If you haven’t read this amazing essay from Betty Gilpin at Glamour, you should totally read it: https://www.glamour.com/story/glow-star-betty-gilpin-what-its-like-to-have-pea-sized-confidence-with-watermelon-sized-boobs
There have been a lot of articles quoting it, which is great, because it’s a glorious and poetic look at the process of her getting in touch with her body in a new way, the impact that that had on her work and her voice, and the power of being inside of a supportive community. It’s a paean to working on the show and creating a new relationship to her body.
Two things really jumped out from the essay that you can take with you in your fitness journey — two things that are the best kept secrets in fitness. They’re two things that are amazing an awesome, and give us a roadmap for a completely different way of looking at fitness:
1.) Workouts Are Best Used for Connecting With Your Body
Workouts actually aren’t that awesome for weight loss. And, for muscle gain (or “toning” if people still say that) it’s a really long process.
What workouts are really amazing for is connecting to your body and what it can do. For transforming your relationship to your body, such that it isn’t just about looking good for other people. Finding that thing where it feels good just to move, and do work, and get better. That almost meditative deep practice, where when you’re doing with the workout you feel good, and when you’re done you know you did some essential self-care.
People who strength train have higher degrees of body satisfaction. When we see ourselves getting stronger, and we get to enjoy what our bodies can do, it creates a new context for our bodies. It’s really powerful to shift your focus away from just weight loss, and on what your body can do.
Research indicates that strength training two times per week increases body satisfaction and well being in women (a, c), men (e), and adolescents (b). In one study they looked at it slightly differently, and called it an increase in self-perception and quality of life (c). Compared with aerobic training, strength training produced a stronger reduction in body concerns (b, d).
“Mastery goals” or “performance goals” in fitness increase perceived competence, autonomous motivation, enjoyment, and persistence. “Comparison goals” or “ego goals,” on the other hand, reduce exercise persistence and enjoyment (h).
It’s funny, that people do work, for longer, and enjoy it more, when they’re just focused on getting better at the action. You can hear it all through Betty’s essay — she was working on getting better at these wrestling moves just because she wanted to get better at the moves.
Essentially, workouts are amazing for increasing your satisfaction in your body, your well being, and your quality of life. Done correctly, working out can be the most effective way to impact your relationship to your body, it just requires switching your context for working out from “fixing something wrong” to “lets make my body better at doing stuff.” To practice and get better at something just because it’s empowering to practice and get better at something.
2.) People Get Better Results in Supportive Workout Environments
Jillian Michaels may have forever ruined what working out is for most of America. The Biggest Loser created this context for working out that it’s about being yelled at, doing punishing workouts (literally as punishment), and that being told you are bad and you need to fix it is what coaching is.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
People actually get better results, for longer, when they’re in an environment when they are supported, specifically when autonomy, mastery, and relatedness is supported (f). Where they feel safe, are respected, and allowed to have a voice in their program (g).
Essentially, the more we support someone’s basic psychological needs, the better they do in their workouts.
What Are Basic Psychological Needs?
According to Self Determination Theory, there are three basic psychological needs (i):
Autonomy is doing something that’s personally meaningful. It also assumes you have a certain amount of voice and say in what you’re doing. You can definitely hear that in what Betty wrote.
People think of mastery as something you have, but often it can be something you are in the process of learning. It doesn’t require perfection, but people have a need to make progress and grow. You can definitely hear how she was learning and getting more skills in the ring, and simultaneously finding her voice as an actress.
Belonging has everything to do with safety. You feel safe to express yourself. You feel safe to help to people, and to receive help from them as well. You feel safe to mess up, and you feel safe to do well. This is a foundation for growth, and you can completely hear in Betty’s essay how the relationships with the other women provided a powerful foundation for her to grow.
So those are the three basic psychological needs people have for motivation and growth. All three were crystal clear in Betty’s essay, and that kind of growth is possible for anyone when all three of their basic psychological needs are met.
— Betty Gilpin (@bettygilpin) July 17, 2017
Two Secrets That Now You’re In On From Betty’s Essay
What you want to take away from this is that you will do best for your fitness, body image, and well being when you:
1.) Use workouts to connect to your body and what it can do.
2.) Are in an environment where your autonomy, mastery, and belonging are supported.
I read Betty’s article, and I couldn’t believe how amazing and inspiring it was. But I wanted to make sure you weren’t just inspired, I really wanted you to know that everything that was wonderful that happened for her happened because of the context her workouts showed up in, and the way the women in that gym related to each other. You can replicate that for yourself.
Workout folks: I so badly want you to know that you can practice that same context for working out for yourself. I want you to know that if you are in a gym environment where people aren’t supportive of you having a voice and getting a say, or aren’t supportive of your learning and growth, or don’t make you feel welcome and safe, you can find another gym that is.
Trainers: I want you to think about how you relate to your clients from the perspective of giving them a say in their programming and goals. I want you to focus on their skills more than their results. I want you to make it safe for them to make mistakes, and safe for them to do well.
Workout partners: I want you to think about each other’s autonomy, mastery, and belonging, and how you can support each other in those ways. If you think your workout partners can’t support you in those ways, find new ones.
I hope this gives you a roadmap — not just to be inspired by how Betty’s relationship to her body, her voice in the world, and her career changed — but also so that you can follow the roadmap that she outlines as well.
by Josh Hillis
Chief People Officer, One by One Nutrition
Author, Fat Loss Happens on Monday
Habit coaching columnist, Strength Matters Magazine
Sources — Strength Training, Body Image, and Well Being
(a) Tucker, L. A., & Maxwell, K. (1992). Effects of weight training on the emotional well-being and body image of females: Predictors of greatest benefit. American Journal of Health Promotion,6(5), 338-371.
My notes: 15 weeks of 2 times per week weight training increased well being and degree of body satisfaction for 60 women.
(b) Goldfield, G. S., Kenny, G. P., Alberga, A. S., Prud’homme, D., Hadjiyannakis, S., Gougeon, R., … & Wells, G. A. (2015). Effects of aerobic training, resistance training, or both on psychological health in adolescents with obesity: The HEARTY randomized controlled trial. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 83(6), 1123.
My notes: Resistance training, alone or with aerobic training, increased well being and body image of adolescents.
(c) Seguin, R. A., Eldridge, G., Lynch, W., & Paul, L. C. (2013). Strength training improves body image and physical activity behaviors among midlife and older rural women. Journal of extension, 51(4).
My notes: Strength training improved both self-perception and quality of life.
(d) Reel, J. J., Greenleaf, C., Baker, W. K., Aragon, S., Bishop, D., Cachaper, C., … & Hattie, J. (2007). Relations of body concerns and exercise behavior: A meta-analysis. Psychological reports, 101(3), 927-942.
My notes: Both weight training and aerobic exercise decreased body concerns. Weight training produced a stronger positive response.
(e) Williams, P. A., & Cash, T. F. (2001). Effects of a circuit weight training program on the body images of college students. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 30(1), 75-82.
My notes: Even a 6 week circuit training program increased multiple aspects of body satisfaction for men and women.
Sources — Self-Determination Theory and Basic Psychological Needs
(f) Teixeira, P. J., Carraça, E. V., Markland, D., Silva, M. N., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Exercise, physical activity, and self-determination theory: a systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9(1), 78.
My notes: Supporting people’s autonomy and competence increases intrinsic motivation, which leads to long term workout adherence. Supporting basic psychological needs increases motivation.
(g) Standage, M., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Self-determination theory and exercise motivation: Facilitating self-regulatory processes to support and maintain health and well-being.
My notes: Exercise interventions that are controlling reduce motivation and lower well being. Exercise interventions that support people’s self-determined motivation regulation increases motivation, creates more persistent exercise motivation, and increases people’s well being.
(h) Keshtidar, M., & Behzadnia, B. (2017). Prediction of intention to continue sport in athlete students: A self-determination theory approach. PloS one, 12(2), e0171673.
My notes: “Mastery goals” or “performance goals in fitness increase perceived competence, autonomous motivation, enjoyment, and persistence. “Comparison goals” or “ego goals” reduce exercise persistence and enjoyment.
(i) Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.
Betty Gilpin arrivals to GLOW Los Angeles screening, licensed from PRPhotos.
NETFLIX promotional images for GLOW used under Fair Use (commentary, transformative work, insubstantial piece of TV show series, non-damaging).