10 Sneaky Ways the Fitness Industry is Making You Feel Like Crap (And What to Do About It)

10 Sneaky Ways the Fitness Industry is Making You Feel Like Crap (And What to Do About It)

This post is cross-posted from our amazing sponsored trainer Jenna J. You can find Body Positive trainers like Jenna on our Body Positive Fitness Finder.  Read the original post on Jenna's blog here. 


I’m just going to come right out and say this bluntly. The fitness industry has a way of making people feel like crap. A really sneaky way. As in you probably feel kind of low key $hitty about yourself right now and can’t put your finger on why. Don’t worry, I can.

Why am I throwing the very industry I work in under the bus?

Because I think we can all do better. I want us to do better because I want you to feel better. Not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. So here goes. I’m about to shine a light on some of the things you probably weren’t even aware were happening. Because you can’t heal what you can’t feel.

And there’s a good reason (actually quite a few of them) that you feel self-conscious at the gym or are afraid to rock a sports bra in your hot yoga class.

Speaking of hot yoga. . .have you ever been taking a group class where you left the room for a moment to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom? When you come back in you’re like “dammmmnnnnn this room smells like the funk of hard work and determination”. More like 30 super sweaty people who could really use a shower. But you had to remove yourself for awhile before you could actually notice the stank. That’s kind of what this stuff is like. You don’t notice it when you’re really in it. But once you become aware if it, you realize how bad it actually stinks. So are you ready for it?

Here are 10 sneaky ways the fitness industry is making you feel like crap. (Plus what to do about it.)

I hated these before I knew I hated them. At the same time I continued to look at other people’s #transformationtuesday with a sense of envy. And took my own secret ones on my phone but never really felt like they measured up. Here’s the thing: I get why gyms do this. Weight loss is probably the most common goal people have when they come to the gym. Transformation photos show people that they can get results. They unfortunately also tell you that your body is something to be ashamed of. Especially if you look more like the person in the “before” picture. They also give the message that our bodies exist as a two points–a $hitty one, and a good one. But in reality progress is never linear. We are a million places in between the before/after. And don’t get me started on what happens in the after/after. Because not many people are sharing that. . .

Unfollow. Mute. At least in the social media sense. If I know you and you start posting your transformation pix, don’t be surprised if I suddenly stop following you. We can still be friends, I just don’t care to see it. Seriously though. Get this stuff out of your life. It’s not making you feel better or helping you reach your goals in a sustainable way. Sure, it might motivate you for a minute, but only from a place of shame. And that’s no way to live.


“OMG you lost so much weight, what’s your secret? You look SO good!” I get it. It’s meant to be a compliment. It feels really good in the moment. It also has undertones of “You looked like crap before, better not gain it back”. And causes you to feel self-conscious when someone else gets the compliment and you don’t. “Why is nobody saying I look skinny? I’ve been working hard too! I must look bad today. . .” These well meaning compliments often do more harm than good in the long term.


Think before you decide to comment on other people’s bodies. Compliment people on other things. Be the change you want to see. Or if you’re on the receiving end you can give the other person an unexpected response. Like “Thanks, I was actually really sick and couldn’t eat for two weeks”. or “Oh interesting. I don’t own a scale anymore so I actually don’t know how much I weigh.” The awkward surprise might make them reconsider the next time they want to make a comment like this.


Ripped. Shredded. Burn. Blast.Why does all the language in fitness marketing sound like the same words I’d use to describe destroying evidence from a crime or blowing up a building? It gives us the message that we need to punish ourselves in order to get in shape. Not the case. Also, when all the people in fitness ads look the same, it’s hard to feel like you belong at the gym if you don’t fit that mold. Seriously though. That girl in the sports bra with the thigh gap on every “No Excuses Killer Abs” Pinterest infographic is NOT making you feel good about yourself. Promise. (As I say this, I realize that I am not too far off from this norm, and am starting to consider they ways I use my own image in my work.)


Pay attention to it. Call it out in your mind. If you’re brave, talk to a manager or customer service. Share stuff on social media that that points it out (maybe even this post?). Buy workout clothes from companies who use diverse models. Notice when you’re starting to get those feelings of not-enough-ness and get rid of the triggers. That probably means hiding some Facebook ads (you can say “it’s inappropriate”) and quite a few unfollows. This will be a common theme. It’s ok. On the flip side, DO follow people and support companies that are not perpetuating this narrative. They (we) are out here and need your support!


I can’t believe this is still a thing, but I’ve it heard from multiple people who have experienced it. Listen, if you want to participate in a weight loss challenge that’s your business. I don’t personally think that obsessing over numbers like your weight and measurements is the best way to boost your confidence. But regardless of what you want to do, nobody at your gym should ever be pressuring your into participating if you politely decline. This includes getting weighed, measured, or signing up for a challenge. It’s always your choice.


Say NO. Firmly. If they don’t take that for an answer, you may have to try a different class, gym, or trainer. Or if you have an otherwise good relationship with yours, and you feel comfortable, be honest about where you’re at. Sometimes sharing a bit of your own story can go a long way. Especially if you’ve had a negative experience with these things in the past. Most importantly, if it doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to do it. Your body, your business.


This is so important. Repeat after me: “Trainers are not doctors, dietitians, or therapists” (unless of course, they also are one of those things). The unfortunate thing is, many still try to fill those other roles, and wind up giving a lot of bad advice in the process. At best, this makes you feel bad that you ate carbs for breakfast. At worst, it gets you to do something that’s actually totally wrong for you and pushes you further away from your goals.


Seek out a coach who isn’t afraid to say “I don’t know”. Look at the credentials and experience of the people whose advice you choose to follow. Remember that just because someone has anecdotal evidence of something working for them, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. When you work in the fitness industry you’re often told that “your body is your business card”. NO. It’s also not your certification, your degree, or your experience.


There are lots of tricks to make yourself look thinner in pictures. And people who regularly post their own gym selfies know exactly what they are. Then you wonder why you don’t look the same as they do in your high waisted leggings and sports bra. Ask anyone who has ever done any fitness modeling or participated in bikini/figure/physique competitions. They don’t look that way 24/7. And there are often some pretty extreme behaviors required to get there.


Just reminding yourself that it exists can go a long way. Whenever you see someone post their highlight reel, remember that you don’t know the whole story behind what got them to that place. You don’t know if they were happy, healthy, struggling with an eating disorder, or PHOTOSHOPPED. Be mindful of the kinds of images you are seeing in magazines or watching on TV. If you find that someone’s photos on social media are consistently triggering you, resort back to my standard advice. Unfollow. Mute. You can still be friends if you know them in real life. Just set some boundaries


And other such talk. Look around. It’s everywhere. In fact, it’s so common, I bet you don’t even notice a lot of it until you start looking for it. I challenge you to find a class on Thanksgiving that’s not called “Turkey Burn”. Those little infographics that tell you how many squats you have to do to earn a fun-sized Snickers. Group fitness instructors trying to motivate you for “bikini season”. Or bribing you to hold your plank longer to “earn that extra glass of wine”. It’s not cool. And it’s probably making you feel bad about yourself every time you think about eating pizza.


Remind yourself of a few things. First, that the human body is a living breathing organism and doesn’t work like a precise math equation. You need to eat (yes even carbs) and you should never feel like you have to work out to earn that right. You also have the right to choose where you spend your fitness dollars. If you’re getting this a lot from a specific instructor or gym consider trying a different one. Not many options near you? Let management know. And if that makes you uncomfortable, let me know and I’ll write a blog post about it. 😉 As I’ve said before, sometimes the call out can just occur in your own mind and that’s ok.


To be honest, I don’t love the word “modification”. As if there is only one true way to do any exercise and the rest are all wimpy/watered down versions. That’s the way it’s often presented, anyway. Instructors say things like “Here just do these 50 burpees with a push-up. And if you can’t take a modification.” But half the time they don’t even offer ideas for what that might look like. In any case, they make you feel like you’re less-than if you don’t do the hardest thing. Before you know it you wind up with a roomful of people doing either doing wonky burpees or feeling bad that they “can’t”.


Find a better coach? Sorry. That sounds harsh. But there’s a better way to do this. You’ll probably feel better if you can work with a trainer or instructor who starts with the easiest version first, and then progresses you to something more challenging when you’re ready for it. There are plenty of great ones who do this, so shop around. Also, please know in your heart that you are the expert on your own body. You can take the variations (I like that word better) that feel the best for you on any given day. And trust that if you take what feels right and focus on good form, things will get easier over time.


Once I had a representative from an MLM weight loss company convince me to get my body composition taken at the end of a bootcamp class. Then she tried to fat shame me into buying shakes and bars. It felt gross, and to this day whenever I hear of anyone selling products from that company I run and hide. I unfortunately see this sort of thing happen a lot, especially to people who are in a vulnerable place with their body image, like new moms. It’s that DM you get from some long lost college friend who pretends to be interested in your life but then gets you on the phone and baits and switches you. It’s not cool. Especially if they assume you’d be interested in weight loss products just by judging the pictures you post online.


Make a personal policy for this sort of thing and come up with a scripted response. I’m always just upfront with people and say: “I’ve had a bad experience with MLM’s in the past (true) and will never have any interest in selling these products or joining your team. It’s nothing personal.” (it’s not) Like many of you, I sometimes do buy things like protein powder, vitamins, essential oils, and skincare products. So if what they are selling seems legit, it’s up to you if you’d like to support them with a purchase. As with any products, do your research and decide if you want your dollars to go towards what that company supports. In my case, I can think of a few that are always a hard NO from me.


There is a lot of advice about what the best way to work out is. The problem? The people giving this advice are speaking from their experience. They don’t know what’s really best for you. When it comes to working out, there are a billion ways to pursue movement. It doesn’t have to suck. I’ve said this before many times, but the best workout for you is the one you’ll actually like enough to do.


If you hate running, go lift weights. If you hate lifting, go frolick in a meadow (kidding, kind of). In all seriousness, there are a million different ways to move your body. I’m sure you can find something you enjoy. And if you really can’t right now, know that’s cool too. You are under no moral obligation to work out now or ever. Sometimes when you’re having a really hard time with all of the things I mentioned above you may need to scale back from formal exercise for a bit until you’re ready to reframe and try again.

Did you learn something new? I hope you did.

You might be wondering, “Who is this Jenna J, and who does she think she is to critique the entire fitness industry?” To be completely transparent. I’m guilty of nearly everything on this list. I’ve perpetuated it. I’ve fallen prey to it. And I will probably continue to screw up. But I’m also all about growth. My motto is “know better, do better.” Now that you’re aware of this stuff I hope you can do the same. Most importantly, I hope it will make you feel better when you go to the gym, hire a coach, or take a class.

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