A happiness transformation
By Kim Stacey
Trigger Warning – talk of calories, weight and eating disorders.
I made the decision at the start of my career to never use transformation photos to market my work. I now, for valid reasons, refer to them as toxic transformations. This is because they reinforce the idea that health and fitness have a certain look. This is a lie that has been told to us for quite literally lifetimes.
Transformation photos exist to sell exercise as a beauty tool. To push unrealistic beauty and body standards on people in order to feed into insecurities. After all, people that are already happy with themselves will not spend money on trying to ‘improve’ themselves / their ‘flaws.’
It does not make good economical sense to allow people to be happy with their bodies.
After taking part in a toxic transformation challenge myself I can confidently tell you that the belief of the ‘after’ body being healthy and happy could not be further from the truth.
I had assumed though, that maybe I had experienced the more extreme version. However a quick google search and asking my followers on Instagram about their experiences quickly led me to realise the experience I had was more common than I realised.
The way our culture seems to work is to expect and to accept that dieting and body hatred is normal, toxic fitness professionals along with diet culture tend to use this body hatred as a way of “motivating” you.
The problem here is that shame backfires.
“Many people are concerned that if they accept their bodies they may become complacent and remain ‘stuck’ forever with a body they’ve grown to loathe. They believe that hating their body is an essential motivation for change, so they resist letting go of that self-hatred”
Lindo Bacon PhD
But the thing is hating our bodies does not lead to respecting ourselves.
If we care about ourselves we are more likely to be kinder to ourselves, to be really connected with ourselves which then leads to better health, naturally.
One lady told me this story;
‘I was part of a boot camp in my early 30s (I joined after having my son, I had gone from a size 10 to a size 18 during pregnancy). Any way they encouraged a keto diet and the work outs were pretty tough…but I enjoyed the community aspect and soon was back to a size 12 which I was comfortable with.
However once at a size 12 they basically said ‘right time to get down the best shape ever’, and signed me up to a photo shoot. We had 7 months to be photo shoot ready.
I went from eating 3 meals a day and working out once a day, to working out 3 times a day and eating one meal a day. This was out of pure terror I would look fat in the photos!
I became so scared to eat.
A week before the photo shoot I was encouraged to flood my body with water. By this point I wasn’t eating at all and couldn’t lift weights in the gym anymore.
The stupid thing was, the more I lost weight, the more conscious of my body I became. I thought I looked fat all the time.
After the photo shoot I lost more weight as I was terrified of putting it back on. I was at my lowest 9st. Far to little for my 5ft 7 naturally curvy body.
Any way I got some help. I got diagnosed with body dismorphia.
I got better eventually. But it took years to be able to eat properly again. I still suffer from body dysmorphia. It never goes away. But I’m a healthy size 12 now. And I don’t restrict food anymore although that’s so hard for me to keep up. I sometimes binge eat and then eat too low calories for a while.’
My heart ached when I was sent this story. It was so similar to mine, and to so many other stories people sent to me.
We see these photos and use them for motivation but we rarely hear the stories behind them.
The transformation challenges and the photos they produce, in my eyes, only serve the people that are marketing themselves (gym-owners and PTs), not the people that they are transforming.
A lot do not care about actual health, because how could they? Everything about a transformation challenge is unhealthy. It promotes an extremely low body fat / big muscles, etc. Health is judged purely on exterior appearances. Health and fitness is sold as a look – in other words, one big fat lie.
This is why I often question if even health and fitness should be used in the same sentence. The fitness industry can be incredibly toxic.
It got to the last few weeks of the transformation challenge that I was taking part in, and the PT I had at that time advised me a drop to 1200 calories a day. This was while studying, doing 5 heavy workouts a week and walking over 10k steps a day, without fail. And of course being a single mum to the amazing little man.
I thought 1200 calories was low, but another lady shared with me that she was recommended to go on 950 calories! (more on her story later)
Needless to say I lasted 5 days before my body just screamed at me to stop being a f**king idiot.
Anyway it got to the end of the challenge and I felt shattered, broken – I had pushed my body so much, but it was still not enough – I didn’t ‘win’ the ‘honour’ of a photo shoot. In hindsight this was a very good thing…
The advice for the people taking part in the transformation photo shoot was to drink a whole bottle of wine the night before and not drink any water until after the shoot had taken place, you want to be really dehydrated so you can look at shredded as possible.
All for the ‘look of health’
Then there is what happens after the photo shoot – no one in the fitness industry seems to talk about this either….
Another lady wrote to me;
‘I did an 8 week transformation run by a local gym. 3 group conditioning classes per week in the park which were great.
Only problem was that we were given a calorie amount to stick to.
Mine was around 950 calories!!!!
Looking back this is insane! I managed to stick to it for about 7 weeks and lost a bit of weight. Not a lot.
But afterwards, I found myself binge eating for MONTHS & months.
Even though it stopped after a few months, it basically started me on a journey of restrictive diets followed by binge eating. I’m now heavier than when I began. However now more accepting of my body & working on Intuitive Eating’
Transformation challenges, before and after photo shoots, should not be the norm in the fitness industry because the stories above are all too common… BUT this is so heavily promoted and pushed in my industry.
A lot of people ask me why I hate the fitness industry. Yes it may come across like I do sometimes, but that is because I am angry.
Angry for good reason. Changing eating and exercise behaviours to this extreme can lead to disordered eating, and so often do.
None of it improves body image, it only makes it worse.
The National Eating Disorders Association found that 35% of dieting becomes obsessive, and 20 to 25% of those diets turn into eating disorders. This is why I am angry.
Our bodies are not the problem.
How can we start moving to celebrate our bodies?
Exercise / movement does not need to involve a gym. If the thought of setting foot in a gym fills you with anxiety then that is ok.
There are so many other ways to move, and ways that you can enjoy doing so. It does not need to involve extreme exertion. Or even sweating! And should not ever involve pain to the point of deep un-comfort. Sometimes your muscles can be sore after a workout but the pain I am referring to is while working out. Listen to your body, do not push it so far it becomes injured.
I acknowledge that not everyone will feel the same about exercise. Some people do not produce as many endorphins as others. This means some can find it harder to get that real joy and buzz from exercising. What we can do is consider some of your reasons for not liking exercise. As Lindo Bacon writes, “the most common ones relate to social stigma”
Fear of humiliation
perhaps you have been humiliated previously taking part in exercise, for example at school? Or this could be due to a belief you have about your body? Take some time to really reflect on this.
Fear of ridicule
I know this can happen in gyms, and I have experience of this. The thought of thinner people judging your body. As well as the use of your body hatred as motivation by toxic fitness professionals.
Try to find a more inclusive environment, and / or go with a friend. I offer online movement classes with a fully inclusive environment
A lot of clients prefer to workout with their own cameras switched off, and that is fine. The main thing is to do what feels comfortable FOR YOU.
Fear of looking awkward or ugly
This can happen when you compare yourself to others. It may be also because you do not feel comfortable with how your body looks as it as it moves. Or maybe you really do not like workout clothes. There are gradually more and more exercise gear that is inclusive for all sizes. I will create a database for this, and I will eventually create my own range too! Watch this space!
A way to gradually overcome this is by gaining confidence in a safe place. So that could be in your living room to a YouTube video. Or one of my ones as part of my membership! You could go to a fun class with your friends as support.
You will find the more you move and the more you get used to it.
Another thing that may help here is to work on reframing how we see beauty. Looking at ourselves from our own prospective, rather than based on how others see you. (Self Objectification – more on that to come in another blog)
This can take time, but you will get there. The thing with this is to look at is as a journey, not a destination. It is all the small things you do on a daily basis that can help develop self compassion.
Fear that you won’t be able to keep up
Similar to the above, build yourself up slowly. The key here is to really listen to your body and not feel pressured to go push yourself too hard.
Know everyone is on their own journey. Most people are more worried about themselves than to worry about what you are doing.
You have just as right to move as anyone.
Spend time really understanding your reasons for moving and keep reminding yourself of those reasons. Maybe write them down and put them on a fancy note in your gym bag / amongst your gym clothes.
“Recognise that neither your size nor your physical ability can determine your right to move”
Your body is your physical connection to the world. Becoming active can help you chip away at any bad feelings you may have had for your body. This enables you to appreciate its functionality, emphasise its looks and revel in your strength and capabilities.Lindo Bacon PhD