Fitness Is About So Much More Than Aesthetics For These Influencers

The pressures of social media get to them, too.

Welcome to HuffPost Canada’s winter series on what fitness means to Canadians: “What Does Fitness Look Like For Me?”

The new year typically brings a lot of stories on how people can “lose weight.” We’re not interested in that. We want to know what Canadians really think about fitness, how it makes them feel, and whether they think it’s important for their health. Because no matter what fitness looks like for you, it’s valid.

Today we’re talking to: Fitness and health influencers.

We all know what’s shown on social media doesn’t reflect reality, but it can be hard to separate truth from illusion when presented with perfectly curated photos. That’s why when it comes to fitness in particular, it can be hard not to compare yourself to others.

But just because someone’s fitness routine or lifestyle looks different from yours, doesn’t mean that what you’re doing isn’t good enough.

We talked to five fitness and health influencers who have felt outside pressures regarding what fitness should be.

Read on to learn how their attitudes towards fitness have changed over time and how they realized they had more to gain when they started doing fitness for the right reasons.

Note: Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

What does fitness look like for you?

Brian Chan (@bchanwarrior), 34, is a marketing professional. He started practicing yoga at age 21 and has been hooked ever since.

To me, fitness is an intimidating word with a lot of pressure to look a certain way and maintain a certain lifestyle. [So] I focus on wellness and a balanced lifestyle of workouts and diets.

My typical week includes a couple of yoga sessions paired up with weight training and cardio. I believe it’s important to have a good balance of activities (yoga, weight lifting, cardio) as they complement each other.

Sarah Nicole Landry (@thebirdspapaya), 35, is a speaker, writer, influencer, and podcast host. She got into fitness roughly six to seven years ago.

In the beginning, I ran on a treadmill five times a week before realizing I hated running on a treadmill. I switched to body strength exercises I could do at home with the kids around after I found a fitness trainer mom (@bikinibodymommy) who offered free online workouts.

After my weight loss (and healing from dieting and stepping into exercising for reasons more than weight loss) I found I loved weight lifting, as well as some cardio, a good long walk with the family, and dancing in my bedroom alone for half an hour.

Christopher Kebreau (@pharmathlete), 29, is a Doctor of Pharmacy. He got into fitness when he was 15 years old, but only started to document it on Instagram in 2015.

I love trying new things [and] because of that, I have combined the worlds of bodybuilding, powerlifting, and calisthenics into my daily routines.

I train at a pretty high frequency [with] a.m. and p.m. sessions. The a.m. sessions are solely focused on calisthenics and my p.m. sessions are reserved for powerlifting and bodybuilding. This means I easily go to the gym between 10 to 14 times a week.

Karleen Valencia (@karleensamson), 32, is a group fitness instructor and brand manager for Calgary’s The Sweat Lab. She’s been in the fitness industry for six years.

I love to move and I try to move for at least 30 minutes a day in some way. For me, that might just be the classes I teach weekly. But overall, I believe in cross-training, so one day I’ll do a barre class, the next maybe a CrossFit-style workout, then a spin class, and add a yoga or pilates class in the mix.

I really listen to what my body craves and do that.

Heather Wilson-Phillips (@heatherfiercenfit) is a fitness expert, wellness coach, and owner of The Fitness Empire. She’s been an athlete her entire life and started as a sprinter.

I love weight training; it makes me feel strong. I also love HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts [and] workouts where I can use my body weight because having the benefit of being able to exercise anytime and anywhere is such a plus.

I work out five days a week and that can often be a combination of being at the gym or at home.

What sparked your interest in fitness?

Karleen Valencia

I made the jump [into] fitness while working a job that was sucking the life out of me. I would work long hours and any free moment I had I would get my butt into a fitness class to feel holistically better.

There came a day where I decided I wanted to spend more of my time at places that made me feel happy and surrounded by positivity, [which were] my favourite fitness studios.

Sarah Nicole Landry

Straight up: I didn’t like my body, I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to hate myself happy. Didn’t work.

Brian Chan

My yoga journey started off with my sister pressuring me to go with her because she didn’t want to go alone. It was a hot yoga class and at the end of that 60 minutes, I was hooked.

I had always been flexible to start, so learning how to control my flexibility in a safe and mindful manner was interesting. Before [yoga], I participated in some sports, but I hadn’t found something I wanted to stick with.

Christopher Kebreau

What pushed me towards fitness is the fact that back in high school the “cool” kids used to always tease me and call me names such as “fatty” or “weakling.”

Once I had enough of hearing these things, I decided to take my health into my own hands.

How has your attitude towards fitness changed?

Heather Wilson-Phillips

I started off as an athlete (sprinter) and would train very long for a very specific goal. When I made the shift to no longer be a competitive sprinter, I had the mentality that if I wasn’t training for hours then I wasn’t really doing anything or working hard enough.

Now, fitness is more of a lifestyle and it [is] also my brand. We have to shift the way we think and feel about fitness and approach it from a different lens.

Brian Chan

When I first started practicing yoga, it was a very female-dominated activity. I wanted to break the stereotype that it was only for skinny, Caucasian, women — that I could do it, too, and not be ashamed and intimidated.

When I started sharing my yoga practice on social media, there was not a lot of guys promoting it, so I found a niche to fill and to educate that yoga can be for anyone.

Today, I’m happy to see a lot of more fellow “brogis” embracing yoga and incorporating it into their fitness regime.

“We have to shift the way we think and feel about fitness and approach it from a different lens.”

- Heather Wilson-Phillips

Sarah Nicole Landry

My attitude has changed from fitness being a thing I did because I hated my body and simply wanting to be smaller, to actually exercising because I love my body and want to show up for myself in ways I am able to.

[This attitude] helped me feel less obsessive around fitness since I had previously been doing it to “burn off” something I ate or exercising three times a day to lose more weight before an event, etc.

Changing my mentality around fitness helped me choose it for reasons beyond all that.

Chrisopher Kebreau

When I first started, [fitness] was almost just a way for me to feel better about myself and impress girls. As I got older, matured, and learned from others, fitness has become a journey where I learn more about myself and learn to better myself at my own pace.

[Initially], my fitness motivation was fuelled by the wrong reasons. However, [as an influencer], when you start to impact people positively by doing what you love, you realize that fitness is also about sharing. Everyone has their unique journeys, struggles, and goals. That gives a huge opening for a beautiful exchange between one person to another.

Do you ever feel pressure to maintain a certain body image because you’re an influencer? How do you deal with that?

Karleen Valencia

The pressure to look a certain way creeps up for me all the time. When I catch myself in a negative thought hole, I remind myself that I’m training for life.

I’m still healthy and able bodied, and for that I need to be grateful because some people don’t have that luxury.

“When I catch myself in a negative thought hole, I remind myself that I’m training for life.”

- Karleen Valencia

I used to think that being in this industry meant chasing the size 0 I once was or having chiseled muscles. But the reality is there are some lifestyle choices I’m not willing to give up in order to get those things (namely my sweet tooth and love for a good cocktail).

So I’ve learned to hone in on the things I do love about myself and celebrate the days when I do feel amazing.

Sarah Nicole Landry

Becoming an influencer, in the beginning, was a lot of pressure with fitness. My body was on a performance track and I felt like I continually had to show more muscle and less fat to be valuable to the online community.

I’ve certainly grown past that now, and also with the awareness that what we see on social media is not entirely realistic for many either, but we still have worth and the right to show up online and experience fitness.

My Instagram account [originally] “took off” as a weight-loss account. So when I had the devastating realization that weight loss didn’t make me happy, I decided to start new narratives online around the way we show up for ourselves and our bodies.

That body pressure slowly alleviated over time as I stopped seeking external body validations and stepped fully into my self-worth.

Chrisopher Kebreau

Body image has never really been a problem for me with social media, but I have felt pressured in the past to be always on top of my performance. There were times when I would have a bad week of training [and] I would be angry at myself because I [didn’t feel] good enough to inspire others.

The day that I fully grasped the fact that I am human, too (no matter how fit I get), I lost all sorts of pressure. I [now] share my days of weakness with my following.

Why is it so important to you to make fitness a priority in your life?

Sarah Nicole Landry

I believe that love is an action word, yet, we want it to be a feeling. We want to love our bodies, and so we adhere to this idea that changing it will bring that kind of love, that feeling. That simply wasn’t my experience.

In fact, after losing 100 pounds and working out every single day, I had more hate and anxiety around my body, feeling like I just would never quite be enough. So for me, I’ve shifted my “why” around fitness.

I have the privilege to be able to work out. My body is able, and I know it’s good for my body. So I act out in love. I do it for my body, in love.

“We want to love our bodies, and so we adhere to this idea that changing it will bring that kind of love, that feeling. That simply wasn’t my experience.”

- Sarah Nicole Landry

Some days, when my mental health needs more focus, I’ll take a day or two off of fitness, as well. And that’s still love, that is still health.

Heather Wilson-Phillips

The reason fitness is such a priority is because I know the benefits from how I truly feel.

Fitness is not just about going to the gym for me, it really is about ensuring everything is fit. That also includes my mind, body, and soul on a daily basis.

Fitness for me is more of a holistic approach.

Brian Chan

At the end of the day, our bodies are our best investments we can make in our lives. We only have one and it’s our responsibility to take care of it, nourish it, and strive to be the best versions of ourselves.

In addition to the physical aspect of yoga, there is also a deep emotional and spiritual well-being to it. Even if you don’t follow or understand that side of yoga, everyone can still reap the benefits of a balanced mental state (reducing anxiety and stress, and focusing on being present).

What advice do you have for people who want to get into fitness but might be intimidated?

Christopher Kebreau

Anyone who starts fitness has to remember that everyone starts somewhere.

Comparing yourself to another person makes no sense because we all have different factors coming into play in our lives. Some go to school, some have more responsibilities, some have disabilities, etc.

Being aware of that will make people understand that the only competition is themselves.

Karleen Valencia

The hardest part is not the workout itself; the hardest part is taking the risk to try something new.

Once you show up for yourself, that’s when the magic happens. Know that there will always be a community (online or real life) more than willing to support you if you need that extra nudge.

You just need to find what fits for you. And guess what? There is no one-size-fits-all. You just gotta do you, boo.

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