How to Find Body Positive Fitness Options

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When we start to move again for reasons other than weight loss, we may find that we actually enjoy our old types of exercise, or we may find ourselves looking for something that inspires more joy. In this post we’ll talk about what body positive fitness is and tips for finding size-inclusive fitness options online and in your city. We’ve also included a list of our favorite body positive fitness Instagram accounts. 

How to Find Body Positive Fitness Options

Working through the intuitive eating and intuitive movement process requires us to disconnect from previous motivations for working out – like weight loss – and connecting with new motivations, like improved mental and emotional health or lower stress levels.

But what happens if your trainer or fitness class teacher ends up making commentary about “burning off all those calories”, or other fatphobic things? Sometime after realizing that diets don’t work for weight loss, we must have decided that maybe yelling would. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

This is where finding a body positive trainer, gym or online fitness class can be a big help as you move forward in your body acceptance journey.

What is Body Positive Fitness?

Many of us are familiar with the caricature of a fitness instructor yelling in exercisers’ faces to “step it up,” “work harder,” or to “burn more calories.” We are told to work harder to make up for the meal we ate last night or even placed in formalized comparison matches with others.

These pressures can be even worse for people in bodies that aren’t socially or culturally acceptable, making fitness in a group setting miserable. The rhetoric and judgment can be annoying at best and extremely harmful and triggering at worst. Maybe this type of motivation is inspiring to some people, but not for the majority. In many cases, fitness instructors are trying to help people who come to their facilities, but they aren’t aware of all the research indicating that promoting intentional weight loss – and external measures of progress – is ineffective and unethical.

This is why it is helpful to look for fitness locations and trainers that are not promoting body manipulation or weight loss through exercise. An alternative to the traditional fitness environment is body positive fitness. 

Body positive fitness should offer community or engagement-based movement for people of all body sizes, shapes, colors, abilities, genders, etc. without the intent to manipulate or change the body. Movement at these facilities or with these trainers should be welcoming, with a focus on what feels right for each individual, how to strengthen (not “tone”), and recognize the impact on mental health. As we know, our bodies benefit in numerous ways from exercise, not including weight loss.

The primary differences between traditional fitness and body positive fitness:

Goals: In many cases, traditional fitness is used as a method of losing weight, changing body shape, or burning calories. In contrast, the goals in body positive fitness are less numbers-based. Body positive goals can include things like:

  • Increasing strength
  • Improved mood
  • Decreased stress
  • Better flexibility
  • Improved stamina
  • Better sleep

Motivation: When motivation for exercise comes from a place of guilt or outside pressure, it is never going to last. Body positive fitness and intuitive movement both rely on internal or intrinsic motivation as the driver. There’s a much more liberal definition of what is health-promoting. Healthy movement could be taking a leisurely walk in the morning to clear your head. It could also be walking up the stairs to work to get your heart pumping a bit. The difference is that it is motivated by health (physical, emotional or mental) rather than guilt.

Focus: As we’ve mentioned numerous times, the biggest way to tell if a facility or trainer is not body positive is to see if they are promoting weight loss. Body positive fitness will never focus on an outcome of weight but instead focus on practices that give people joy. Practices that give joy will be sustainable and healthier in the long-term.

A Note on True Body Positive Fitness 

The term body positive originated in the fat-acceptance movement; nowadays, it’s often co-opted and used to describe body love of those in smaller bodies. This was never the intent of the original social justice movement. So while you may see fitness trainers or influencers talking about body positivity, it doesn’t mean that they are actually weight-inclusive or HAES aligned.

What to watch for: people in socially-acceptable bodies talking about body love and acceptance in one breath and in the next breath talking about their intentional weight loss attempts after having a baby, about restricting their diet in one way or another, or talking about an exercise routine to tone up.

We cannot always trust a facility or trainer that says they are body positive not to still be engrained in diet culture, so it’s important that we do some research. Luckily we’ve started that research for you 🙂 Keep reading for a list of body positive fitness accounts and online or in-person gyms that are weight and size-inclusive.

How to Find a Body Positive Fitness Facility/Trainer

As we learn to accept our bodies for what they can do, relax our control over food, and start to move more joyfully, stepping into a place that reinforces old, diet-culture messaging can be upsetting. That means you may not want to return to the same fitness facilities or trainers you’ve used in the past.

You may decide to incorporate movement in more organic ways during our days; some will enjoy hiking, biking, or walking outside; or you may move as a commute to work or to complete house or yard work.

And if you do want to return to a formalized gym or fitness setting, here are some tips for finding a place that might be right for you:

  • Instagram: Instagram is exploding with fitness influencers in all shapes, sizes, abilities, colors, and genders. Many of these people offer in-person or online fitness classes, or feature great inspiration. We included below a long list of body positive Instagrammers you will definitely want to follow. You can also follow hashtags like #bopofitness, #bodypositivemovement, or #intuitivemovement.
  • Facebook groups: There are some really awesome Facebook support groups out there for people wanting to align their lifestyles with HAES, including my Ditch the Diet Facebook group. Search through previous discussions to find recommendations for HAES-friendly fitness classes, or pose a new question! Another great group is Superfit Heros.
  • Health At Every Size Community Page: Use the search function to find a variety of different HAES-aligned practitioners near you. Choose “Fitness Professional/Personal Trainer” and search in your area. Even if you don’t see any trainers or facilities that pop up, reach out to the people that do. They may be aware of places in your area that would be appropriate.

Once you have identified a possible site, search on their website or call to learn more. Be aware that many places may call themselves “body positive” but still promote weight loss or share “before” and “after” pictures. Choose a place that is right for you and your tolerance level for diet-culture messages.

To get you started we included a list below of body-positive fitness Instagram accounts and both online and in-person fitness options that are body-positive.

Free Resource List:

Body-positive fitness options online and in-person around the country.

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Body Positive Fitness Instagram Accounts:

Body Positive Fitness Options:

What are some of your favorite fitness workouts or people to follow?

Free Resource List:

Body-positive fitness options online and in-person around the country.

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5 Comments

  1. Tianna Brittain on January 3, 2020 at 3:59 am

    Hi!
    I own a small body-positive yoga studio in Nanaimo, BC that also offers Intuitive Eating courses.

    You can find us at @saltandlightyogastudio 😊

    • Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD on January 6, 2020 at 6:33 pm

      Wonderful, thanks for sharing Tianna!

  2. Sarah Petty on April 23, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    This is an excellent list!

    Since there aren’t many body positive fitness resources in Texas, I’d like to add Shohreh Davoodi Coaching in Austin, TX, and my in-home and virtual personal training and group training @sageadvicewellness, http://www.sageadvicewellness.com in Fort Worth, TX. Thanks!

  3. Lori Luebke on May 6, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    I am a dancer in a large body and I typically do a form of dance that is quite physical. As i continue on this journey of intuitive eating, body positivity/acceptance/liberation I have a concern. As I have experimented with intuitive eating throughout the years I have gained weight. I am no longer concerned about aesthetics or that I might not be healthy at my size. My problem is that the more weight I have gained the more it impedes my ability to dance the way I love to dance. I have arthritis in my foot which makes it painful to dance, but to do many activities that I love. I have not seen this addressed in the literature that I have been reading.. Do you have any direction or resources that might be helpful?

    • Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD on May 13, 2020 at 4:36 pm

      Hi Lori, thanks for reaching out, this is such a great question. It’s great to hear that you have a form of movement that you enjoy so much, but I get how frustrating it can be to not be able to dance the way you enjoy and the way you’re used to dancing. Can you make some space to grieve the potential loss in doing something you love? Or the loss of moving in the way that you used to? It’s possible that you won’t be able to dance the way you did before, and that does really suck – so making space to grieve this is important step of moving forward. And along with that, perhaps you can try to explore new ways of movement and dance that can bring you joy, without so much pain? A few resources that are coming to mind include: https://gatewelltherapycenter.com/2018/04/26/joint-pain-doctor-recommends-weight-loss/ (this is more specific to joint pain and weight, not dance) and Colleen Werner on Instagram, who is a dancer in a larger body and talks about this often: https://www.instagram.com/colleenmwerner/. I hope this helps! If anything else comes to mind I’ll send them along 🙂

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Alissa Rumsey, RD.

Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS (pronouns she/her/hers) is a registered
dietitian, nutrition therapist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and the author of
Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace With Food and Transform Your Life. Alissa is
passionate about helping people reclaim the space to eat and live,
unapologetically.

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