Cultivating a Culture of Body Acceptance within the Fitness Industry

NEDAWARENESS WEEK BANNER (750 × 300 px) (748 × 250 px) (1)
Shoshana Gordon

Shoshana Gordon, MSW

Supporting someone with an eating disorder is challenging. I know, because I struggled with an eating disorder for many years in my late teens and early twenties. My road to recovery was long, and almost thirty years later, I still have times where my eating disorder brain wants to take charge. At the beginning of my recovery I created a support team that included individual therapy, group therapy, and a dietician that I met with regularly. I also had a group of supportive friends and family. The combination of the professional, communal and social/familial support is what made a difference in my recovery.

Personal trainers and fitness instructors are face-to-face with co-workers and clients that struggle with body image issues, eating disorders, and disordered eating on a regular basis, and many have issues of their own. In order for us to be positive role models, and not get sucked into negative body image issues and eating disordered behavior ourselves, we need to focus less on weight and appearance, and more on living a happy healthy lifestyle.

An important part of my on-going recovery and my role as a trainer and instructor is focusing on body acceptance. Many individuals, myself included, struggle with body positivity. Focusing on accepting who we are and what we look like feels less intimidating and more tolerable than loving our bodies.

Through a lot of therapy, self-reflection and education, I have learned that how a person feels inside often correlates to how they feel about themselves on the outside. When I’m not feeling good about myself, I often start to think negatively about my body. This is precisely why I encourage my clients to think about why they put themselves down and make negative comments about how they look. Rather than address their appearance, I question how they’re doing and help them reframe their thoughts. I also encourage them to find whatever movement or exercise they enjoy, and to eat foods that nourish their whole body, including their hearts.

Personal trainers and fitness instructors are taught very basic information in terms of what eating disorders are and what to look for. We are not only role models, but we are often the ones who notice the signs and symptoms in our clients. I would like to see:

  • More education surrounding the various types of eating disorders, early signs and symptoms, and the most understanding and effective way to support someone who is struggling.
  • Increased awareness around the effects of negative weight and body image talk (Ex: time to get our bodies ready for bathing suit season).
  • A change in the fitness industry away from the focus on what the body looks like to more about what the body feels like and is able to do.
  • Less shame regarding weight gain and less praise for weight loss

Personal trainers and fitness instructors have the ability to influence & encourage an individual’s thoughts & behaviors. It is our job to create a community of support. 

Shoshana is dedicated to helping individuals make healthy lifestyle changes. She holds a Master’s in Social Work, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NASM Certified Youth Exercise Specialist and 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). She is a Still I Run Champion Ambassador and one of the Ambassador Program Coordinators. She became involved with NEDA in 1995 (when it was EDAP) as an Awareness Week Coordinator. She has a true passion for designing fitness programs that maximize results and help clients develop a true sense of well being, while promoting positive self-esteem and body image through her business SG Fitness & Health.