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Why women should never have to apologise for their bodies. The top 3 things I learnt from running a

Look out Michelle Bridges.

In 2018 I found myself on the other side of the health and fitness industry. The student became the teacher when I put my hand up to administer a 5 week weight loss challenge.

Turn back the clock three years, and if someone said I would help run a weight loss challenge, I would have removed the Snickers bar from my mouth, tried not to choke between raucous snorts, and confidently reinserted said bar. My mind would have immediately conjured up images of Little Britain’s Marjorie Dawes coaching the Fat Fighters. Who would involve themselves in what must be a condescending and shame filled experience?

Would the challenge be like this?

Ask again today and I’d still whisk a Snickers (albeit protein bar version) from my mouth. However rather than laugh, I’d be much more likely to romance you with stories of changed lives and letting your ‘inner light’ shine. All this between random sets of star jumps, crunches and lettuce ensconced hamburgers.

Weight Loss Challenges are the fad of the moment. My social feeds are filled with challenges. J.Lo and A Rod are right now encouraging me to join them on a ten day no carb challenge – apparently they are lonely without bread. And Sam Wood has promised me I’ll be Snezana if I join him for 28 days – and I’m rather tempted.

J.Lo and A.Rod - lonely without bread.

I hadn’t planned on becoming a wannabe Michelle Bridges. One thing led to another thing led to a tape measure and a very fancy weighing machine in my hands. Next, I was devising inspirational, ‘you’ve got this’ messages for Instagram and negotiating sponsors and prize packs.

The challenge I work on involves following a nutrition plan, completing online resistance workouts and attending dance fitness classes. We award a prize to the person who loses the highest percentage of their starting body weight.

Along the way – and we are four challenges in now, I’ve come to many realisations. I’ve questioned whether encouraging weight loss reinforces the insecurities we have about our bodies. I’ve felt the pressure to maintain my own physique as I put myself up as a role model. And I’ve been really inspired by the perseverance, honesty and strength of participants.

Here are my top three lessons:

1. All women's bodies are beautiful

One of my first tasks was to use my tape measure in an official capacity and take body measurements. I was extremely excited about this. It felt kind of medical. And for a mildly reformed hypochondriac and someone with absolutely no health qualifications, I liked the idea of a faux medical looking role.

However, my tongue in cheek start quickly evolved into an intimate and introspective experience, that ultimately gave me a much greater appreciation of women’s bodies. The process of taking intricate body measurements required me to get up close and personal with the human body, in particular women’s bodies, in a way I wasn’t used to. The more I did it, the more I found my mind reaching the same conclusion - all women’s bodies, with their softness and curves, are amazing and beautiful. They are beautiful at any age and any stage. I felt this way about every single person I measured. I started to feel this way about myself too, and not just about my body today but my body over its lifetime.

It’s ironic to think it took a weight-loss challenge for me to take a step back and truly comprehend this.

Isn't it ironic?

Sometimes I think women feel the need to apologise, explain or justify how their body looks. I know I have felt this way. I’ve felt intimidated when I’ve had to reveal myself to someone I’ve considered fitter than me. What must they be thinking about my flaws? Are they grossed out?

But the truth is women’s bodies are beautiful. They are physically beautiful in shape, curvature and appearance and are a miracle of nature. They require no apologies and no explanations.

2. Show me your friends and I’ll show you – you

There is something to be said about surrounding yourself with like-minded people, when in pursuit of a goal. The

influence of community is extremely powerful. Perhaps just as powerful as it was on the playground at five when everyone is telling you to jump down the fireman’s pole and it seems so far away and scary – but you do it anyway.

So whether it be a scary fireman’s pole or an exercise class you don’t feel like going to on a winter’s night, peer pressure can be an extremely motivating factor. In addition, seeing other people achieve their goals when you are on the same path can also push you to succeed.

We are the company we keep.

3. It’s not really about weight

Prior to our first challenge I had a debate with its creator about the name. I wanted to call it a health and fitness challenge. He wanted to be more upfront and call it a weight loss challenge. As a seasoned personal trainer and fitness instructor he said the most common request he receives from his clients, is to lose weight, and he didn’t want to shy away from it.

I didn’t like the word weight because I felt it had negative connotations. I was concerned directly encouraging weight loss might reinforce or promote body insecurities. However there is something to be said about meeting customer demand, and so, the 5 Week Weight Loss Challenge was born.

Challenge winner Venkat says participating changed his life.

This is not a paid promotion but there have been some amazing results achieved. And this is the part where I romance you somewhat, because I have witnessed some magical transformations. I’ve seen wider smiles, brighter eyes and an overall happier disposition develop. It’s been inspiring to watch.

I contend however, these wonderful attributes are not the product of weight loss. They are the result of working toward a goal, being a part of a likeminded community and, most importantly, feeling fitter, stronger and healthier. All these factors contribute towards our happiness. Weight loss is simply the often welcomed by-product.

In my head I still call it a health and fitness challenge – but that’s our little secret.

So would you join a challenge? If not, why? I’d love to hear about it.

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