As a personal trainer, it’s likely that each day you hear some of your clients make negative comments about their bodies. You may even have a difficult time finding kind words to say about your own body. As a health professional, and trusted individual to your clients, it’s important to keep your ears open for these comments, and to be ready with tools to combat negative body image.
Although this can be uncomfortable, it’s important to develop a positive body image for the health of yourself and others. Negative body image and body dissatisfaction are known to be major causes in individuals developing eating disorders and unhealthy exercise patterns. So what can you do about it?
Shift the Mindset
Our culture is saturated with the idea that you should never be satisfied with who you are and what you have. There is an ideal body type and you must achieve it to be beautiful.
If you want happiness then you’re going to need a bigger paycheck. If you want to look good, you need the latest fashion.
Although many clients come to you for your services because they are dissatisfied with their body and other elements of their life, that doesn’t mean you should turn them away, it just means that you should help to change their mindset.
Your client has chosen you to help them improve their health.
Let them know that you are happy to help them reach their goals, as long as they are safe, healthy, and realistic goals for them and congratulate them on choosing to do something to improve their health.
Let them know that you want to encourage them to appreciate their body throughout their entire fitness journey by using some tools to help them improve their body image as a way of improving their overall health.
Let them know that their success in training with you is not based on what they look like, but how they feel about all that they accomplish. By shifting the focus off of negative body image, you can help your client to acknowledge their fitness milestones and to appreciate what they can do with their body.
Stop the Negative Body Talk
Even after shifting the mindset with your client, you may notice that they continue to make negative comments about their body. These comments may even be directed at you. When your clients express negative body talk, stop it right away or redirect the conversation elsewhere. You don’t have to discourage your clients from choosing to be active and making healthy choices, but encourage them to be motivated to do those things for reasons unrelated to the way that they look.
Have you heard any of these?
“Ugh, I’m so fat.”
“I don’t feel attractive at this weight.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re so thin.”
“When I have abs like yours, then I’ll be able to wear a swimsuit again.”
Some easy things to say are:
“I can see that you don’t like some things about your body. What are some things that you love?”
“Even though I can tell that you’re not happy with your weight, you should be so proud of what you accomplished in your workout today. Your body does amazing things for you!”
“I’d like for us both to make comments during our sessions that aren’t related to the way we look.”
Practice, Practice, Practice – Change Takes Time
Because some people rehearse negative body image every day, positive body image will need to be rehearsed just as much if not more in order to combat it. There are many practical ways to practice positive body image in your daily life.
Start by standing in front of the mirror (in as little clothing as possible) and make a list 10 of things that you love about our body. List body parts or traits that you truly do love, and then after some practice, choose to look at an area that you haven’t loved and find something loving to say about it.
For example, in the beginning, it would be easy to say, “I love my green eyes” but it may be more difficult to say, “I love my thighs because they are strong and help me do what I love.” Adding these kind words to your vocabulary may even change the way you appreciate the beauty in others.
If you have a fear of doing something like wearing a bathing suit, going out without makeup on, wearing a sleeveless shirt, or wearing a more form-fitting clothing item, consider doing that. You may often think that something terrible will happen if someone sees you doing one of these things, but by doing it and allowing yourself the freedom to be comfortable with how your body is at that moment, your fears will be dissolved and you’ll realize that your value is not in how you look.
Negative body talk can also be rooted in the comments that you make towards others. By saying that someone is beautiful because they are thin, muscular, tan etc. you are placing that person’s value on how they look and that mindset then floods into how you see and value yourself.
These comments can come up silently when scrolling through social media and seeing photos of models and athletes. If you find yourself doing that, try to spend less time looking at those unrealistic photos and more time doing things that make you feel really good about who you are at that moment.
A healthy body image isn’t made overnight, but consistently practicing it and combating negative body comments can make the difference for someone to become a more healthy individual, physically and mentally.