Plus-size athlete and trainer Louise Green wants to empower other plus-size women to work out — not necessarily to lose weight, but because exercise is great for your health and makes you feel like a badass.
Green tells BuzzFeed Health that because mainstream fitness culture hasn’t embraced body diversity, many plus-size women are intimidated to join gyms or start exercising, and are therefore denied the opportunity to improve their health.
“This demographic has been left out of the conversation by way of being invisible in fitness media,” Green says. That’s why she wrote Big Fit Girl, which is basically a kickass fitness manifesto with practical advice for getting started, along with inspirational stories from Green and other plus-size athletes. BuzzFeed Health asked Green what she wants plus-size women to know about working out:
1. Think of yourself as the CEO of your body.
Green says that many plus-size women she trains come to her feeling self-conscious and even apologetic about their bodies. But she wants women to approach their fitness journeys feeling bold and self-possessed.
She suggests thinking of yourself as the “CEO of your body.” It will inspire you be more assertive and empowered when it comes to jumping into this fitness journey with both feet and putting your health needs first.
2. You’re going to want a trainer, tribe, and team.
• Your trainer could be a personal trainer you hire, but it can also be a group class instructor, a running coach, etc.
• Your tribe is made up of your fellow exercisers — people in your running group, your spin class, your boot camp, etc.
• Your team is made up of the people who you might be consulting along the way — massage or physical therapists, doctors, maybe a podiatrist.
Green believes in putting careful thought into choosing the people who advise and guide you, as well as those who will cheer you on and hold you accountable, celebrate your victories, and talk you through setbacks. And because many plus-size people have had shaming experiences in fitness spaces, it’s important to build this community carefully — as a CEO would when hiring job candidates.
3. So don’t be afraid to ask a lot of specific questions.
You should be super choosy when it comes to your prospective trainer, tribe, and team. Your goal is to find people who are body positive, who believe in health at every size, and who have an empowering approach to nutrition (as opposed to a diet-focused approach).
Whether you’re considering working one-on-one with a personal trainer or joining a gym, boot camp, or other group fitness class, you should ask questions until you feel like you have a real sense of the instructor or place, the vibe in the space, and how their values fit with yours, Green says.
Some questions might include:
• What’s your approach to healthy nutrition?
• Do you believe that healthy and fit bodies come in a range of shapes and sizes?
• What’s your experience working with the plus-size demographic?
• Can you describe your training style?
4. Be ready to invest real time working on your relationship with food.
Getting into working out, Green says, is about living to your highest potential. And having a negative or disordered relationship to food (restricting calories, bingeing, a history of crash dieting) can really get in the way of that. Food is so crucial to workout performance and recovery (and enjoying life) that working on resolving food issues is essential.
Thinking of food as fuel for your workouts, letting go of a restrictive, diet-centric approach to eating, working on accepting your body as it is right now, and delving into whatever emotional connections you might have to food and eating are all part of the process, Green says. Trying to get healthier without understanding your relationship to food is like “slapping a Band-Aid on a wound without investigating the cause of the wound,” Green writes in her book.
“I want people to find a really peaceful place with food,” she says. That means not conforming to weight loss diets, restricting what you eat, or punishing yourself because you ate something ‘bad.’”
Green recommends the resources offered by the group Be Nourished, which helps people “lose the weight of body shame” and undo obsession with food and weight.
5. Think of weight loss as a by-product of healthier habits, not a main goal.
Many people have a complicated or even traumatic history with weight loss. If you’re interested in losing weight, Green recommends skipping the frustration of dieting by instead focusing on lifestyle goals that can naturally lead to weight loss. For example, committing to prepping your lunches a few times a week, cooking dinner at home more, or working out 20 minutes a day are all manageable goals that will make you feel healthier and successful, and could lead to losing weight.
6. Track your progress — but not with a scale.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, hoping some weight loss happens, or just in the habit of weighing yourself to see your ~progress~, try not to rely on a scale as a measure of how successful your new exercise routine is. This puts you back in that weight-loss-is-paramount mindset that can lead to frustration and ultimately throwing in the towel.
Green wants people to see progress and success in all the things they’re doing in their workouts. Squatting a heavier weight, cycling up a hill, going for a longer run — these are all signs of progress and success. Own them!
7. Get a legit sports bra, pants with compression and a drawstring, and proper sneakers.
Workout clothes that feel comfortable and work for the kind of exercise you’re doing are crucial. Here are Green’s tips:
• Look for sports bras that have a cup for each breast and can be adjusted in multiple places. By and large the slip-over-the-head bras will not offer plus-size people enough support, she says.
• Pants that have a drawstring and some compression will be more comfortable to move around in and more likely to stay in place on your body.
• Don’t just buy any old sneakers. Get properly fitted for sneakers at a speciality athletic store where staff can recommend the right kind of shoe for you and the activity you’ll be doing.
8. Surround yourself with hardcore body positivity.
“People don’t realize how much what we see on a daily basis affects them,” Green says. It’s not just about unfollowing sites and accounts that make you feel bad or shamed — it’s about going out of your way to add body-positive voices to your daily online activity. Fill your social media feeds with plus-size people who are just into celebrating their experiences with fitness. Here are a few accounts Green recommends adding to your daily browsing:
9. And do whatever TF workout you want to do.
“Larger people are often told to do water aerobics, or activities that are perceived as gentle,” says Green. But she believes that as long as you do things in a gradual, safe way, you can do whatever fitness activity you like.
If you want to start with something like water aerobics or daily walks, awesome. If you want to try CrossFit, or boxing, or running, that’s great, too. Green recommends trying different things till you find what you like and then just going about it at a pace that works for you.
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