Podcast
Mental Note

46 - Can Exercise Be Fat Positive and Joyful?

By Natalie Sanders & Kim Gould Fry

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Kim Gould Fry is on a mission to help restore your relationship with your body and introduce you to intuitive movement - no big deal, right?

Her approach focuses on both physical and mental health through training and partnering with fat and large-bodied instructors, offering counseling that connects mind and body, and creating resources like the free "Essential Guide to Enjoying Exercise"

We sat down with her and one of her favorite barre instructors, Natalie Sanders, to talk about what it takes to enjoy body movement outside of diet culture.

Transcript

Ellie Pike:
When therapist, Kim Gould Fry, decided to open a size inclusive exercise studio, she had no idea that three months later, the whole world would be enveloped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Gould Fry:
Hi, my name is Kim Gould Fry, like a French fry. And I am a licensed marriage and family therapist. I'm a certified barre instructor and a certified personal trainer, and I specialize in the treatment of eating disorders, body image issues, and compulsive exercise. I opened Autonomy in November 2019, and then COVID hit. Several months later, we had to go into lockdown and it ended up being in a lot of ways of blessing in disguise.

Ellie Pike:
The adversity actually aided Kim in perfecting her mission to restore people's relationships with their bodies and introduce them to intuitive movement.

Kim Gould Fry:
And we got just flooded with requests for accessible mental healthcare, sharing our values. And I ended up needing to really turn my attention towards growing the mental health aspect of the business.

Ellie Pike:
After passing the gym over to the instructors she helped train, Kim doubled down on creating mental health resources for people of all sizes to enjoy movement.

Kim Gould Fry:
It has been just a very vertical learning curve.

Ellie Pike:
This leap into the unknown has already made a big impact. She runs one of the only group practices of its kind in Austin, Texas, created a free online guide to enjoying exercise, and helps train instructors in large bodies in facilitating group classes in launching their own businesses. What a year. Today, we're talking with Kim and one of the instructors she trained about what it means to reconnect with our bodies while discovering the joy of exercise outside of fat shaming and diet culture. You're listening to Mental Note podcast. I'm Ellie Pike. Kim, thank you so much for joining this podcast. I'm really excited to dive into the topic of movement and what that can look like for all of us. And really some myths and some facts around movement, how to do it and how to enjoy it along the way. Just explain in layman's terms what restoring your relationship with your body is and what intuitive movement is.

Kim Gould Fry:
I'll start just by naming what intuitive movement is, if that would be helpful. It's the process of checking in with your body, assessing how much energy you have, how you're feeling, what your body might be craving movement-wise, and then using all of that to determine the type of movement that you do, the duration of movement that you're doing. And when I say movement, if that sounds like sort of just aimlessly waving your body around, it could be that interpretive dancing, I suppose, but it is really meant to describe just any type of movement in our body, whether that is a sort of standard exercise like spinning, or doing a barre class, or jumping on a trampoline, all the way to simply walking your dog. All of that is what's encompassed an intuitive movement, just to name a handful of things. And then when you're finding that you're engaging in the movement, it doesn't stop there. Staying really present in your body and continuing to ask those questions of, "Do I want to keep moving for an additional 10 minutes? Did I choose to go running? And ultimately, I'm noticing my body is tired and I want to start walking." Continuing to stay really present in your body and flexibility being a huge component of that. So I would say the main things to be attentive to when it comes to intuitive movement are curiosity, and intentionality, and compassion. So being really mindful of how your body is feeling and then noticing when a part of you might be demanding you engage in something more rigorous, because that's typically not super authentic. It's likely a part of us that we've internalized from what's known as diet culture.

Ellie Pike:
I know that the concept of exercise and movement can be really loaded for a lot of people. A lot of people maybe have been told to use it to lose weight, or they've had a negative relationship, maybe overused it as part of a disorder. And so how can someone know what those limits are for themselves and what's appropriate types of movement for themselves?

Kim Gould Fry:
Yeah, sure. We do have a free resource on the homepage of our website. If you go to autonomytherapyatx.com and scroll down, it's called The Essential Guide to Enjoying Exercise, that has some quick tools to be actively assessing and learning more about someone's existing relationship with movement. It's with the intention to help folks really start being honest with themselves about where they're starting from. It's not as easy as just saying, "Okay, I want to start moving intuitively." First, we need to know what is your current relationship with exercise? Because we don't know what we don't know. I dedicated the past few years of my life and my career to this concept and these values. And I remember that starting out, it was as simple as just being curious and asking myself, "Well, does exercise actually help you lose weight?" Because at the time, years ago, that's what I was using it for and that's what I had been told. So it was this spark of inspiration, if you will, that led me to just start researching, and Googling around, and asking colleagues what they knew about it, and that's why I developed these tools. And so there's some scaling questions and some true, false things, kind of challenging existing myths. Those that have done any type of psychology class or a therapist themselves may know the name, Jean Piaget, who back in the 1960s, identified that there was a need to break up old mental patterns before you can absorb or learn anything new. And so that's part of the reason that I take this approach, is because I could be offering a ton of new information about intuitive movement and how exercise is authentically beneficial for someone's health, and yet if we're not challenging all the other information that they may have already internalized, that's not really going to matter because that person may still be using exercise to lose weight and maybe engaging in harmful behaviors without even being aware of it. So before actually moving, we need to get a good sense of what is someone's relationship with their body and with exercise, and really what narratives are informing that.

Ellie Pike:
Everything that you said just makes so much sense, and it really ties back to your goal and what you're doing of helping people restore relationship with their bodies. And a lot of us don't even know exactly what that could look like. Can you help us put a picture to it?

Kim Gould Fry:
Sure. I think I might have to give you a bit of a therapist-y answer up front, which is I think it just really depends for each person what that looks like. There's no one-size-fits-all model of what someone enjoys when it comes to movement. For example, I have an identical twin sister, and she loves to get up early and go spinning and loves being on the beat. My legs just don't move that fast, first of all, and I also don't enjoy being in a dark room with super loud music. I get way over stimulated too quickly, and so it kind of just starts getting to know yourself thinking back to even growing up. Do you remember what you enjoyed doing growing up and how you enjoyed moving? What brought you excitement and pure pleasure when it came to just moving your body before you had all these instructors, or fitstagrams, or coaches telling you what you had to do with your body? Before the competition of the game outweighed the actual joy of it? And so I think just, again, starting to make a mind, body connection there because it's really easy to get stuck in our own heads and say, "Okay, well, I'm supposed to do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, and that's what the standards are for health." And yet that doesn't really actually apply authentically to anyone. It's this just generic number, generic statistics. And so what I like to do is think about what I have the most fun doing when I'm not sitting in one place. For example, I think I said this earlier, I love rollerblading. I think it's hysterical. I have so much fun. I love chasing my cat around the living room. I love going to petting zoos and flitting around from goat to baby goat to baby sheep, and that is all movement. And I also know that I love movement diversity, so I will maybe one day stretch my body and do some yoga. The next day, maybe I will go on a walk with my husband or attempt jogging. I wouldn't say that's at the top of my list, running or jogging, but sometimes. Again, with that intuitive movement recommendation of continuing to check in with your body, maybe I get a burst of energy and it would feel good to jog so many paces ahead. I think it's just being really open to the idea that once you start challenging those diet culture messages about what movement has to look like to be healthy and breaking up those narratives, it really allows more space to then incorporate some more play, pleasure, and fun.

Ellie Pike:
I think that this is so wonderful, and those are fantastic examples of rollerblading. I know for me, I've been jumping on the trampoline with my daughter, which is a little less fun when you're seven months pregnant.

Kim Gould Fry:
I'm pretty sure. Yeah, I can't relate, but I can imagine.

Ellie Pike:
Right, but it does bring me so much joy to jump around, jump around, and then fall on the trampoline, and then get back up and I'm winded. I'm totally out of breath, and it brings me back to exactly that childhood play that you just described. And I think a lot of us can tune in into what movement can look like for us in a joyful way when we think back to our childhood. I really appreciate the perspective that you bring to revitalizing our relationship with our body and really just enjoying what our body can do for us.

Kim Gould Fry:
Absolutely.

Ellie Pike:
My next question is really about your personal experience. You've launched so much in the last few years, and I'm sure you have lots of lessons learned, but I know that you shared with me in our first conversation about a really important lesson about making sure that you get to create a space to let marginalized bodies join in the conversation, and join in movement, and lead in this movement. Can you share a little bit about that?

Kim Gould Fry:
Yes. Again, that learning curve, I feel like is very consistently vertical. I've learned so much, and have made and will confidently continue to make an abundance [inaudible 00:12:18] in an attempt to actively support and create space for marginalized bodies and voices. And I thought that I needed to use my privilege to create all of those spaces when in reality, I saw so much more community support and felt so much more confident in the actual movement itself that was happening, like social justice movement, when I equipped others with the knowledge and the resources to advocate for themselves rather than me, myself, sort of take on that role of, "Well, I can be the one to offer it all." And I am so glad that I was able to recognize that because I do have an abundance of privilege in so many ways. And in order to be the best ally that I possibly can, I have to consistently be asking myself, how do I be creating this space for others to equip them with the information and to be providing this information too, to other folks that want to be allies so that they're not asking these populations that are already marginalized to be educating them? The more education that I, with my privilege, can be offering to other folks with privilege too, I feel the better.

Ellie Pike:
And what are those privileges that you find that you have?

Kim Gould Fry:
I am Caucasian, so I have white privilege. I am heterosexual, cisgender. I have socioeconomic privilege, thin privilege in body size. I would say I check a lot of boxes.

Ellie Pike:
Yeah. And it seems like you've really created space for people of all body sizes to really join in the conversation and start to lead in really taking up space in the community and even on social media. We'll talk with Natalie, a friend of yours, that you've really worked with.

Natalie Sanders:
I met Kim when she was opening the Autonomy Movement space in 2019, and just couldn't not even believe that there was going to be this focus on body positivity in a gym setting in my hometown of Austin.

Ellie Pike:
Meet Natalie Sanders.

Natalie Sanders:
My name is Natalie Sanders, and I am a body positive barre instructor. I launched my own business this year called Body Positive Barre, which you can check out at bodyposibarre.com. I believe that movement spaces should be inclusive to as many different body types as possible, and that people should have the right to feel safe and welcome in all movement spaces. After getting to know Kim a little bit more, she approached me and said, "Hey, I'd really like to teach some folks in bigger bodies how to teach barre." I've been taking some of her barre classes and really enjoying them, and just found that it was... I kind of expressed to her like, "Hey, I would love to be a fitness instructor one day. This just seems really cool." And then it just starts kind of [inaudible 00:15:34]. She's like, "I'd love to train you," and so we did all of our training. It was right when COVID hit, so we did it all virtually, and then got to do some practice classes where Kim would come and give some feedback. And then just this year, I launched my own business. However, we still work together on funneling clients back and forth and just promoting each other's materials, and resources, and classes that are being offered.

Ellie Pike:
Can you tell us a little bit about what this experience has been like for you to move into this body positive space as well as teaching barre?

Natalie Sanders:
I think entering into this space, specifically around movement and fitness, has been really interesting. And we see a lot of folks adopting this use of body positive and, "Hey, I offer an inclusive class, everyone's welcome." But at some point too, I think it's really important to have representation and making sure that we actually have more fat fitness instructors out there to make it an even more welcoming and inviting place, because the instructor then is teaching and moving in a place of experience. There's only so much that education can do in life that fitness instructors everywhere should be educating themselves, being as flexible as possible. There's also something more about learning from the source, right? Learning from the people that experienced... Just existing in that body type.

Ellie Pike:
And in my conversations with Kim, one of the lessons that she learned was how important it was to uplift marginalized bodies and exactly what you're saying, making sure that there are fat bodies being represented in this space, but also leading this body positive and fat positive movement. You identify, correct, as living in a fat body and being one of those marginalized bodies? What is that experience like for you and how do you lead the charge?

Natalie Sanders:
Yeah. I grew up in a pretty lucky situation where I had a lot of support around me. I had access to great healthcare and a really loving family, and was really lucky to have parents growing up that didn't put a lot of pressure on weight loss or really even appearance in general. It was more about how we're feeling, what our moods are, are we having fun? And I think that that really has translated into me being able to be okay as a fat person in our society now, but I think there's a lot of folks who are in fat bodies who don't have access to that, specifically some of my friends and colleagues. And I think it's a shame because when we don't have access to those things, it's really hard to just exist. But specifically for me, having some representation as an early user of Instagram, following other fat creators, fat fitness folks, fat fashion folks, and just seeing other people just living unapologetically, and being in their own bodies, and being proud of who they are really paved the way to help shape myself being so confident or just feeling like, "Hey, I can be a part of this too and I hope to really help others." And it's been great to bring that into fitness where I think we're just a little bit farther behind, but it's been great to just be like, "Hey, I can do this and you can do this too," to so many strangers now on the internet that I can connect with and it's been really special.

Ellie Pike:
I imagine a lot of people pop into your classes feeling this sense of exhaustion from what the concept of exercise has meant to them. A lot of weight loss being pushed or sculpting and just goals for achieving this certain kind of body. And so what you're offering is something completely different which is really embracing the body you're in, and feeling good, and able, and moving because you want to because it's joyful. What are some tips and skills that you give your group members and your clients to really help them along this journey?

Natalie Sanders:
Yeah. One thing that's been really great with virtual moving is that we don't have to show up in the classroom and have the fear of being watched or maybe even watching yourself in the mirror, which can be a little bit triggering. So instead when we move virtually, you have the option to keep your camera off. You're not even looking at yourself at all, which might be part of the trip of movement and move being joyfully without some of this negative thoughts that tend to creep up in our minds. I think something too, I always make a point to work out in just my sports bra and leggings just to normalize showing people that you can work out in whatever you would like, but I do think it's important for representation to just be like, "Here I am in my body teaching this way, in this outfit." But I do think it's important to wear whatever makes you comfortable. It can be just a ragged, old t-shirt and some shorts, or you have the option to work out naked if you'd want with your camera off.

Ellie Pike:
That's fantastic.

Natalie Sanders:
It might be a little wild and [inaudible 00:20:52], but just making sure that you're super comfortable in your space and in your outfit, and you don't have to then think about your appearance. It's just all about the movement. I don't use any language that's going to be like, "We're tightening and toning over here and we're lengthening." And really, I'm all about, "Do you feel your muscle group or your muscle that I'm feeling turned on? Then that's enough." In barre, we preach up an inch, down an inch. Really just moving a tiny bit and making sure that you can feel that muscle activated. And that was more about them reaching really long or getting your leg up really high. It's really, "Do you feel your muscle? That's it. That's all you need to worry about. Do you feel it getting fatigued as we work it?" I also cue a ton of like, "Take a water break, you need it, or you don't have to do this entire set. Do as many as you would like. Take a break and then come back." And I also grabbed this little sentence from one of my colleagues too of, "We are not a dance troupe. We don't all have to move together. You can move at your own pace. You don't have to match me, right? You can do less or more, faster or slower." I think we get really caught up in like, "Am I following the instructor?" During a workout class. It's okay if you're not. We don't all have to move the same, and just making that known over and over again during class by cuing that too.

Ellie Pike:
Just as Natalie is hard at work creating movements where all people feel welcome, Kim has been developing the education necessary to get people's minds ready for intuitive movement.

Kim Gould Fry:
In the '70s, Kazimierz Dabrowski coined the term positive disintegration, which is that similar idea of, "In order to learn anything new, we have to go through this really uncomfortable process of challenging and breaking down old beliefs and mental patterns in order to effectively incorporate new information." And so I have since rebranded the course, the Intuitive Movement Masterclass, and yet that was really its origins was this focus on what you don't know, you don't know. And what I needed years and years ago to really start challenging the idea that first and foremost, exercise helps you lose weight because a lot of the information that we've been fed about exercise, and health, and weight loss has been from companies that make money off of us buying into it. It's not because those things are actually true. Truth is exercise isn't statistically significant for weight loss. Research does show that regardless of how many Cosmopolitan GQ or fitstagrams come out and disagree with me. Exercise can be a tool used to benefit health without a doubt. There's so many positive benefits that come from exercise, and it may be that as a result of exercising and increasing someone's energy expenditure, that someone who had been pretty sedentary before that a symptom of that is that their weight decreases. But ultimately, if that does happen, it just means that someone's set point, which is the weight range at which our body performs optimally and is predominantly determined by genetics, their set point was probably lower. Along with that, I hear this calories in equals calories out. That's like a lot of gym language, and that's just not true either. This idea that you can eat something and then immediately go, to put this in air quotes, "Burn it off," is not true. That sweating means you're working harder. There was a study done that compared controlled participants that did both a hot yoga class and a regular yoga class, and there's so many gyms and fitness studios now advertising hot yoga, hot barre, and they claim, "This torches calories and transform your body," and that's just not true. And then what the research shows too and what we know is that sweat is just your body's way of trying to maintain homeostasis. It's trying to cool your body off and sweating is impacted by the environment outside, what you're wearing, your actual sweat glands, if you had caffeine that day. It doesn't mean that you're torching calories. That if you work out really intensely or for a really long duration time, that it just means you're going to keep burning calories. That's also not true. After a while, your body actually will adapt to whatever movement you're doing, because if there was a linear association between length of time that you're moving and the amount of calories or energy that you're using, you could stay on the treadmill for five hours and you would die. Our body is primed for survival, not diet culture aesthetics or expectations.

Ellie Pike:
And what about the concept of taking rest, right? What if you just don't want to move? Is that okay?

Kim Gould Fry:
Absolutely. Our body needs rest days, and I go into that in more detail in the course too. It's so interesting that when I talk to a client who's compulsively exercising or insisting that they have to do some type of movement every single day, and I challenge that and I say, "Well, contrary to that, our body actually just physiologically needs rest or else it can't repair itself." Most clients logically agree with me. I would say 99% of clients kind of do a begrudging like, "Ugh, I know. I know." And yet that doesn't matter if I share that. I'm sure even people listening would be like, "Oh, yeah. I know that logically. I'm not going to do it," because all of the other stuff is still getting in the way. And so it is less important to simply name the myths than it is to say, "Okay, if this is a myth and there's parts of me that I'm recognizing are resistant to that, or don't fully believe it, or want to find reasons to not integrate that into my life and adjust my behavior because of that, I need to be more curious about, one, what is that part of me that keeps disagreeing, getting in the way? What are those narratives that I have that are keeping this room feeling really authentic?" And then once you're taking that dive too. Being able to right after say, "Okay, and then what other information or education would I need to really make that feel true?" Okay. If rest days are better, one, I need to explore the parts of me that don't believe that, or feel like that's not true, or afraid of what would happen if I did take that rest day whilst simultaneously or subsequently I suppose, because you have to challenge that first, then seeking out information about, "Okay, if that is true, now I need to be able to connect that to a value." What about that would fit for me? And if I do really care about health, which is most people's value when it comes to this stuff, then what information do they need to be able to integrate that and connect it to their value of health?

Ellie Pike:
I really like that, and the importance of identifying your values as guides. And you're exactly right. I know for me, I value health and it looks really different in actions based on different times in my life, and I have to pay attention to that, of what that looks like. And sometimes, it's more rest, sometimes it's more movement, sometimes it's more play, sometimes more sleep, right?

Kim Gould Fry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ellie Pike:
Or a stress reduction. So there's so many components to that, but I like that it's guided by an overall value. Thank you for speaking to that.

Kim Gould Fry:
Of course.

Ellie Pike:
For those who want to start the journey of intuitive movement, it can sound really different than everything that culture has taught us which is, "Make a new year's resolution. Lose this amount of weight. Get a six pack. Join a gym." Intuitive movement, it's a very different kind of journey. How do you advise people start that journey and what could that look like?

Kim Gould Fry:
Yeah. I would encourage every single person that before you look at where you want to go, meet yourself where you are. And so that's why we have our essential guide to enjoying exercise, which is really framed around how do you meet yourself where you are, taking those little quizzes that we provide, the truth, false, and all of that, because I think a lot of people, when they see that, they may feel like, "Well, I don't have a weird relationship to exercise. I like movement." And yet, 99% of people that I give this checklist to that's in the essential guide, they're picking a hand full of them regardless because it's important to remember that we are made up of so many different parts that all exist at the same time. That's not too woo-woo, and that even if there's parts of us that feel really confident in the fact that we enjoy movement and we're not abusing it, there's other parts of us that have been exposed to diet culture, maybe for decades, and that is not going to not have an effect on us. Our brain has been wired to believe a lot of those myths, especially because I will say firsthand, they're not challenging any of this in schools. They're not even teaching this in schools, not to my knowledge at the very least, not when I was in school. And so we need to start first by even being curious about what internalized beliefs and narratives have I picked up over time that I don't even know exist? What have I agreed to believe? And then from there, once you meet yourself where you are, that's when you can start moving towards, "Okay, how can I maybe start incorporating more types of intuitive movement, building a community of people that share my values?" That's super big. Being able to clear out your Instagram of fitstagrams, and being able to go through Pinterest and unfollow or block some pretty destructive recommendations to move away from that on social media, and then finding professionals that can support that work too. If you don't have a therapist or you've never been to therapy, seeking out a therapist educated and health at every size, and being able to ask them to support that journey with you and to be able to provide additional resources, recommendations, and seeking out additional education. And so that's part of the reason also that I have decided to finally bite the bullet, get more familiar with code, and add that favorite resources tab to our website, because I have just been getting slammed with request for like, "What do you recommend? What resources? Where do I start?" And I say off the bat, "We offer you a free resource, head to our homepage on our website. And then step two, pop on over to our favorite resources and go through that list. See what stands out."

Ellie Pike:
I love how resource heavy you are and that you like to equip people to do their own research, and to learn, and to be curious. And so thank you so much for introducing us to the concept of intuitive movement, and giving us tools to know where to start and pause and assess our beliefs and understand the myths that we've been believing for a long time, so that we can start to reshape our view of ourselves, our bodies, and movement.

Kim Gould Fry:
Absolutely.

Ellie Pike:
Thank you so much, Kim. You've been wonderful to talk to. I'm excited to send our listeners in your direction so that they can learn more. I love the idea of joyfully moving in concert with our bodies rather than cajoling them to work out in order to get them. Obviously, we don't all live in the Austin area, but we can take advantage of both Kim and Natalie's expertise. For the free guide to join exercise, visit Kim's website, autonomytherapytx.com. And for diet culture free, joyful movement, I highly encourage you to check out Natalie on Instagram. Find her @bodyposibarre. That's @body, P-O-S-I B-A-R-R-E. Mental Note is a creation of eating recovery center and pathlight mood and anxiety center. If you'd like to talk to a trained therapist to see if treatment is right for you, please call them at (877) 850-7199. If you like our show, sign up for our eNewsletter, and learn more about the people we interview at mentalnotepodcast.com. We'd also love it if you left us a review on iTunes. It helps others find our podcast. Mental Note is produced and hosted by me, Ellie Pike, and directed by Sam Pike, with editing help on today's episode from Ian Kelsall.

Presented by

Natalie Sanders

Natalie is intentionally trained in a weight-neutral style, and she offers many modifications to make Barre accessible for more bodies. She welcomes you to come as you are to her Body Pos...
Presented by

Kim Gould Fry

Kim Gould Fry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, an IBBFA-Certified Barre Instructor, a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, and the Founder and CEO of Autonomy Therapy. Her therape...