Cultivating a More Inclusive Approach to Fitness and Wellness

There is a multitude of problematic components that exist related to racial divides and marginalization. One of these problems is the lack of diversity in the fitness and wellness spaces that is seemingly obvious to a humxn (defined as “humans” to include all gender identities, sexual preferences, races, generations, and the like) such as myself.

Like attracts like?

In my personal experience, exclusion has existed as a constant throughout my life. There weren’t any other neighbors or classmates around me who were also half-Chinese American and half-Black. So, naturally, the only way to socialize and “make friends” was to include me within the circles of others. Little did I know that this was something that everyone should be doing; instead, the notion of gravitating towards one’s in-group is the standard. So, the paradox came as I began a wishy-washy dance between isolation and fitting in.

My two comfort constants, soul food and Chinese cuisine fit in perfectly with “red and purple drink” to form the foundation for my nutritional beginnings in life. While I believed that I was fitting into social circles, I was confusing myself more than anything. Internally, the struggle was brewing inside of me. Figuring out who and what I was culturally and racially was one thing, while learning how to healthfully cope being another. Food was my comfort, while my self-esteem dropped and my body image became more and more negated.

Where exclusion can go wrong

The turning point in my personal wellness journey came in my late 20s. My [once quick] metabolism now proved to shift substantially as my habits continued a downward spiral. My ability to nosh on whatever I craved soon caught up for me as I gained 20, then 30, then 40, and then 50 pounds throughout my 20’s.

Necessary steps intervene when there exists no other option.  In my late 20s, the pressure mounted as I decided to join a gym and start walking more with friends. That dope grape drink was replaced with water, which I never had a taste of more than a handful of times growing up. Vegetables I had never tried my entire life snuck onto my plate as I shuttered adjusting to new tastes without excess salt for my palate. Sticking to the system works every time, right? That is until a plateau rears its ugly head and someone is forced to find another route on their quest for supreme health and wellness.

Representation Matters!

One night, as I was watching TV later than I should – probably hyped up on caffeine supplements I was taking. I spotted Shaun T and his INSANITY program. My initial thought was, “Hey! He looks like me!” For the first time in my life, particularly while working to lose weight, I saw an example of someone whom I could see myself as and therefore “workout with.” This epiphanic moment in my life also served as the catalyst for my life at the same time.

Everyone deserves to feel INCLUDED

Inclusion should have an easier time being cultivated in fitness and wellness spaces for all humans. Tenacity was my saving grace, as I began to feel healthier on the inside and out. As a result, I ventured into situations that led me to lifelong friendships and relationships with other humans who want to see me succeed and who uplift me to keep going on this journey called [wellness] life.

Many humans are struggling to embrace the love for their bodies and, in turn, extinguish their self-esteem. Even still why should tenacity be the key to unlocking someone’s health potential? Shouldn’t we be more aware, particularly as fitness professionals and trainers and coaches, of how we can shift our own methods for inclusion so that this is second nature in the fitness world?

A lack of inclusivity is a slippery slope

My example is one of many many more, I’m certain. Our deep-rooted problem with classism, racism, and marginalization has trickled down from our systemically founded groundwork into issues related to mental health and physical wellness for those living in our country. As a Black child growing up in America in the 1980s, particularly one who is multiracial, I wasn’t able to have my focus on my health as I focused [instead] on the inclusion I needed socially.

When we look around at the goings-on in the world and think, “But, what can I possibly do to make a dent?” the overwhelming idea of action can trigger silence in many. However, there remains an opportunity for those working in fitness and wellness to increase their approach to inclusivity to impact more lives positively and serve our communities with openness. These steps, in and of themselves, can impact marginalized communities to make use of our wellness resources while also decreasing the issues we have related to chronic health in this country.

How to create a more INCLUSIVE approach to FITNESS & WELLNESS:

1. Check your own BIASES.

No one is immune to having biases. Biases don’t discriminate from infiltrating gender identities, generations, races, sexual preferences, social statuses, or personal preferences. Many times, we form judgments about other people based on experiences we can’t even remember, or so choose to forget. There is no quick fix to healing from biases, but their actualization is key to being inclusive. A place to start is the Harvard Implicit Bias test website. You can check yourself on whether or not you learn towards women being more powerful than me, or if you happen to have a bias against millennials. Some biases are “less severe” than others, but they can compound and exclude nonetheless.

2. Diversify your THOUGHTS.

Expanding our minds takes effort. We tend to solidify what we think as our own personal gospel, becoming defensive when encountering another thought or opinion. Gravitational pulls draw us towards those most like us, also known as our in-group. Diversity of thought happens by listening and learning from those in our out-group. We also expand our knowledge of cultures and races and personal experiences we might not otherwise be privy to and grow from as a result.

3. Diversify your PEOPLE.

Expanding our in-group “privileges” to those in our out-group means that we have people in our circles of influence who are diverse in and of themselves. True empathy happens we take the seat of someone else and place ourselves in their feelings. If humxns that we would typically classify as our out-group are now part of our in-group, we gain an empathetic perspective to understand those most different from us. As a result, our defenses drop, and our ability to care for others increases.

If you’re a manager or leader in the industry, the goal is to MAKE SPACE. Invest in Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion guidance for the reformation of your current processes and staff to ensure you are expanding your reach. (If interested in creating an Inclusion committee to give voices to your team, be sure that is a paid opportunity and that folks aren’t being asked to do work for free.) There exists a huge lack of diversity in the overall leadership of the fitness and wellness space in our country. Impacts target those needing to make healthful changes along with our children looking for leaders to look up to.

4. Shift your verbiage to be more INCLUSIVE.

Our vernacular draws from personal experiences and those in our circle of influence. Even if we don’t mean to exclude or offend, we can do so by not using inclusive verbiage that welcomes those who aren’t most like us. In the fitness space, inclusivity can be seen by using positive verbiage that is NOT solely body-image or weight-loss or physical trait focused. For example, a fitness program can be mentioned as “welcome to all levels of superhero” instead of “achieving 30-pound weight loss in 3 months.” The example of the INSANITY program above, even, shows it as a “total-body conditioning program” which still scared the sh** out of me, but it was more inclusive than most I’d seen at that time.

5. Remain OPEN to feedback on how to keep EVOLVING.

Imperfect is an adjective I’m sure we can all use to identify as. At least it should be.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”


Including a more diverse array of humxn into our circle of influence enables us to use more empathy with those most different from us. Those in our circle of influence love us enough to tell us when we need to be better. These folx also make sure we know when we’re doing amazing. When there’s an opportunity to pivot or adjust, we should take it. Particularly, if it means that we will create a more positive and loving fitness and wellness experience for those who need us in their lives the most.

I would never be where I am now if it weren’t for me to find others who include me in the discussion and let me sit at the table of change. I’ll continue paying that opportunity forward for the betterment of our future and for our kids …

This post is just the tip of the iceberg on the topic of inclusion in the fitness and wellness spaces we own. Starting is key. Continuing to learn is golden.

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