Gwyneth Paltrow‘s GOOP newsletter usually causes the most outrage when it’s chock full of expensive product suggestions or advice on work-life balance from women who can afford personal chefs. But I have even more to say about today’s topic: “Is Your Workout Making You Fat?” The letter is a plug for Gwyneth’s personal trainer, Tracy Anderson; an “expert” whose advice on weight loss for moms and exercise to transform your body type tends is fairly infamous for being body negative and, in many cases, lacks any basis in science. The advice that she’s spouting via Gwyneth suffers both pitfalls.
The six-word title almost says everything you need to know: That the post is body-negative, and is going to be filled with alarmist information to make you feel like you should throw away your running shoes/workout dvd/dumbells/personal trainer package and stick with Tracy Anderson’s workouts, instead. But the pseudoscience in the newsletter is worth calling out, so…here we go!
The post is in the form of questions from Gwyneth and “various cohorts” about diet and workouts, and answers from Anderson, whose workout products are plugged before we even get to the first question. Throughout the Q&A, workout and diet effectiveness seems to be measured in terms of how skinny it will make us. Period.
For example: The first question is all about whether exercising on an empty stomach will burn more fat. Anderson correctly explains that most people will get a shitty workout if they don’t properly fuel themselves, but her answer also implies that the only reason we’d want to work out is to burn fat and get skinny:
Those who aren’t high-energy exercise performers and can’t make it through at least 45 minutes of intense cardio aren’t going to make it to the point where their bodies would begin to burn fat effectively on an empty stomach. What normally happens is that they feel weak, and the workout ends up being a waste of time.
She goes on to suggest fueling workouts with high-protein snacks instead of high-carb foods to promote fat burning, which might be good advice if that’s your only goal. But what if you’re trying to build strength, endurance, or just enjoy a good workout for the sake of staying active?
She’s not the trainer for you, that’s what. She makes it quite clear in the next question, about why some women gain weight when they train for marathons:
While running and cycling may burn calories, they do not design feminine muscles or get rid of an imbalance that may masquerade as a “problem area”—even on women who are genetically thin.
She’s careful not to blast marathoners completely. (“Running a marathon is a real and measurable accomplishment, but if you’re looking to lean out and lose weight, training to complete 26.2 miles isn’t going to give you the physical results you crave,” she says. “After you cross that finish line, choose a program that reflects your goals.”) But she’s making it clear that her purpose is to fit her clients meet her aesthetic ideals.
Want more proof? She only recommends weight lifting and kettle bells for men, because it builds “bulky” muscles, and that’s apparently not attractive:
While bulkier muscle looks OK on women in their 20s and 30s, it doesn’t age well. The sooner you build a long, lean, and feminine arm, the more sustainable the results will be—and with no sacrifice in strength.
For the vast majority of women, science says it’s pretty hard to “bulk up” the way Anderson warns against. Science also says that strength training is one of the best ways to speed up metabolism and, more importantly, build stronger bones–which is arguably more important than worrying about how your muscles will look after age 40.
Anderson’s workouts might be a perfectly good way to build muscle and get moving, but her attitude towards health and wellness just doesn’t sit well with me. Making women feel like their efforts are worthless if they don’t lead to weight loss and the same body shape as her celebrity clients just isn’t healthy, if you ask me.
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