In my early 20s, I was in therapy with a phenomenal therapist who helped me work through a lot of family issues and trauma. I was also struggling with some body image issues. She was an older woman who was fat (this is relevant information to the story). One day in session, I was ranting kind of tearing my body apart, how much I hated it, hated my belly, thought I was fat. She interrupted my body disparaging spiral to tell me that it was pointless to just endlessly rip my body apart, and I either had to work to accept it, or make a choice to do something about it.
I was sort of stunned into silence, and I remember feeling a bit annoyed, like this was my session and if I wanted to use it to bash my body, that she should have some better solution for me other than accept my body or decide to change it.
In hindsight, I really respect her for setting that boundary. It was unfair of me to use a fat woman as the sounding board for my boundless body loathing, whether she was paid for that role or not. I've recently heard Aubrey Gordan (@yrfatfriend on Instagram, cohost of the Maintenance Phase podcast, and author of "What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat") talk on Maintenance Phase about this phenomenon -- thin/smaller bodied people using fat people as a sounding board to resolve their body image issues. It is a weird but common phenomenon, and surely not fair to do to fat people.
I share this to let you know a few things: growth happens. Nobody is perfect, and we all can (and should!) grow and evolve. The other thing I want all of us to learn from this is that you don't need to be the punching bag for someone else's body image issues. It it totally fine to set a boundary that we aren't just going to sit here and listen to a person tear their body apart. Even if you're being paid to be there. There isn't usually really a point to just scorning the shit out of your own body, so if someone comes to you trying to do that, it's okay to say, hey friend, we're not doing that today.
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I talk about HAES-aligned fitness as a service I provide, but in a conversation with someone who had been looking at my site, they asked, "What is H-A-E-S?" So first, the simple answers! HAES (usually pronounced like haze) stands for Health At Every Size. Please note, it is HEALTH at every size, not healthY at every size. It is an important distinction!
HAES comes from the book "Health at Every Size" by Lindo (Linda) Bacon. In the book, Dr Bacon summarizes a variety of research to build a case that body weight is less culpable for health issues than has been previously believed. HAES is based on the following principles:
In her book, Dr Bacon describes research they conducted that supports this approach over weight focused approaches to improve overall health, including specific biometric markers of health. The recommendations that come from HAES are simple, common-sense, and sustainable behavioral changes, and also address some of the systemic issues that clearly impact health.
So what does it mean to be a HAES-aligned personal trainer? As a personal trainer, my goal is to help my clients get into a sustainable movement routine. So let's break that down a bit: I want you moving your body in a way that you can continue to do for a long time. I don't want to kick your ass for a month or two, have you get injured and then drop off. That isn't particularly helpful for your long-term health or wellbeing. I want you to have a movement routine. You get the most benefit from moving your body on a regular basis. Working out to the point of puking once a month isn't going to have that much impact on your long-term health. What is better is to engage in some type of movement a couple of times a week, and find something you can stick with.
As a HAES-aligned fitness provider, I don't weigh my clients. I don't do before-and-after pics. I don't have you measure your body. Of course, it is your body, and you can do whatever you want with it, but I'm not going to suggest that you do any of those things. My focus isn't on making there be less of you! My focus is on a sustainable fitness program that helps you feel stronger, more energetic, and improves your overall health.
If you want to learn more, I definitely recommend checking out the book, "Health at Every Size." If you've read it already, leave me a comment and tell me what you thought about it!
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Mom in charge at Enlighten Well. I do body positive fitness, intuitive eating, and whatever else I feel called to do. Get to know me here.