Fitlosophy Fridays: How the Fitness Industry Killed a 9 year Old Girl and My Plea To Fitness Professionals To Stop the Madness

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I woke up yesterday morning hopped online, checked e-mail, checked my schedule, and I saw that one of my facebook friends had this posted on his wall:  2 Charged In Death of Alabama Girl Forced To Run

As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but get sick to my stomach and a little pissed off.  For one, it was hard to understand how this could have actually happened, and secondly, it interestingly enough, reminded me of the topic that I discussed last week about the war we place against our bodies.  Not only that, but this article also brings up an even deeper issue that I would like to discuss and I can’t help but feel the magnitude of this event and what it could potentially mean for the fitness industry.

I believe that as professionals, coaches, and trainers, we have a moral obligation to protect the health of our clients.  Even though our health care system may not uphold the Hippocratic oath, I feel we should as fitness professionals.  In many cases, we can have even more of an influence in people’s lives than doctors.  Unlike the medical community, we actually have the opportunity to educate our clients on real health solutions, not just finding ways to mask the symptoms.

A bold statement to say the least, but I feel that the fitness is partially responsible for this girl’s death.  And I feel it is time, as professionals, we stop and re-assess how we are portraying exercise and fitness to the masses.

Now, I agree, blaiming the fitness industry for this girl’s death is like saying that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  Yes, it was the actions of the girl’s caregivers that eventually led to her demise, not a BOSU ball, however I cannot help but feel that the overall message we send as an industry had some impact.  Even if it was just a little.

After learning that the girl had lied about eating candy bars, the stepmother and grandmother forced the girl (it is not clear yet whether she was verbally or physically threatened) to run for 3-hours straight outisde.  The young girl had a seizure a few days later and authorities have ruled the death a homocide.  I am not promoting or criticizing punishing your child, however, this seems like such an interesting form of punishment to chose while spanking, scolding, and removing privileges are seen as typical forms of child rearing discipline.

I feel the way we market fitness could have potentially influenced the stepmother’s/grandmother’s decision to force the girl to run.  Hello, Biggest Loser?

I mean, just take a look at this picture below:

It is no wonder why we have made a connection that food can be bad and exercise, the punishment.  Our fitness marketing has conditioned us to believe that:

  1. Pain is gain.  Meaning, you must feel sore from a workout or you won’t see any results.  Sorry.
  2. You can out train a bad diet or a crappy lifestyle.  Ate a doughnut at lunch?  No worries, just hop on the arc trainer for 90 minutes, that’ll take care of it.
  3. We must force our bodies into doing activities that are not pleasurable in order to achieve true health, like workouts we hate and diets we dread.  But isn’t part of being healthy, also being happy?
  4. Outward appearances (six packs, ripped muscles, etc) is the litmus test to true health.  Yes, yes, having a good physique is part of being healthy, but it does not give a completely accurate picture about what’s going on, on the inside.  When was the last time you saw fitness marketing that claimed to give you a healthy spleen?

Sure, we can say that the mother was misinformed and that she just didn’t know any better.  She just didn’t know that forcing a 9-yeard old to run outside for 3 consecutive hours may not be a good idea.  But then, it brings us back to the topic of, how she was conditioned to think of exercise as a form of punishment in the first place?  Where could she have possibly gotten that idea from?


“The only way you’re coming off this damn treadmill, is if you die off. “

We can go around in circles with this one. It’s the mother’s fault.  It’s the media’s fault.  It’s the fitness industry’s fault.  It’s society’s fault.  But, that is really not my point.

What is my point exactly?

That’s a good question, and I would have to say that my point is this:

As fitness professionals, we have an incredible amount of power to change lives and sometimes it’s scary just how much influence we do have.  And like Uncle Ben said to a young Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

And as fitness professionals we must be responsible for this power.  We must do our best to uphold the Hippocratic oath, and we must do our best to educate ourselves so that we know how the body works.  If we hold a position in which we are sought after for advice, we must use our words with caution.

This is my plea to the fitness industry:  Let’s stop and re-assess how we are marketing exercise to the public.  This “pain is gain” mentality only creates a sadomasochistic approach that is not only ineffective for long term health, but creates an underlying negative view of exercise.  No wonder most of America hates to workout.

As an industry, I ask that we do our best to learn how the body actually works.  I feel that if we truly understood how our body operates, and how our systems function, we would understand how excessive amounts of cardio, and low-calorie and low-fat diets can actually cause long-term harm on the body.  If we understood how our thoughts and emotions work, we would know that creating a fear-driven mentality around exercise will only turn us further away from working out.

As an industry, I’m asking that we stop the madness.  We have the power, and thus the responsibility, to promote a more positive and love-based mentality towards fitness.  Let’s stop berating our clients, and let’s put an end to this abusive pattern.

And, really.  Sweat is not fat crying.  Sweat is sweat, a combination of water, electrolytes, oil, urea and ammonia.
Thank you (stepping off soap box).

5 Responses

  1. Sirena, I enjoyed reading this article. Just an idea though… I would love to read something elaborating on the rationale of treating your body well by eating well, rather than working out hard to make up for bad eating.

  2. 100% agree, although part of me wonders if how we treat fitness is a result of other, larger cultural values. Yes, we’re taught that we must punish ourselves with food and exercise, but in part because we’re also taught to believe that there is one specific ideal of health and beauty that all people should strive for.

    Furthermore, we have a culture that’s centered around this idea that a goal, feasible or not, is more important than one’s health or happiness. So it’s not just, “No pain, no gain,” it’s this general idea that you shouldn’t be a quitter, should always push yourself to your limits, etc, even if it’s not the best thing for your body or mind.

    And I could continue to rant, but it’s past my bedtime.

  3. *initiates slow clap*

    All great points, Sirena.

    With my own personal struggle with fitness back in the earlier years, I equated the pain I felt with the effectiveness of the workout – the more crippled I was, the more good I must’ve done – pain is gain in the flesh.

    Like you said, this is how a lot of laypublic views fitness as well – if it doesn’t hurt, if you aren’t on the verge of meeting your maker, then you didn’t work hard enough.

    I hope that as time goes on that it becomes easier for fitness professionals who are preaching a more positive approach to exercise & lifestyle to get into the limelight and influence public opinion, as opposed the typical Biggest Loser style presentation.

    1. Hiya Rog,

      Thanks so much for the comment. I hope that a more positive approach gets more attention as well. There’s something to be said about it’s implications of us as a society. We love to hear about the dirt and gossip, I mean just look at the news.

      Well, we can definitely start with your sexification and my chakras, lol!

      Can’t wait to hang soon! 🙂


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