Changing the Way We Think About Fitness - A podcast interview with Claire Gregory of the Female Fitness AcademyIn today’s show, part one of my interview with guest expert Claire Gregory of the Female Fitness Academy, we discuss the critical importance of changing the way women think about exercise, fitness and health; coping with the ever-changing “expert advice” in this area; finding your true motivation for a healthy lifestyle; and why magic pills and potions aren’t the solution.

In part two of our interview, which airs next Friday, we continue our chat with the 80/20 principle for healthy living; the real reason for setting realistic goals; how to take the pressure and guilt out of exercising and eating right; and how you can still fit some real exercise into your day, even when you’ve got small children in tow.

Show Notes – Changing the Way We Think About Fitness

Nathalie: Welcome back to the Vibe Shifting Show, everybody. I am very excited today because I have another special guest for you. And today we’re talking with Claire Gregory.

Claire is a personal trainer and Pilates instructor specializing in pre- and post-natal fitness and has worked with hundreds of women over the course of her career. She is co-founder of the Female Fitness Academy and creator of The Mummy Tummy Method, a holistic health and wellbeing program created by mums for mums. Claire has worked within the fitness industry for over 18 years and has had a passion for exercise and health for as long as she can remember.

Welcome, Claire I’m so excited to have you here today!

Claire: Thank you for having me.

Changing the Way We Think About Exercise

Nathalie: So, I was poking around your website and you have… I have to say I’m really excited to have you here today because all the stuff that I’ve seen on your website just makes so much sense for me.

Claire: Thank you.

Nathalie: And what you do, predominantly, is you try and change the way women think about exercise and fitness.

Claire: Yeah. That’s right.

For so many women, when it comes to #fitness and exercise, we don’t really know WHY we’re doing it. Click To Tweet

Nathalie: One of the things that I think a lot of women really struggle with is that reason. Because one of the things that I do is try to help people figure out how they’re going to make changes in their lives or build dreams or whatever.

And one of the things you really have to know in order to do that well, is to know why. The real reason at the heart of why you want to do what you’re doing. And for so many women, when it comes to something like fitness and exercising, we just don’t really know why we’re doing it.

We do it because we think we should, because we get shamed into doing it, because… There’s so much that gets tied up into this with media and body shaming and all this stuff. So it’s… I think this is a really important area for women to learn about.

Claire: Yeah definitely.

How Our Reasons Affect Our Kids

Nathalie: You sent me a video. A YouTube video that I think a link on the show notes for the show today. And it actually… Really, I actually got teary when I was watching this because what you did is you went and you talked to some of the children of some of your clients. And you ask them why mummy exercises.

Claire: Yeah. It’s quite sad actually listening to some of the responses, and having to sort through them all.

Nathalie: Can you tell me about that a bit?

Claire: Yeah, so we were just trying to… We know why a lot of women exercise because they tell us it’s lots of reasons, many of which are things like fit in a dress, to go on holiday, to lose weight and so on.

Claire: And we were just concerned about what impact that actually has on our children. Now, for me personally I’m really conscious about how my daughters see exercise and that they see it as a part of life, and as fun. And just something that we do, not that we have to, not for any reason other than health.

And I was just interested to find what other children thought about why their mum exercises. And even though we don’t necessarily directly say things to our children they pick on so much, as we know, just from watching and listening.

The Kids Are Always Listening

Claire: And so we asked a group of clients if we could do an afternoon fun session with the kids. Did some games and exercise and then just stopped to ask them questions of why they think mummy exercises.

And I’ve got to say that actually the majority went with some of the more upsetting answers, among things like “because Daddy says Mummy’s got a fat bum” or “because mommy’s too fat” or “because mummy can’t fit in a dress”. And all really negative associations with exercise.

And young as even, like, three actually saying those words “mummy’s fat” and thinking that must mean that she has to work out and that is the only reason she is working out, is because she’s fat and not because it’s good for her health or it means they can play together and be healthy. It just really was shocking actually.

What Do Your Children See?

Claire: Not only for us, I think it really shocked some of the parents as well because they hadn’t realized that some of their things they say in passing the children were picking up on.

And even things like, one of the little girls commented something to do with the scales, and the mother hadn’t realized that every single day she gets on that scale and is cursing and moaning about the number that it says, and that little girl’s watching that, and taking it in and already developing at such a young age a negative association with the scales, with weight, and that correlation to happiness.

And I just think it’s something that we all need to really be aware of, is what message we’re sending our children around why we do exercise.

What impact is your attitude about health and #fitness having on your children? Click To Tweet

A Woman’s Worth Has Nothing To Do With Her Weight

Nathalie: That’s so true. It’s… Younger and younger now, especially with the girls, you see this where they judge their self-worth, their sense of self-worth correlates to how thin they are.

Claire: Yeah and it’s really sad and I think it’s getting worse, actually.

Nathalie: Yeah. I think maybe you’re right. I actually had an eating disorder when I was younger. I was anorexic for many years. And one of the things that I try to be very, very careful with is things like dieting and stuff like that. I know that I can’t do diets because I have an addictive kind of personality around that sort of thing. I can’t stop.

Nathalie: So I’m very careful not to talk about diets and stuff like that around my children, especially my daughter, because I don’t want her to pick up this belief that in order to be loved in life she has to be thin.

So, what you do in terms of helping women change the way they think about why they exercise and why they try and stay fit, I think can have quite a cascade effect with the way our children grow up.

Making Exercise Fun Again

Claire: Yeah definitely. And we always encourage, where possible, in some of the exercise sessions you do, to get your children involved so that they can see that it’s fun. It’s something that you can do together as a family.

And it’s trying to get women to understand that exercise doesn’t have to mean slogging it in a gym or in a boot camp or any kind of very specific in a box kind of structure. Exercise can be anything that gets you out of breath, it gets your heart beating, that you enjoy.

And it’s helping women kind of remember that little girl that they were when they were younger, that they could just run and have fun and laugh and be out of breath.

Find Something You Enjoy So It’s Not a Chore

Claire: We seem to… We can look at a lot of women that just see exercise as being in a gym slogging away on a treadmill. And they don’t like that. And therefore they don’t like exercise, not seeing that it could be dance, it could be walking and running with your dog, chasing your children around the park.

It’s just starting with small steps and finding something that actually sets them alight and is something that they enjoy and that they want to do again.

Because if you make yourself do something that you don’t like, it’s never going to become a part of your lifestyle because it’s always going to become a chore. And you’re always going to have negative feelings associated with it.

How Outside Judgement Affects Us

Nathalie: That is so true. It’s something that I struggled with early on, was what to do with my kids. Because there was a woman many years ago, I don’t know if she’s still doing this, she was a fitness blogger.

And there was this one image of her that was making the rounds and it was her in her little spandex crop-top, showing off her six-pack, and she had four kids and the image had the ages of all the children and the caption was: “What’s your excuse?”

Claire: Yeah, I remember that.

Trying and Failing to Exercise With Kids

Nathalie: That made me feel horrible. I actually cried. Because… see, and… I’m actually tearing up right now just remembering this. Because I looked at that and I felt so awful about myself because I did not have this six-pack and I only had two kids.

But, when I tried to exercise, I had these two very young kids with me. I had a baby, I had a toddler. And trying to exercise, I was just trying to get on the treadmill at home with these two kids, and it was impossible because I had hope, you know, the older one he can play with his toys and the little one, I can put her in a playpen and they’ll be happy.

And I had this vision that I’d be on my treadmill and they would be occupied and all would be well. But that’s just not how it works.

Because the baby is wailing because you’re not paying attention to her. And the older one is fascinated by this machine and he’s, you know, poking at it. And you’re like “No, no, no, no! Don’t put your marbles in there!” Or, you know “Don’t touch that, you’re going to hurt yourself!”

Is a prior negative association still making you avoid exercise now? #MakeFitnessFun again! Click To Tweet

Negative Associations Make You Avoid Exercise

Nathalie: Trying to exercise, and for me, exercise, what I really wanted was something to reduce my stress. And it was just making it worse!

Claire: Yeah.

Nathalie: And I couldn’t figure it out. I mean how do these women do it? Because I can’t. There’s just… I can’t exercise in this traditional, what I thought exercise was way, with the kids around.

It was dangerous for them, it was stressful for me, and I wasn’t exercising because I was having to stop every few minutes to prevent the older one from injuring himself, or dealing with a screaming baby.

Claire: Yeah and then that just creates, again, that negative association. Because you have a bad experience. And you think I can’t do this again. It’s not going to work for me. And it makes time with your children not enjoyable, and you don’t, like, you can’t work out. You got your children.

Quote about walking

How the “One Way” Mentality Makes Things Worse

Claire: And in the end you kind of just think, well I can’t, I’ve got two children. And that kind of becomes the excuse, rather than thinking, forget any traditional, and thinking let’s just… I could go for a walk with the children. And I’m getting out, and getting active. We’re all still together, we’re all having fun.

Claire: And the media don’t help, in that they really push out this… especially at the moment it’s very much all this “strong is the new skinny” and this kind of message, it’s very all this… what’s the word I’m looking for… all this athleticism. Which is great and if it works for you, that’s great. But it’s almost like telling, for me, young girls that the only way forward is heavy lifting in the gym.

Claire: See, years ago it was women shouldn’t lift weights, they should do cardio. Now it’s all about yeah women should lift weights and it’s almost like it’s that way on the highway. And it’s not. It’s whatever works for you.

But all we see in the media is usually like one way. And if you can’t do it this way then there must be something wrong with you, or you don’t want it enough, or you’re not dedicated, or you’re not committed. But it’s not that at all. It’s…

Finding Your Own Starting Point

Claire: We all have our own things going on in life. And we all have our own preferences and our own relationship with exercise and with our body. And it’s about breaking down some of our own feelings about ourselves and exercising and just finding a starting point.

Because we’ve got to be realistic. So many women jump into, they do nothing and then go “right, I’m going to jump into this”, five days a week heavy training program, this strict diet, and the first week goes great and then… it’s not realistic.

Nathalie: It’s not sustainable.

It’s About What Works For Your Life

Claire: It’s not sustainable. Like, I have two children. I work for myself. I try and fit my life around the kids. I can’t do a seven day week training plan. I can’t count my [unlcear], I can’t weigh my food, it just wouldn’t work in my life. And it’s not what I want for my life.

So I have to find something that works for me, my family, and my goals. And I think that’s the hard thing for women to be able to do is to kind of take a step back and start at the beginning and do something that’s achievable.

So if you’re not doing anything, just one thing a week is an improvement. Don’t try and do five because it’s not sustainable. And you’ll get injured, you’ll get demotivated, then you’re kind of caught. It’s a vicious circle.

Nathalie: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ve been there.

Claire: I think we all have.

How to avoid the vicious circle of injury and demotivation when starting a new #exercise program. Click To Tweet

When What You Enjoy Doesn’t Fit the Current Trend

Nathalie: It’s so frustrating, too, just what you were saying about all this conflicting information. Because, like you were talking about the weight lifting thing. Because that’s the thing now is, what I would really like to do is just to be able to spend half an hour or 45 minutes on my treadmill and just get my stress in that way.

But no, no, no, no no! You can’t be on the treadmill now because that’s just not the way. You have to be building your muscle because that’s the only way to do it.

Claire: Yes.

Nathalie: It’s just… It drives me absolutely crazy. This view that there is just this one way that it has to be done and if you’re not doing it that way it’s “wrong”. It gets into this whole judgment thing and this comparison thing.

You Have to Ignore Judgemental People

Nathalie: And I remember also, what I tried to do after the trying to work during the day with the kids, I tried to convince my husband at the time to take the kids, after, when he got home so that I could do the treadmill thing and get some exercise in because he was always bugging me about how “you need you to get more exercise, blah, blah, blah”.

But he would always be coming down, poking his head downstairs. I don’t know whether he was trying to make sure I was actually working out or what, but I would get this “You’re only doing four kilometres an hour, that’s not good enough, you should be doing at least six.”

And if I was stretching, the back my leg wasn’t touching the ground so it didn’t count, or my half push-ups were just, they were “girl push-ups” so they didn’t count.

And it was constantly this feeling of being judged. So I just… I didn’t want to do it. Again, something that I was hoping would reduce my stress levels just made it worse.

Claire: Makes them go higher…

Nathalie: It wasn’t worth the effort. Why would I do this to myself and make myself feel worse than I did before? So, it’s this “one way” or what other people expect you to do, I think, gets really tangled up in women’s thinking about this whole area of fitness and looking after ourselves.

Getting Clear On Your Own Goals

Claire: Yeah definitely. I mean, I’m a personal trainer and in the beginning I used to kind of think “God, people’ll look at me and think, why isn’t she ripped with a six pack?” And “Why doesn’t she have that perfect fitness bum?” And “Why doesn’t she have that?”

And then I thought about it. I thought “Because that’s not what I want. They aren’t my fitness goals.”

And yeah, I could go out there and get them if I wanted to. It would be hard work. I would have to train much harder, eat much better. But, actually, that’s not what I want. I want to be healthy for life.

So I’m active. I do lots of different exercise. I don’t go heavy lifting in the gym. I work out at home. I do activities with the kids. I go to different classes. And that’s enough for me.

And I don’t have the six-pack and all these different things that… It’s not a problem if that’s what you want. But it’s me learning to accept that, actually, that I don’t want that. It won’t fit in my life to be able to do that.

Letting Go Of Outside Expectations

Nathalie: It’s the expectation.

Claire: Yeah. That I should want that and I don’t.

Nathalie: The expectation of the rest of the world that you should want that. So that if you don’t, and I mean I agree, I don’t want a six-pack. I don’t want to look like a girl Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m sorry, I just don’t. But this belief that if that’s not what you want, then you’re not dedicated and you’re not really trying to be fit.

Claire: Yeah. Definitely. And it’s like in anything, we all should be allowed to be what we want to be. So those that want to be, have more of a muscly physique mother, that’s great that’s what they want to be. Don’t judge them for doing it.

Those that don’t, that’s great. Don’t judge us for doing what we want to do. Just let everybody find their own fitness and what motivates them. And let that be good enough. And not comparing and judging.

The No-Win Situation

Claire: It’s like media. One minute they’re comparing… saying somebody’s too thin and giving them lots of abuse, but then on the next page they’re saying somebody is too overweight. And you can’t win.

Nathalie: Yeah. Exactly! So you just kind of give up and you don’t do anything because it’s… you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. You can’t win no matter what you do. And it’s… I think that’s what a lot of women are facing. And that’s why I think what you’re doing is so important.

Finding Your Real Reasons for Getting Fit

Claire: Yes. So when we meet a new client, I mean most of them will start with, when we talk about goal setting, because we have a whole session before they even do any exercise, around what goals are to try and get to the bottom of it.

So when they say “I want to lose weight”, we always say to them that can’t be your goal. It could be a by-product, but it can’t be the goal of why you’re working out.

And the more you push back and say, right, so let’s go a little bit deeper. Why do you want to lose weight? And then there’ll be a reason behind that and a reason behind that and a reason behind that.

Finding your real reasons for getting fit is critical to staying on track with your #health goals. Click To Tweet

And it ends up getting back to something like you actually want to feel happy. Now, losing weight isn’t the only way to feel happy. So we can look at other things to help you get that end goal without weight loss being the focus.

Because when you take away the goal of weight loss being the focus it becomes so much more manageable and enjoyable and sustainable. And more of a lifestyle change rather than a quick fix fad which will never work.

Avoiding Fads and One-Size-Fits-All Approaches

Nathalie: Yeah. I love that holistic approach because so many of these things you… So many approaches I see now, it’s a one-size-fits-all.

You’re not really dealing with the person. It’s like a file number or something. “Okay, so this is… you need to lose 20 pounds so do this, this, this, and this.”

And you’re swamped with all of these fads like you were saying. I mean, if I get one more person talking about green juice smoothies I think I’m going to slap them. It’s just… It’s all fads. And you know it’s not going to last.

I mean I know people who are paying three hundred dollars a month for a pill with 200 and some herbs that they don’t even tell you what’s in this pill and you’re actually eating this thing? For three hundred dollars a month?

Claire: Unbelievable.

Nathalie: And I just don’t know what to think about that, because I think it does so much damage. People look for this magic pill, or this, you know whatever the latest crazy weight loss, fitness, boot camp approach happens to be. And they’ve lost sight of the fact that we move because our bodies are meant to move. We feel best when we have movement in our lives.

Returning to a More Holistic Approach to Health

Nathalie: And I think getting back to an approach where we take that into account and we look at the person and their life as a whole, I think we get much better results and I think you deal with healthier, happier people that way.

Claire: Yeah, totally. I mean, from a business perspective, we could make a hell of a lot more money by teaming up with some of these you know pills, portion, shakes, teas and all these things. And pushing them, and lose a stone in a week and drop a dress size. But that would be conflicting with all of my beliefs and morals and it’s not something I’ll do.

So we get, constantly, people asking us “Do you want to be a representative to sell this, or a distributor?” And we don’t because… that would be easy from a business point of view to go “yeah let’s bring in more money”.

But like you said it’s… we’re just tricking ourselves, and it’s not getting to the root issue of what’s making us unhappy. It’s not going to the root cause of why aren’t we exercising, and why isn’t it fitting in our lives currently.

Forget the fads; let @thefemalefitnes show you how to fall in love with #exercise again! Click To Tweet

Falling in Love with Exercise Again

Claire: Whereas we would, I would rather work with a person and look at how we can make exercise work for them and help them fall in love with it again. So that it does become part the lifestyle. And they’re going to live a happier healthier life.

And that’ll impact in all parts of their life, not just the dress size. It’ll be the relationships, the sleep, the physical health, the relationships with the children, or there’s the confidence.

There’s so many more other benefits to exercise than fitting in a small dress size. It’s sad that we’ve all… this society has become so focused on numbers in representing our happiness and self-worth.

An Aligned Philosophy

Nathalie: I just… I love your philosophy. I just, I really, really, really love your philosophy. I was… and I really love the fact that you don’t push all that kind of stuff. As I said, I’ve spent some time going through your blog and your website, and looking at the things that you do and reading about your philosophy and your approach to all of this.

And that was one of the reasons why I wanted to do this interview with you. Normally, I shy away… I’ve had people contact me about doing guest posts and stuff in this sort of fitness area. But I’ve always been very leery of doing that because I will not post things that are pushing these magic pills and teas and smoothies and detox this, and whatever. So I just, I really found that your philosophy really aligned with the way that I think about this sort of thing.

This has been part one of my interview with Claire Gregory of the Female Fitness Academy. Be sure to tune in next week for part two of our interview in which we cover Claire’s 80/20 principle for healthy living; how to take the pressure and guilt out of exercising and eating right; and how you can still fit some real exercise into your day, even when you’ve got small children in tow.

P.S. If you’ve been enjoying these podcasts, please let iTunes know by leaving a rating or review for the show! The more reviews the show gets, the easier Apple makes it for other people to actually find the show…

Photo of Claire GregoryAbout Today’s Guest Expert:

Claire Gregory is a personal trainer and Pilates instructor specializing in pre- and post-natal fitness and has worked with hundreds of women over the course of her career. She is co-founder of the Female Fitness Academy and creator of The Mummy Tummy Method, a holistic health and well-being program created by mums for mums. Connect with Claire on Facebook and Twitter!

photo credit: pixabay.com cc (modified by me)
photo of Claire Gregory courtesy of Claire.

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