Basic 1

Examine our own attitudes and beliefs about food, exercise, weight, and shape.

"I come from a generation of women who didn’t do sports. Being a cheerleader or a drum majorette was as far as our imaginations or role models could take us. We grew up believing- as many girls still do- that the most important thing about the female body is not what it does, but how it looks."
–Gloria Steinem

Sandra, a swimming coach and a mother of three athletes, had been involved in sport for thirty years. Almost every athlete she had ever coached worried about their body size at one point or another. Wanting to address this problem, Sandra approached a sport psychologist friend for advice. She never forgot her friend’s words: ‘If you want to help someone make peace with their body and their relationship with food, start by looking at yourself.”

At the time, this advice didn’t make much sense to Sandra, who generally felt good about her body and had a positive relationship with food. But in time, her friend’s words took on new meaning. Sandra realized that in a culture where we are encouraged to diet and lose weight, and often judged based on our appearance, most of us have issues that need to be addressed in this area. Not all of us suffer from disordered eating, but all of us are affected by the messages we receive about body size, weight, exercise, and food.

Sandra realized that once she understood some of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that these messages had affected her, she could create her own beliefs about food, exercise, body shape and size, and help her athletes do the same.

BodySense Connection:

Our attitudes and beliefs about body weight, shape and size

As coaches and parents, our attitudes about weight, shape, beauty, and food can and do influence our athletes. Use the following quiz to take stock of your own beliefs.

How often do you...

  • Encourage others to feel good about their body as it is?
  • Make negative comments about your own body or someone else’s?
  • Say or assume that someone is “looking good” because they have lost weight or disapprove of someone gaining weight?
  • Comment that you don’t wear certain clothing because “it makes you look fat”?
  • Compliment ideas, behaviour, character, etc., more often than appearance?
  • Openly admire the appearance, character, personality or actions of people of all size?

Adapted from the NAAFA Brochure "Supporting the Physical and Emotional Health of People Through Personal and Social Changes"

What parents and coaches can do:

Know your own beliefs. Ask yourself questions about your own relationship with food and exercise. Think about the expectations you have about your own body shape and size. Would you want an athlete to have similar expectations?

Confront any body or food issues you may have. In this thin and fitness-obsessed culture, many of us struggle with food and accepting our own body size and shape. It is important that each of us take the time to identify what our body issues are, and work to overcome them. By acting as a positive role model, we can empower an athlete to overcome their own issues about body weight, shape and size.

Work to embrace positive values Commitment, hard work, fairness and integrity are values to embrace that will lead to long-term success and well being. Watch out for "toxic" beliefs such as "no pain, no gain", "emotions have no place in sport" or "you have to be thin to win". These ideas can be very harmful to an athlete and are seldom rooted in scientific fact.

Taking Action:

"If an athlete is to be measured, let that athlete be measured by the things that s/he can control, by who s/he is and who s/he is trying to become." 
-Nike, Inc. (adapted)

  • Take the Beliefs & Attitudes Quiz (above). We live in a society that makes us feel like only one body size is attractive. If our own bodies don’t match this ideal, it can be difficult to accept and love ourselves for who we are. Challenge yourself to embrace more inclusive beliefs about body weight, shape and size.
  • Think about what the words 'fat' and 'thin' mean to you. Write down qualities that you associate with each word, like successful, happy, lonely, or beautiful. Afterwards, think about why you associate certain qualities with 'fat' and others with 'thin'. Understanding what these words mean to you is an important step in understanding how you see yourself and those around you.
  • Make a list of any rules you have about eating and exercise.
  • Consider your answers to the following questions: Do you listen to your body and eat foods you crave or do you follow a rigid diet and only eat low-fat foods? Do you exercise to strengthen your muscles and reduce stress or do you go to the gym to burn calories and tone muscles?
  • Think about what your rules are about eating and exercise. Set goals for a healthier approach and begin making changes if necessary.