The Women’s Fitness Myth: Fitness is SO Much More Than Weight Loss

Ladies!—you are more than your body!

It is completely valid to want to lose weight, build your body and feel incredible in your own skin. 

However, weight loss is not the ONLY reason to; work out, practice good nutrition, or take care of your health. 

Improving your physique is absolutely a benefit of working out, but I wouldn’t say it’s in the top three reasons to start your own fitness journey.

Personal Journey

“Exercise not only changes your body, it changes your mind, your attitude and your mood.”

Unknown Author

In my own life, I have seen fitness impact my whole aura — I am more positive and hopeful and solutions-oriented than ever before. I am also so much more confident in my capabilities than ever before.

The reasons to practice good health and fitness are more life-changing than the basic goal of shedding a few pounds. 

I passionately believe it’s imperative that we stop talking about weight loss or weight maintenance like it’s the sole reason to create and maintain a fitness routine.

We need to highlight and celebrate fitness as an analogous activity to better self-assessment and self-actualization. 

Body Positivity and Then Some

As we have all seen in body positivity movements through influencers like @bodyposipanda and @mikzazon as well as from organizations like @embodylovemovement, you are so much more than your body and what it looks like. 

If you don’t know that already, keeping on top of your health and fitness can help you uncover that kind of confidence and strength in all areas of your life.

A good fitness routine is a training camp for all your other aspirations and commitments.

There are other physical benefits to fitness too such as; heart health, bodily capability and being fit for other activities.

Give Fitness a Whirl to Be YOUR Best

Dumbell Rack inside a Gym
Dumbell Rack inside a Gym

You might reshape your body, but moreover, you’ll reshape your mind. 

In two studies that compared an active gym lifestyle and a sedentary lifestyle in teenagers, the research shows that exercise positively correlates and improves feelings of self-esteem. And it’s statistically significant! 

Results show that self compassion was higher in the group involved in physical exercise through gym workout (Mean- 39.83) as compared to those who had a sedentary lifestyle (Mean36.86). 

Similar results were found for the other hypothesis of self-esteem.

That is, the self-esteem was found to be higher (Mean= 23.76) in the group of participants who were involved in physical exercise through gym workout as compared to those who had reported having a sedentary lifestyle (Mean = 18.16).

Benefits

Fitness can help you improve your character, overall health, and self-confidence

You may find that your initial goal to fit in those smaller jeans is not a very strong, lasting “why.” It’s easy to quit if you don’t see immediate, gratifying results – We’ve all been there! 

In order to strengthen your DEEP “why,” I recommend journaling to remember these thoughts and solidify your self-esteem and positive mindset: 

  • Sensing how you feel before, during, and after exercise

Notice your emotional and mental state. 

  • Take note of how you speak to yourself. 

Your mind is a powerful tool and shapes the way in which we see ourselves and the world around us. 

  • Check in with how you feel about yourself when you are going about your daily life. Notice if you are feeling yourself more than usual.

Reflect on how your commitment to your health routine(s) may be sparking confidence in yourself.

PRO TIP
Developing your “why” will also help with consistency which will likely yield the ever-so-desired physique changes.

Sometimes letting go of the preconceived outcome, offers the best results. 

An Unfortunate Saga of Women Being Obsessed with Weight

Societal Norms and Media

Fashion Runway
Fashion Runway

Girls and young women are constantly bombarded with an ‘ideal’. 

The definition of the perfect woman varied depending on era, the pressure to adhere to a certain standard remains the same. 

I am a 90s child, so my role models have stemmed from top fashion models like Kate Moss, to screen actors like Keira Knightley, to singers like Britney Spears, and fitness influencers like Jen Selter. 

While the body type and #bodygoals have changed in the last two decades… what do they all share? They’re super thin!

Body Goals

Kate and Kierra were my original #bodygoals. Tall. Thin.

Almost gaunt faces. They looked so perfect in pictures and on screen though.

That’s what I wanted. 

As the times continued to evolve, Britney Spears brought a more tangible package.

She was short, thin and had boobs.

My Ideal Look

My 5-foot-even teenage self felt that Britney was a more realistic role model.

I would still need to do some ab work for the oblique muscles and watch my diet like mad. 

While I continued to obsess about my appearance, the ideal look continued to change to a look that I’d say we are still chasing in 2020… the fitness model.

Jen Selter has a tiny waist, lean and toned muscles, and (drumroll) a booty! This is my girl — we got that junk in the trunk. 

Body Type

Person Loading Weights
Person Loading Weights

I got the curves going on and love to train for the muscles.

But I still have trouble achieving the Barbie-doll like thinness. 

Even as the “ideal” body type develops to include more fitness physiques, they all seemingly idolize thinness and leanness. 

For so many of us, this is simply an impossible standard to uphold all the time. 

On top of it all, these women are often posed or photoshopped to give an illusion of the body type that the media conveys as “perfect.”

Unrealistic Standards

Cindy Crawford who has been noted as one of the most beautiful women of all time said, “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.”

Kerry Washington speaks to the detriment of seeing her images photoshopped, “It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror.

It’s an unfortunate feeling.”

Constant Change

As women, we are always changing through our lives and adapting to the body’s needs at that time – i.e. puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. 

How can we hold ourselves to such an unachievable standard that is not even a constant reality for those prominent figures?

Direct Influence from Family and Friends

Unfortunately, it’s not just those in the limelight that influence young minds and instill in us a sense that as women, we have a duty to be a certain size and shape. 

Whether it’s intended or not, our family, friends, and maybe childhood teachers impact us with their words and behavior.

Mayo Clinic’s Director of Eating Disorder programs stated to USA Today that, “Moms are probably the most important influence on a daughter’s body image.

Unintended Effects

Even if a mom says to the daughter, ‘You look so beautiful, but I’m so fat,’ it can be detrimental.”

As a daughter (who loves her mom so much and KNOWS she did as best she could), phrases like that definitely impacted me. 

While I didn’t know the science of genetics, I did know that my mom made me in her tummy and so many people told (and still tell) me I look JUST like her. 

It wasn’t beyond my little mind to conclude that, if she was fat and ugly, I certainly was too. 

Ladies with Little Ladies Around — Watch Your Words

Child Eating Cake with Mother
Child Eating Cake with Mother

Raise a hand if you’ve ever seen your mom go on a diet or speak poorly about her body and recommit to exercise?

Ever had a friend who cardio-ed their heart out to lose a couple pounds for a school dance or after a night out to burn the calories back off?

Had a coach, teacher, or director suggest to you that girls in that activity need to be a certain shape or size?

If that language didn’t stick with y’all from, let’s conservatively say, age 10 on, good for you! I’m seriously proud, it isn’t easy to block out. I on the other hand… I often find myself still trying to rewrite the narrative. 

No One Is Truly to Blame

These mentors were just doing the best they could with the information and training they had.

Most likely, they got that information from the person before them who helped them to get where they are. 

We cannot directly fault them in any way, but what we can do is attempt to be more aware of our words and actions for ourselves and the next generation.

Why Weight Isn’t the Best Measurement Or Main Benefit

Weight is not the end-all and be-all of your existence or fitness journey.

Here are some ways that the benefits of fitness may present themselves for you.

Benefits of Fitness Routines

Cardio Party-O

Cardio strengthens your heart and increases stamina, so you can enjoy more activities in life without getting completely winded. 

Imagine hiking with your family and feeling like you could go for days. Heck — envision climbing the stairs to go to bed and not feeling your heart race or your breath escape you!

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK advocates for cardio exercises because, “It’s medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.” 

Strong AF

Barbell Curls
Barbell Curls

Strength training increases your lean mass so that you metabolize food faster. It will also help protect muscle and bone health. 

Research in Current Sports Medical Reports identifies that, ”Ten weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg.”

In that same study, researchers find that, “Benefits of resistance training include improved physical performance, movement control, walking speed, functional independence, cognitive abilities, and self-esteem.

Bend so You Don’t Break

Stretching can reduce stress and tension in the body.

Fathom being 65+ and still kickin’, strong and limber!

You can perform all the basic tasks of the day, and so much more.

Miranda Esmonde-White, host of PBS’s Classical Stretch and author of Aging Backwards, claims that stretching will actually prevent and even undo the body’s aging process by lengthening and strengthening functional movement.

At minimum, decreasing or, at best, eliminating that stiff, aging feeling is all about keeping range of motion and suppleness in the fibers of the body. 

Bad Days Make Better Ones 

All exercise will increase your mood and benefit your mental health.

There is just something about sweating and getting something done that can totally provide clarity in your emotions, thoughts, and mindset. 

Elle Woods said it best,

“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” 

Some of the most gratifying workouts happen on our worst days because fitness is such a game-changer! 

Get ready to explode with positivity and potential. You are already turning that frown upside down!

Self-Care and Self-Worth

As you get into your routine and start feeling the physical and mental benefits from exercise, you should notice that you genuinely enjoy your time in your activity of choice. 

It becomes time that you carve out and treat as a special time to reconnect and center yourself.

When you were little, playtime was just something you’d get lost in, enjoying every moment. 

It didn’t feel like a chore when I was playing freeze tag with my friends or making up dances in my parent’s living room. 

Fitness can be a similar playful time.

Fitness Doesn’t Have To Be A Chore

Women-Working-Out-Together
Women Working Out Together

When else do you get to run around, lift heavy things, shake your buns off, laugh with your trainer or friends or favorite podcast? Right now! When you are doing you, baby girl!

As I grew up in dance, I am a HUGE fan of Zumba and Buti Yoga.

On the days I can’t make a class, I love a good, groovin’ Spotify Playlist or catching up on missed episodes of “The Minimalists Podcast.” 

Improve While Enjoying

By creating that time, you will bolster your sense of self and confidence which will enable you to be your best self in other areas of your life. 

Because you’ve taken care of your health and prioritized yourself for a bit of time during the day, you’re more able to show up fully and presently.

You can only give from a full cup and fitness is an amazing fountain from which to fill up!

Self-Efficacy and Empowerment

Similarly, as you dial in your routine, feel the mental and physical benefits, and get grounded and more comfortable in who you are, you will feel like a superhero, ready to take on any challenge. 

Feeling that you are in charge of your health lends itself to building character, mental fortitude, and belief in your capacity to accomplish or overcome hard things! 

Seriously, you will feel on fire after a tough HIIT class and blissed out after a power yoga or Pilates class.

Feel The Energy

When you are feeling like a boss babe, what can’t you do?

You showing up for YOU is a statement in itself that you are powerful, worthy, and necessary in this world. Prove it to yourself by holding yourself accountable for your fitness.

Remember Elle Woods: “Exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy.”
Endorphins, in turn, help boost your mood and confidence – fast forward to improved, daily mental health. 

My Fitness Journey

Woman Lifting Barbell
Woman Lifting Barbell

I am so passionate about women getting involved in fitness because of the immense impact that it has had in my own personal life.

I honestly don’t think I have felt as empowered and at peace with myself than ever before. 

Every time I work out, it’s a reminder of who I am — strong, confident, independent, caring, and the direct product of my daily actions and habits.

It allows me to bust through old narratives — failure, fatness, weakness, and being an inept loner — that do not serve me anymore.

Look out ladies, I’m about to get on my soapbox!

That’s the Glow Up

Today, I am 30 years old and in the best shape of my life, but not how you would think. 

Fitness became so much more that I anticipated or could have hoped. 

After spending years with the absence of after-school sports programs, I went off to college. At college, I became bogged in books and spent my free time partying or just immobilized in bed trying to recover from a trying school and social schedule. 

Slump

Upon graduating, I got a full-time HR job, tied to a desk and I was sedentary for a full 9-10 hours. 

My activity level was at an all-time low. 

I was feeling out of shape and (dare I say it) FAT. 

I started with getting into running, it was cheap and easy to walk out of my house and just go.

I noticed quickly that it began to improve my mental and physical well-being.

Path To Change

Then, when I felt I’d use it, I got a gym membership and delved into their strength training group fitness classes.

I love to pop into a cycle class or bootcamp now and then to push my limits.

In the last two years, I’ve created a consistent routine for myself doing cardio in the mornings and lifting weights in the evening five days a week and I still haven’t lost all the weight I would like to. 

Not Just Aesthetics

Woman with Fit Body
Woman with a Fit Body

Could I look better or weigh less? I don’t know. – Do I want to? Maybe. 

But I also like to enjoy life a little and not be a constant stickler about nutrition.

If it was guaranteed that I would never improve my outward appearance or lose weight by going to the gym, I would still show up there almost every day of the week (Sidebar: rest is important too!). 

It makes me feel empowered and gives me so much clarity about myself and my emotions. 

Why I Show Up for Fitness Like Church on Sunday

Putting on muscle mass will make your weight increase and in the long term may lead to smaller measurements – so the scale is not an awesome tool for tracking progress.
Ladies, strength training will not make you’ manly’ or bulky.

I could barely run the mile for the presidential tests in high school gym class.

Now, I run 12+ miles per week.

I still wouldn’t consider myself strong, but I have gained so much body awareness, dedication, and discipline that I can apply to other areas of my life by committing to strength training and a stretching routine.

Mental Wellness

My mental health and anxiety are drastically minimized when I get some movement in my day. If I can be present in the workout, I can be present elsewhere.

The act of taking care of myself fills up my cup and allows me to give energy to others.

I feel like if I can conquer a workout, I can do anything. If I can stick to a week of nutrition, what else can I do?
My confidence to excel in my life and as who I am has developed because I have seen what I am capable of in workouts. 

So, that is my tale and testimony for the value gleaned from fitness routines. 

Ok Ladies, Let’s Get In Formation

Now, I invite you to join me in a revolution to empower ourselves in fitness and to empower other women through fitness and health, rather than limit what fitness can mean for different people.

Be the Movement

Spin Class
Spin Class

Manifesto for Women in Fitness Narrative

We have to start talking about the other reasons to get involved in a fitness practice – whether that be a physical or mental performance or an activity that informs and enlightens us about ourselves. 

We need to show young girls that being active is amazing for them beyond “this is how to: lose weight, grow a booty, get flat abs,” and blah, blah, blah. 

We need to start talking about how women can cultivate strength and stamina that translates into the rest of their lives. 

Women are Complex and Magical

Women have so much more to offer than being an aesthetically pleasing human to look at.

Fitness is not just for slimming down, nor does it need to be just for building up muscles. It can simply be a self-care activity with no intention other than paying attention to yourself.

Not Just for the Boys

Women make up 49% of the population, so saying fitness is a masculine hobby is silly. There is so much room in the gym, studios and other spaces for literally half of the world. 

Let’s Get It, Girls

Let’s start to speak about fitness in a way that entirely excludes weight loss. 

How incredible would that be – a bunch of incredible women, doing their thing, as part of their daily routine that grounds them, fills their cup, energizes them, cares for them, and creates positive habits that carry over into their lives!

Be Your Best

There is a reason that athletic movies, like Rocky, Soul Surfer, and Wimbledon, are so inspiring. 

The athletes persevere. 

They win. They lose. They get better. 

What a great metaphor for all areas of life! 

Going in one more round when you don’t think you can. That’s what makes all the difference in your life.
Rocky Balboa

Embody the Athlete Mindset

Barbell Squat
Barbell Squat

This same concept is true in fitness – especially for us amateurs who fell off the athletic wagon at age 17 in high school (ha!). Fitness can give us that same sense of accomplishment and fortitude. 

We get better at the activity. 

We have off days and on days. 

We have times we don’t want to do it but show up anyway. 

We improve.

This is the lesson that fitness offers. 

Holistic Development

It is more than just looking better and losing those last 5 pounds.

Enjoy fitness because you are celebrating what your body CAN do and explore more of your capabilities. 

Challenging yourself and accomplishing new feats will offer you a sense of contentment. 

You will find that having a sense of determination and keeping your mind over matter are super satisfying as well. 

Mind, Body, Soul Transformation

Allow fitness to transform more than just your body. Other aspects of health improve with fitness.

Next transformation Tuesday, I challenge you to share how fitness changed your life. 

Inspire the heck out of your other female friends! Probably your male friends too.

With fitness, forget all about weight loss, your obituary won’t tell the tale of how successful you were at weight loss, boast your waist size, weight, or body fat percentage. 

It will tell of the woman you were.

Exude Confidence!

Make it a strong, tenacious, confident, ready-to-take-on-the-world, kind, and unstoppable woman that is beautiful from the inside out.

You are amazing at the weight you’re at. Everything you need is already within you. 

I hope that you found some inspiration and new perspective through this article. 

If you are interested in learning more about women and training, check out the following articles: 

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Steph Boll
Steph Boll
Founder of Spikes & Heels. I'm on a mission to show the reality of women's fitness. Red faces, blotchy skin and sweaty hair is my everyday look and I'm proud of it! 😅