Body image problems in health and fitness industry. What can we do?

With the prevalence of body cult in the Western society, more and more people feel pressure to conform to social expectations. Media constantly is bombarding with the messages how to be fit (thin or muscular), nice and forever young. In other words, in consumer society Health becomes an alibi for improving Appearance.

 

Though it is well known that regular exercise promotes health and fitness benefits, unfortunately, most adults exercising in the fitness area can meet a huge social pressure to be thin or muscular. Body image perception may impact health-promoting behaviors. There is a significant increase in the number of individuals who overdose physical activity, dieting, taking other drastic and harmful weight loss methods or even experience eating disorders. 

 

Although appearance improvement is a strong driving force for the health and fitness industry, this motivation is not only a short duration, but also related with worse lifestyle, unhealthy behavior, and pure psychological state, and even eating disorders.

Although appearance improvement is the strong driving force for the health and fitness industry, we still lack the millions of men and women in exercise sector. 

 

If our goal is to make Europe (and Lithuania) more active, we should discuss what could be barriers and obstacles for that. What we can do?

 

What we can do?

  • Let’s properly educate exercise specialists with changing perceptions and focus from body weight control to overall feelings of interest and enjoyment
  • Let‘s be focused on teaching critical thinking about the images promoted by the media, developing tolerance, stress management and most of all on building self-esteem. 
  • Let’s avoid utilizing body dissatisfaction as a motive for change and promote a positive body image. Educators, coaches, teachers should stop the negative messages about the bodies and identify the individuality and uniqueness. Everybody is different! Every-body is different!
  • Let’s better follow functional indicators rather than body weight. Body weight does not reflect the physical condition and physical fitness, thus unreasonable weight control can cause various health problems. 
  • Let’s avoid too frequent and public weighing and measurement of fat procedures and criticism related to body weight and shape. These methods are potentially harmful and can promote negative body image, health-harming behaviors and even risk of eating disorders.
  • Let’s increase health literacy of the clients in terms of eating and exercising for the body mass control. Trainers should focus on the client education for the balanced nutrition habits, and avoid provide unsubstantiated information. 
  • Let’s provide evidence based knowledge related to the exercise dosage for weight control purposes, paying attention to the problems resulting from overtraining. More is not better! Less is betther than nothing!
  • Let’s stop the pornographication of Fitness! Let’s stop constant exposure of own! Too much naked bodies, too much selfies, too much sexy… Dress properly and behave properly!
  • Let’s create a positive Fitness environment and avoid demonstration of only lean and/or muscular body images. Let’s also control other factors (i.e. mirrored walls, advertising, etc.) which might foster external motivation.
  • Let‘s help people find and strengthen the intrinsic exercise motivation, which ensures the long-term and healthy lifestyle behaviours, and does not create health problems. 
  • Let‘s create a network between medical service (health professionals, general practitioners, psychoterapists, nutritionists, eating disorders specialists) and fitness service (instructors, personal trainers, exercise for health specialists, owners and employers) with the goal of helping the society to be healthier and happier!
  • Let‘s respect and prove each other's competences!

 

It’s our responsibility in the fitness industry to “promote the truths.” Stop the negative talk about the bodies. Our differencies make us beautiful. Embrace your unique qualities and love who you are.

 

 

Dr. Simona Pajaujiene

Founder and Program Director (ActiveTraining)

Member of Professional Standards Committee (EuropeActive)

 

Lecturer and Coordinator (Lithuanian Sports University)