For the past few years I have not been able to open a magazine without hearing about some celebrity client of superstar trainer Tracy Anderson. Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Nicole Richie, Madonna and maybe most famously, Gwyneth Paltrow all sing the praises of the Petite One every opportunity they get.
Well, good for them, but I don’t share their admiration. In fact, I think Anderson and her “fitness” advice does far more harm to women than she does good.
Maybe my biggest issue with her is her well-known proscriptions against anything that adds “bulk” to a woman’s body. I’ve already written about my frustration with this whole “I don’t want to bulk up!” phenomenon but I’ll restate it once again – it is tragic that we live in a world where women are very likely to be victims of violence, yet our culture cuts us off at the knees by telling us that, by making our bodies stronger and tougher, we will be unattractive and “manly” and no one will want to have sex with us. Anderson’s insistence that her clients avoid lifting weights over three pounds and stay away from running just feeds into the mentality that tells women weakness is sexy. (And it’s so fucking impractical too! I mean, my purse weighs more than three pounds.)
What’s worse is that she says these things on Oprah! The women who are very likely watch Oprah – middle-aged women who have a kid or two and jobs and housework, and who are starting to experience the effects of aging-related health declines – are the ones who could benefit most from a sensible plan of weight training and cardio. ‘Sensible’ is not the word I’d use to describe Anderson’s plan, which seems to be predicated on the idea that the average woman would have no trouble carving out 90 minutes a day, six days a week to work out.
But behind that, there’s the simple fact that the fitness routines and dietary guidelines Anderson promotes are downright harmful. For proof of this, we need look no further than Anderson’s BFF, Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow regularly talks about the “metamorphosis” she underwent, where Anderson helped her get rid of her “batwings” and her “sagging ass.” (Because those aren’t things that can be resolved with a good weight training program? And seriously, “batwings”?)
Last year, though, Paltrow began talking about another physical change she’s experiencing – osteopenia. Osteopenia is a condition where bones begin to lose their mineral density, and could very well lead to osteoperosis later in life. Osteoperosis is not fun. Your bones break easily, your back and neck is sore, your posture suffers and you lose inches in height. You know those little old ladies who have the humps on their upper backs? Osteoperosis. How sexy.
I used to work in a women’s health clinic, and the doctors consistently told their older patients, over and over again, that the best way to combat the potential onset of osteoperosis is – wait for it – weight training. And not with three pound weights or air as resistance, either. I mean, air as resistance? What are we, birds?
Anderson also mangles the other part of the fitness equation – diet.
When we talk about food in our society, we talk about it in terms that are loaded with emotion and moral judgment. That’s no secret, right? But the end result of referring to food as “good” or “bad” or “sinful” or “guilty pleasure” is that we forget that food actually serves a practical purpose, and that is fueling our bodies for the day-to-day work of living. We are fortunate enough that our food can be prepared in ways that are endlessly yummy, instead of having to just eat whatever raw berries and twigs we can scavenge from the ground, but food’s ultimate purpose is not to make us feel happy or feel like we are getting away with something – it’s to give us energy and nutrients to keep our bodies going.
I remember reading a memoir by Marya Hornbacher a few years ago, where she wrote about her struggles with anorexia. In it she wrote that, in her quest to eat as few calories as possible, she had forgotten food served a purpose. She had forgotten that it was not physically possible to live off of zero calories. This is an extreme instance, obviously, but it’s not all that far off from what I see both among people I know and in the mainstream media I consume.
Anderson’s diet plans are the manifestation of this mindset that says the fewer calories consumed, the better. A woman who embarked on her diet plan took it to a nutritionist, who analyzed it and found followers were eating only 700 calories a day. (That same woman said she felt woozy, light-headed and unable to concentrate while on the plan.)
Eating 700 calories while exercising 90 minutes a day? There’s a phrase for that – “eating disorder.”
That’s basically what Anderson is shilling – an eating disorder with the veneer of good health. There’s nothing in her method that promotes functional health and fitness. Her way of doing things will not help you have more energy to get through your day, or more upper arm strength to help you wrangle your children, nor will it help you stave off the various health conditions that begin encroaching on our bodies as we grow older. If anything, it will give you less energy, will leave you weaker and will make you more vulnerable to health problems. But hey, you’ll be skinny, so I guess it’s all worth it in the end?