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Here’s How You Can Improve Your Fitness & Health While Still Remaining Body Positive

For much of my life, I’ve viewed the body positivity movement and the fitness community as polar opposites. 

A stroll through a body positive Instagram feed is filled with flowery graphics displaying quotes of self-love and confidence, women of all shapes and sizes in bikinis and comfy leggings, Health at Every Size (HAES) advocacy, and anti-diet rhetoric. Meanwhile, a slew of social posts from fitness influencers bombards its audience with workout motivation and advice on macro counting, athletic clothing promo codes and lifting form tips.

How could the two possibly intersect?

This was a question that I pondered for many years as I navigated a complicated relationship with food, exercise and body image. I felt as though advocates of body positivity encouraged me to be confident in my body’s current form without any concern to weight or size, while the fitness community insisted that I use nutrition and exercise as a tool to morph my body into the size and shape of my dreams. In my eyes, the two could not have been any more different, and I was stuck in the middle, the center of a rope being pulled at in a game of tug-of-war.

However, since quarantine began last March, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to reflect on the two movements and their missions, only to realize that both want you to love and embrace your body. While body positivity advocates appreciating our bodies for the rich diversity in them and the natural beauty they possess, the fitness community challenges us to channel our natural strength and ability to become the best we can be. Nonetheless, they still center around the same concept: appreciating our bodies. Below are some tips that will help you navigate this balance:

Think about your goals in pursuing a fitness journey

Do you want to lose fat or gain muscle? Build endurance and strength? Just get into overall better shape? Something else entirely? Regardless of what you hope to achieve, both body positivity and fitness advocates welcome your goals with open arms (as long as they’re achieved in a healthy way, of course). Be realistic about your expectations and use them to motivate you to stick to a consistent plan. Understanding your goals and purpose will make it so much easier to achieve a healthier lifestyle!

Prioritize your mental health

It’s important to understand that, while improvements in physical health are beneficial, wellness is holistic, meaning that managing mental health is equally important. Always make time in your daily routine for psychologically beneficial practices like journaling, meditation, and deep breathing. This will improve not only your mental health, but also allow you to further improve your physical health as well! 

I’ve found in my personal experiences that these two regions of wellness greatly influence one another. When I’m practicing healthy, balanced nutrition and working out, my anxiety and stress diminish significantly. Conversely, when I am keeping my headspace clear and focusing on my mental state, I am filled with an abundance of energy to invest into my workouts and meals. Simply put, starting with your mental health will make physical health improvements even easier. It’s a win-win!

Remember that moderation is key

While some extreme proponents of fitness may advise absolute restriction of certain food groups or dietary habits, the vast majority feel that moderation is incredibly important. No matter what your fitness goals are, it’s important to treat yourself from time to time and to stay focused on the big picture, not any small bumps along the road. Enjoy ice cream and pizza with friends and family as opportunities present themselves, and never feel guilty about it! 

If balance is something that you can struggle with, look into practicing intuitive eating, a science-backed dietetic philosophy that rejects restriction and instead highlights the importance of listening to your body’s natural needs and cravings. All in all, no food should ever be off limits!

Make movement fun

Let’s make one thing super clear: exercise should never be used as punishment. Rather, exercise is all about expending energy and getting our heart rates up in ways that are enjoyable. If running or lifting weights is your thing, that’s great, but if you’re not crazy about hitting the gym, there are so many other ways to move your body! Go for a walk, take a yoga or cycling class, jump rope or play an interactive video game like Just Dance, start a YouTube workout in the comfort of your own home… the possibilities are endless. Get active in whatever way is easiest!

Above all, respect your body and its limits

Our bodies always deserve rest days and kindness. Never forget to speak to ourselves with compassion and to honor our natural cues and needs. This is something that everyone can get behind.

As individual movements, fitness and body positivity have garnered significant support, but when paired together, I believe that they’re even more impactful. I hope that you, too, can incorporate this knowledge and advice in your daily life and use it as a tool to gain a deeper understanding of the complex intersection between these two concepts!

Sidney Ropp

Illinois State '24

Sidney is a sophomore Legal Studies student at Illinois State University, where she writes for both her collegiate chapter and the national Her Campus staff. She is deeply passionate about health, wellness, dietetics, and fashion. Sidney is so excited to be a part of Her Campus and have the opportunity to share her interests with the campus community!
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