Beyond the Scale: Empowering Fitness Goals for Middle-Aged Women

Discover how shifting the focus from weight loss to personal achievement can transform the fitness experience, promote body positivity and address the deep-seated factors influencing body dissatisfaction among menopausal clients.

Let’s take a moment to step back from the conventional goals often set within the fitness industry. While many chase the ideals of weight loss and aesthetic perfection, it’s time to explore a deeper, more meaningful approach to fitness, especially when working with menopausal women.

This article delves into the importance of understanding the unique perspectives and underlying motivations of our clients. By focusing on performance and personal achievements over mere numbers on a scale, we can help foster a healthier, more positive relationship with exercise and body image.

Let’s dive into how tailored questions and a shift in focus can redefine success in fitness, leading to a more satisfied and empowered clientele.

Fitness for Menopausal Women: What to Prioritize in Programming

Recognizing that the pursuit of exercise solely for weight management, aesthetic reasons or attractiveness can correlate with heightened levels of dissatisfaction with one’s body, engagement in disordered eating patterns and diminished self-esteem is crucial for health coaches (Vartanian, Wharton & Green, 2012). This underscores the necessity for program designs that prioritize performance-based objectives over weight-centric goals. It becomes imperative to consider the perceptions of body transformations when engaging with menopausal clientele.

To gain deeper insights into your clients’ perspectives and driving forces, tailoring open-ended questions is invaluable. Examples include:

Such inquiries help redirect focus and stimulate introspection. The objective is to pivot attention away from weight and body size, guiding clients towards setting goals that gauge achievements based on capabilities rather than pounds shed or physical appearance. Celebrating milestones tied to performance, like mastering five pushups from a starting point of none, reinforces this shift in perspective.

By associating positive sentiments and reactions with accomplishments beyond weight loss, gradual reprogramming of thought patterns occurs, reframing success as multifaceted. Equally critical is aiding clients in identifying and halting negative self-dialogue. I establish a “judgment-free zone,” where derogatory remarks regarding body weight or age are strictly prohibited.

For instance, training a client prone to remarks like, “I can feel my fat jiggle during jumping jacks” or “I despise how my belly fat feels during certain exercises—it’s repulsive,” provides an opportunity to redirect conversations towards achievements and progress made since the initial session. Emphasizing advancements in strength and proficiency shifts the narrative from appearance to capability.

Exploring Factors Influencing Body Dissatisfaction

Kilpela et al. (2015) outline five key psychological factors contributing to body dissatisfaction among older women:

Thin-Ideal Internalization: Reflecting the extent to which individuals adopt societal standards of attractiveness, often leading to hyper-awareness of body shape and frequent monitoring. In a study of over 1,800 women aged 50 and above, 40% reported daily scrutiny of body shape and weight (Lewis-Smith et al. 2016). This internalization fosters discontentment, given the near-impossible standards set by the thin ideal.

Cultural Perspectives on Aging and Self-Objectification: Cultural influences shape women’s perceptions of their bodies, perpetuating the objectification of women’s appearances. This phenomenon, termed self-objectification, prompts individuals to evaluate their worth based on external attractiveness, particularly valuing thinness and perpetual youthfulness.

Importance of Appearance: Society’s emphasis on youthfulness complicates the acceptance of aging bodies, pressuring women to defy natural aging processes. Advertisers capitalize on these concerns by promoting products promising revitalization, perpetuating the notion that the ideal body is attainable with sufficient effort and investment.

Fat Talk and Old Talk: These terms denote dialogues that either explicitly or implicitly endorse societal ideals of thinness and youthfulness. Beyond active participation, childhood weight-related teasing and negative feedback from peers and partners in adulthood contribute to present-day body dissatisfaction among middle-aged women.

Recognizing and addressing these underlying factors is essential in fostering a more positive body image and promoting holistic well-being. Through a thoughtful and inclusive approach, we can guide our clients toward a fulfilling and empowering fitness journey, where success is measured not by the scale, but by the strength, confidence and joy they gain.

The Practical: How Health Coaches Can Support Menopausal Clients

Foster Performance-Based Goals: Encourage clients to set objectives that are unrelated to weight, such as improving strength, flexibility or stamina. Celebrate non-scale victories like completing a set number of pushups or mastering a new yoga pose.

Incorporate Tailored Inquiries: Use open-ended questions to understand clients’ unique motivations and feelings towards exercise. Ask about what activities they enjoy, how certain exercises make them feel, and goals they aspire to achieve beyond physical appearance.

Establish a Judgment-Free Zone: Create a safe and supportive environment where clients feel comfortable discussing their struggles without fear of judgment. Prohibit negative self-talk related to body weight, age or appearance in your sessions.

Shift the Focus from Appearance to Capability: Highlight the importance of what the body can do rather than how it looks. This can involve emphasizing how strength training enhances daily life, or how cardiovascular health improves endurance and energy levels.

Educate on the Psychological Factors of Body Dissatisfaction: Inform clients about the impact of thin-ideal internalization, cultural perspectives on aging and self-objectification. Understanding these factors can help clients recognize external pressures and focus on their own health and well-being.

Combat Fat Talk and Old Talk: Actively listen for and challenge instances of fat talk or old talk. Encourage positive self-talk and reinforce the idea that self-worth is not tied to physical appearance.

Promote Body Positivity: Encourage clients to appreciate their bodies for their functionality and the journey they’re on. Introduce practices that enhance body positivity, such as gratitude journals or mindfulness exercises focusing on bodily sensations during exercise.

Highlight the Benefits of Exercise Beyond Physical Appearance: Educate clients on the mental health benefits of exercise, including reduced stress, improved mood, and better sleep. Help them see fitness as a tool for overall well-being.

Personalize Exercise Programs: Tailor exercise programs to fit the individual preferences, fitness levels, and goals of your clients. Personalization can increase engagement and satisfaction with the fitness journey.

Encourage Community and Support: Recommend group classes or online forums where clients can share their experiences and achievements. A supportive community can provide motivation, accountability and a sense of belonging.

By integrating these strategies, health coaches can play a pivotal role in reshaping the fitness narrative for middle-aged women, leading them towards a healthier, more positive relationship with exercise and their bodies.

Maria Luque, PhD, MS, CHES, is a health educator, fitness expert, presenter, writer and USAF veteran. She created Fitness in Menopause, a company dedicated to helping women navigate the challenges and rewards of menopause. Her course “Menopausal Fitness: Training the Menopausal Client” is NASM-, AFAA- and ACE- accredited. She holds graduate and postgraduate degrees in health sciences and teaches at the College of Health and Human Services at Trident University International. Learn more at