of my day again coming to a screeching halt and admittedly I am somewhat annoyed this time as I go through the motions of earlier in the week. Roadside assistance for jump: Check. Cancel plans: Check. Head to dealership: Check. In what continues to feel like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day, I am told that the car’s computer diagnostics show that all systems, including the battery, are FINE. I am *highly* skeptical as I drive away this time but figure, who am I to argue with this obviously advanced technology?
You can probably imagine that by the THIRD time this happens (all in the span of a week, I might add), I am pretty damn done. Many expletives make their way out of my mouth and I march into the service area with my Xena Warrior Princess energy ‘ablazin.
I do not even pretend to understand the inner workings of any kind of machinery or technology (a fact that both my internet service provider and the Apple tech people can attest to) but I find myself saying to the service manager, “THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE BATTERY! Can we PLEASE just change out the battery?”
Despite my take no prisoners attitude and what might have been mistaken for a Xena battle cry, the manager remains resistant to my pleas. “The computer is telling us it’s fine”, he keeps repeating. Finally we come to an agreement; one of the mechanics will take my car home with him for the weekend and see if by driving the vehicle, he can uncover what obviously must be a complex and mysterious problem.
Monday morning arrives and I am back at the dealership, Hurrah! The couch and coffee machine there have now started to feel far too much like home so I wait with eager anticipation for the service manager to fill me in on what they’ve found.
“We’ve replaced your battery with a brand new one”.
And? The flux capacitor was way off line? The holo-deck transmitter was jammed? (Oh wait that might be from Star Trek..)
Nope. None of the above. It seems as though after driving it all weekend, the brilliant mechanic decided that despite the digital feedback from the computer, my car was indeed behaving like a vehicle with a battery that was unable to hold a charge. Halle-effin-lujah. Someone has started to use their brain.
I remember when my parents would take their car to our family mechanic when I was young. I would listen to them describe to the best of their ability what seemed to be going wrong with our vehicle and then the first thing that mechanic would do would be to hop in the car and take it for a spin. Remember that?
Currently, we are a culture that is obsessed with external objective measurements. Especially technological ones and especially when it comes to our bodies and our health. Weight measurements. Heart rate measurements. Waist and hip measurements. Blood pressure measurements. Calorie measurements. Body fat measurements. Cholesterol measurements. And now the latest and greatest in the measurement technology world; daily step measurements. AKA, the “fit bit”.
What if, as in “The Case of the Undiagnosed Car Battery” above, we don’t actually NEED all these measurements to find a solution to our health and fitness problems? What if all these crazy numbers do is distract us from our real work which is to find the sense of celebration through movement that was once THE best intrinsic motivator of all?
Having moved through my own very difficult and troubled history with food and fitness, one which included a full blown addiction to exercise, I strongly believe we are missing the obvious here. The big picture? The simple and easy fix for our fitness angst? It won’t be found in the measurements or the numbers.
Because the numbers take us out of our bodies, my friends!
The numbers feed the metrics of our minds more than our muscles. (say that five times fast!) That little electric band on your arm actually links most directly to the ego and relying solely on it as motivation, inspiration and the “expert” on moving your body actually serves to dampen the inherent electric charge within that sparks and hums when you’re moving for the sake of movement itself.
You know who knows how many steps you need to take in a day? Your body.
It also knows when to rest. And what kind of exercise feels most like play. And when it feels good to work really hard or push yourself out of your comfort zone. Your body knows it all.
In my Fantasy Fitness utopia, I imagine teaching people how to connect with their spirit and their bodies instead of selling them more gadgets and false promises. In my dream world the measurements don’t matter anywhere near as much as the feelings and learning to allow our own natural rhythms to be our guide.
“So I should toss my fit bit?”, you’re asking. Gosh, no (unless that feels like freedom to you, then I’m all for it!) I am aware that there are many people out there that have found fitness trackers to be a helpful tool in inspiring more daily movement for themselves. My message is simply to remind you that they are just that; a tool. You won’t create a lasting, effortless and peaceful movement practice by handing it all over to a machine. Check in with your body! Start learning to decode it’s messages. In other words;
Get in the car and drive it.
Ask yourself the following questions: How does my body feel today?What kind of movement might feel joyful? What can I add to my exercise session today that makes it feel more like a celebration of my body and of life itself? Could it be music, nature, social connection, family? What do the measurements and numbers actually do for me? Are they enabling me to access the sensations of pleasure and joy or do they feel more like your fitness “parole officer” needing to be checked in with every day? What tools help me create movement sessions that are in service to my current overall vision for your life?
These are the questions I continue to explore as I forge my own path as somewhat of a fitness radical. It’s a path on which I question everything we think is right regarding fitness and health and I welcome any and all fellow travelers who are looking to do fitness a different way.
Like the Gwenyth and Chris Martin of not so long ago, exercise and weight loss typically go hand in hand. Their love story tends to go something like this:
• Exercise burns calories, and when you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight.
• Exercise also leads to an increase in overall lean muscle mass, which speeds up your metabolism and guess what? helps you to lose weight.
Given the above, it’s no major leap to marry these two concepts together as the perfect Hollywood power couple and have them live happily ever after. If you are a living, breathing human being, you've seen images of these two together plastered everywhere in the fitness community and related media. If you want to lose weight, putting together and committing to an exercise plan is a an EPIC no brainer. Except that it’s not. And I believe another “conscious uncoupling” is in order. So today I am prepared to be THAT friend. Yes really, the friend who says out loud what all the other friends are whispering about behind this couple’s back.
These two do not belong together.
ACK! The horror! Did I just actually say that? (Two hundred thousand personal trainers may have just fallen over mid squat)
I did. Because in fact, when you get down into the nitty gritty of their current relationship, Exercise and Weight loss really do make for a dysfunctional pair. I know! I know! It seemed so darn promising! A perfect match. How can it be? yada yada. (I'll allow you to have your tinsel town break up melt down here)
So what went wrong? Let's take a moment to stroll down memory lane and reflect on the love affair that was...
*insert E! Hollywood story movie trailer guy voice here*
"It seemed to be love at first sight for Exercise and Weight Loss on the 1980's movie set "Work IT!" as this pair found a seemingly instant sympatico in the typically egoic world of personal image. Weight Loss instantly experienced a meteoric career boost only a few short weeks after hooking up with Exercise, and from that point on the couple became inseparable. They lived a golden life these two,what with the unlimited Nike Airs and the gold flecked leg warmers and things seemed to be going well for this pair for several decades until rumors of unrest began to fly. Stories of abuse soon surfaced, and Weight Loss was accused of alternately doting upon and then completely abandoning Exercise for months at a time. By most insider accounts, Weight Loss tended to be a moody son of a bitch and would blame it's amiable partner for much of it's failure and discontent. Exercise's BFF responded to the rumors saying, "Exercise was always just looking to be accepted for who it was and ultimately for the joy and pleasure it brings to life” It seems that in the end, Exercise felt like it was never going to be enough...never quite able to fill the void between what it could offer and the heavily “weighted” expectations of it’s partner.
The two parted ways. Exercise ended up with the bungalow in Malibu, and is said to be living a happily single life filled with joy, pleasure and connection."
So, metaphor of the stereotypical Hollywood power couple aside, I assure you this does not have to be an acrimonious split. Instead, I suggest an amicable separation of these two that in the end finds them in the same orbit yet interacting more peacefully than they have in years. Here is what I’ve figured out about the importance of separating these ideologies from my very own Exercise/Weight Loss divorce proceedings:
Marc David says, “Eating without pleasure is like trying to stop smoking without breathing." It's no different with exercise. Exclude the joy and pleasure and you just get EFFORT.
Trust me when I say there is no marriage counseling needed here. Finding activities and a mindset where exercise can stand alone as a pleasurable experience that creates both connection to and reverence for our bodies is the best outcome we could hope for. From that place, weight loss and health improvements get to become purely happy side effects of the practice instead of being entangled in an unhappy union of co-dependence. I know it’s scary. We’ve been brain-washed into believing that the sole purpose of exercise is to shape our bodies, but I also know firsthand being a child of this divorce, that both Exercise and Weight Loss have the ability to thrive. Just not so tightly knit together.
A small brown suitcase sits open and empty on my bed as I prepare to pack several days worth of clothing for a retreat in Southern California. It will be warmer than my current climate much further north so I reach into the back of the closet for shorts, tank tops and light dresses, none of which have seen the light of day since the previous Summer. “Hmm, maybe I should try them on…”, I think to myself, noting that since making a commitment six months ago to halt all dieting, food restriction and excessive exercise it was quite possible, in fact likely, I had gained a bit of weight.
Not one thing.
And not the “well things are a little snug but I can squeeze myself into them” kind of not fitting. No, it was the “I cannot even come close to doing up these buttons or zippers” kind of not fitting. The kind that completely deflated me despite the increased bloat in my belly.
I knew that I was on a path of healing my exercise addiction and compulsive eating. I knew that what I was doing in refusing to buy into the diet and fitness industry’s harmful messaging was absolutely the right thing for me and that I was playing the long game this time around instead of just attempting to band-aid the situation. I also KNEW without a shadow of a doubt that I was going to be ok, but that feeling… the constriction of those clothes on my flesh in that moment, the heavy disappointment and shame of standing there in my bedroom with a pair of shorts half way on, zipper pulled agape by my hips and belly; I’m not going to lie, it stung. A familiar panic swelled inside my chest, a feeling that demanded immediate relief. Relief that had typically come in the form of a weight loss or fitness program sign up, a plan to starve myself and to exercise for several hours that day and in the days to come. But I had promised myself it was time to try something different and somewhere deep in my core, none of those actions felt truly desirable. Instead it was time to use all that I had learned in recent months about the roots of my compulsions and about loving my body as it was in this moment and put it into practice.
At that particular juncture on my road to healing, all of the theory made perfect sense to me. The fact that I had been binge eating for much of my life in order to dampen emotions, anxiety mostly; sometimes pain and sadness. The tendency for type A overachievers to strive for perfection in all areas of life including physical form and often fell victim to various compulsive behaviors including exercise addiction. The understanding that the tidal wave of emotion from which I was attempting to run from into a tub of ice cream or with my 3rd gym visit of the day would not actually wash me away into the abyss as, on a primal level, it felt like it might. Intellectually, this all made sense. The little cloud of essence deep in my solar plexus that resonates as my soul shouted YES! YES! YES! to all the information I had soaked up so far and yet here I stood in my bedroom, attempting to stuff myself into a pair of now too small denim shorts and all the self assurance I had about stopping the cleanses and the diets and the endless working out began to slip away.
This was THE moment. THE chance to not only think differently but DO things differently.
I let the panic wash over me. I let my mind fondle all the various solutions to the “problem” of this most recent weight gain and when it had had its fill, I took a deep breath and exhaling the last few minutes worth of angst, self-flagellation and disappointment, I looked in the mirror. Pulling the shorts off of my body, I continued to strip down until I was naked. There in that moment, I made the decision to look at my body through new eyes, to start my healing and to start living what I knew was my truth; My weight did not determine my worth.
My curves popped out at me at once, the fullness of my hips and bosom accentuating my diminutive waist. It really was a true hourglass shape. Had I noticed that before? My shoulders looked strong, like those of an athlete who had spiked many a volleyball to the floor over the years. And my rounded lower belly? Certainly not taut as it was before childbirth, but was it as truly unacceptable as I had been brainwashed to believe? No, it was not. In fact, it was actual quite feminine and sensual.
I took in my whole self one last time and made the following commitment:
I am telling myself the truth in this moment and this body is not the body I feel most at home in. That is ok. As I move through this next phase of healing, I am committing myself to loving my body no matter what the numbers on the scale or the tags on my clothes say. I am committed to trusting the path I am currently on. This path includes no food restriction or dieting of any kind, no fitness weight loss programs or cleanses and no excessive exercise. It does include practicing the concept of mindfulness in order to create more self awareness as well as self-compassion. I am choosing to believe that truly loving and caring for my body will eventually take me home and I am no longer in a rush.
From that moment, a new and wholly different “solution” came to me as began to put the clothes I had pulled out back into my closet. I would go and buy new clothes for this trip, clothes that fit my body as it was right now, clothes in which I would feel comfortable fully participating in this retreat. I would not be draping myself in the energy of resignation with this weight gain, as I may have once thought this behavior signified, but instead in a giant and loving cloak of acceptance.
I couldn't know this at the time but things were about to change drastically for me for this was the first of many moments that I would end up choosing compassionate curiosity, acceptance and self-love over panic, disgust and my next new diet and exercise plan. To my delight it would also become easier and easier to make that choice as I continued on my journey.
The retreat was a big success. I ended up laughing, crying, dancing, learning, connecting and witnessing magic; all of the things I had so desperately hoped would occur in my smaller sized clothes.
1. MUSIC: There is something truly special about listening to music through headphones while I run. The intimacy with the melodies, the beats and the voices is somehow amplified as though I’ve placed miniature versions of the band directly into my head as I move. It’s beautiful. And more often than not, the desire to combine movement with some serious grooving is what gets me into my running shoes and out the door.
2. GETTING OUT OF MY HEAD: One sure-fire way to stop myself spinning in my stresses and dramas du jour is to drop into my body. If I’m stuck mulling on an issue with no immediate solution or resolution, moving my body shifts the energy in a positive way.
3. NATURE: Sun warming my face, wind whipping my pony tail, occasionally a barrage of raindrops soaking my every pore, (I do live on the West Coast after all) feet hitting the dirt, communing with the trees, conversing with the ocean, breathing in the fresh, crisp air of the pristine wild in which I have the privilege to live; THIS is what feeds my soul.
4. FREEDOM: So what exactly is it that I need to hit the road for a run? Shoes (Sometimes. Not even if I’m running on the glorious beaches of Mexcio!) and my body. No fancy equipment, membership or payment required. No rules to follow. No set start-time or time limit. Run fast or slow. Walk up that hill, sprint up the stairs or stop on the sand for a moment of gratitude. Run farther than planned when things are flowing or pull the chute before the body is even warm when they are not. I can make it whatever I choose. Freedom; one of my favorite things.
5. CREATIVE FLOW: Nothing gets my creative juices flowing more than movement, in particular running. Problems get solved as if by magic. Writing ideas flow into my brain like I have a direct line to the Gods of Creativity. If I need out of the box answers, ideas, inspiration and aha’s, a run is my go-to place to get them.
6. CONNECTION WITH SPIRIT: Running in nature plugs me into a higher consciousness. I’ve had the most rewarding, enlightening and life affirming conversations with spirit while running. The feeling of being one with everyone and everything around you is an intoxicating sensation.
7. CONNECTION TO MY DAD: My dad started running in the 70’s when the running craze first started to hit. He did it to de-stress after his long workdays and despite a rather awkward gait and some very sketchy shoes, he got fast and fit. His endurance was astounding. I remember one of the few times we ran together, I had been training for a marathon and at the time and was comfortably doing 20 km runs. Thinking that I would finally be able to keep pace with the old guy, we set out from our cabin on Hornby Island. Well I struggled to keep pace. We completed 17 km at record speed (for me, anyhow!) and I was almost crawling up the stairs to the cabin door when he looked at me, completely serious and said. “One more loop?” Running creates a special bond with my dad and that makes my heart happy.
8. ALONE TIME: According to my Meyers Briggs assessment I’m an extrovert by nature, meaning that I generally gain energy through interacting with others. Now if you see me in action working with patients or connecting with friends, or at a gathering it becomes clear pretty quickly that this is an accurate label however I actually need quite a bit of alone time in order to re-charge. Heading out on a run is a perfect way to take some time away for me. Whether I am at a family celebration weekend, a conference with 300 people or even on holiday with my sweetie, a quick half hour jaunt allows me the time with myself that I need to not overload on social interaction. Not to mention it is much more acceptable than excusing myself, and spending 30 minutes alone in the bathroom…
9. ENDORPHINS: Running makes me feel good and I like to feel good. Endorphins are a wonderful chemical released in our brains that create a feeling of elation and well-being and running is one of the activities that can encourage the release of these awesome chemicals.
10. CHILD-LIKE JOY: I feel joyful when I’m running. Like I am back on the school playground at age 7 or running at top speed over to my best friend's house to talk about the cute guy in Math class that I have a crush on; whatever combination of moving body parts constitute running, they definitely work for me.
20 years ago when I was in the throes of my disordered eating and exercise addiction the above list would have read very differently. Everything on the list would have had some association with burning calories, weight loss, shaping my body in a way that allowed me to feel worthy of love and belonging and obsessively checking yet another workout of the day off my list. It’s incredible to see the shifts:
Connection vs. Disconnection
Peace vs. War
Alignment vs. Nonalignment
Healing vs. Disorder
Connect with a “WHY” that truly matters; in every realm of your life.
Lori Race is a Registered Acupuncturist, Health & Wellness Clinic Owner and Master Certified Life Coach who loves to have conversations about self-compassion and how to apply it to real human lives. In her work with patients and clients, Lori uses a combination of Life Coaching tools, Acupuncture and heart centred human connection to help people begin seeing themselves and others through the lens of compassion and understanding. Lori is currently working on a book about the impact of creating meaningful movement practices (aka exercise with intention and connection) on our society’s current body and fitness consciousness.