This is a guest blog post by Ben Coomber at BTN Academy
Group exercise is and has been for many years an extremely popular form of exercise. Many commercial gyms place more emphasis on studio classes then they do on individual equipment-based training because classes are so popular.
As a class instructor, it’s likely that you teach multiple classes per week and have contact with hundreds of members. Therefore, it seems like a really good opportunity to spread some positive messages about healthy eating. What I intend to do in this blog is to explore that option but to also provide you with some very important context.
Do you have a healthy relationship with food?
A 2015 study from Norway looked at group fitness instructors, of the subjects studied 685 were female and 152 were male (1). The average ages were early to mid-thirties. Of the subjects surveyed only 27 of the women and one of the men self-reported disordered eating behaviors. However, 17 of the women were severely underweight, 199 reported menstrual cycle dysfunction, and 204 reported weight loss attempts.
In total, after further assessment, it was found that 22% of the men and a whopping 57% of the women displayed some level of body dissatisfaction and disordered relationships with food. That’s really significant because these individuals are often looked upon as role models, but if the people leading the class have psychologically complicated relationships both with food and with themselves, are they the positive models? I’ll leave you to answer that one, but it seems obvious from this data, and from my own experience of meeting many people in this industry, that before you the instructor can help people to achieve better health and support their nutrition, you need to make sure that you are in a good place yourself. Body positivity is about being accepting of oneself but not at the expense of admitting there’s a problem if one exists.
How can you help your class members?
After you have worked a little on yourself and you are confident that you have a good relationship with you the person in the mirror you can think about offering advice to your class members. But who are your class members and what are their goals? Well, another glance at some research answers these questions for us. The differences in gender preferences for exercise and reasons for exercising by Craft et al. (2). It was found that women tended to exercise for weight management and to improve their perceived attractiveness, while men tended to exercise more for fitness and enjoyment. It was also observed that women who exercised for weight loss tended to score lower on a quality of life scale. This can be cross-referenced with another study from 2002 by Furman et al. (3) which showed a far greater correlation between being overweight and having low self-esteem in women, which appeared to be in contrast with men, who’s body shape dissatisfaction didn’t appear to affect their self-esteem. But the research aside, if we are honest most people who exercise, unless their excise is sports oriented, would admit that physical aesthetics is, even if not a primary focus, a consideration.
I’m sure, when you look around your classes you see far more women than you do men, depending on the type of exercise you teach. I’m sure more men do Yoga or CrossFit or Spin than they do Aerobics, Jazzercise or Body Attack but I’m willing to bet that most class attendees are female. Some of that may well be down to how certain exercises seem to be attached to particular gender-roles. Men are more likely to use machines and free weights and give cardio-based classes a wide berth, compared with women who may have been conditioned to believe that strength training is ‘manly’. Certain types of exercise are generally perceived as feminine or masculine. Thankfully that seems to be changing now and many younger women are realising that lifting weights can be for them too. Whilst more and more men are getting into yoga, for example. But this means, based on what we now know about body image and relationships with food, probably more than half of your class members have some level of body shape dissatisfaction or unhealthy relationships with food.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could help them to overcome this? Or, at the very least, identify this in themselves so that they can seek out help.
Obviously, if you are going to give nutrition or diet lifestyle advice then you need to educate yourself on this. I have your back there, we produced a FREE 7-step process nutrition coaching document which talks you through some simple steps that will help anyone to develop healthy behaviours and an improved approach to diet and nutrition.
I hope I don’t have to tell you that you cannot out exercise a poor diet and that exercising to score pizza points is a far from healthy approach. Likewise, you cannot target reduce body fat so telling class members they need to do more lunges to burn fat off their thighs is misleading. But, saying to them that these lunges alongside a sustainable Calorie deficit will help reshape their legs, or that eating enough carbs to fuel their high intensity workouts for better results is a good idea are both sound nuggets of info. These kinds of comments will set you apart from your fellow instructors and make you sound like a trustworthy source of evidence-based nutrition advice.
But it’s not just about Calories and Macros. You could offer tips on controlling one’s home food environment, shopping tips, recipes, high protein, low Calorie snack ideas, and so forth.
Once you have the knowledge required you could produce some handouts or sign your members up to a mailing list where you could send them regular nutrition tips. Or, another way to do it is to, set up a referral scheme with a BTN. Academy certified coach who can provide your class members with nutrition advice and, whom might send some of their own clients your way for group exercise.
In summary, people’s relationships with food are often complicated and disordered eating and exercise addiction are common problems within group exercise circles. These seem to affect women more than they do men, possibly as much to do with societal pressures as anything else. If your own self-image could do with some work, then put that work in. If you have even a slightly obsessive or disordered relationship with food yourself, take steps to overcome that. Then educate yourself about nutrition, start with the free pdf attached to this article and, consider signing up for our Level 4 certificate in nutrition. Once you have the knowledge you can start to give relevant tips around nutrition, meal prep, shopping, cooking, and planning one’s day to lead a healthier and happier lifestyle.
After-all. A healthy, Calorie appropriate diet is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle and it’s the lifestyle as a whole that determines how effectively one reaches their goals.
- Bratland-Sanda, S., Nilsson, M.P. & Sundgot-Borgen, J. Disordered eating behavior among group fitness instructors: a health-threatening secret?. J Eat Disord 3, 22 (2015).
- Craft BB, Carroll HA, Lustyk MK. Gender Differences in Exercise Habits and Quality of Life Reports: Assessing the Moderating Effects of Reasons for Exercise. Int J Lib Arts Soc Sci. 2014;2(5):65–76.
- Furman A, Badmin N, Sneade I. Body image dissatisfaction: Gender differences in eating attitudes, self-esteem, and reasons for exercise. The Journal of Psychology. 2002;136:581–596. [PubMed] [Google Scholar] [Ref list]