A Fitness Pro’s Perspective On Sports Illustrated Featuring A Plus Size Model

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Sports Illustrated has taken the words “bodies come in all shapes and sizes” to heart this season and featured the beautiful plus size model (who I don’t even consider plus size) Ashley Graham on the cover of their 2016 swimsuit edition.

Traditionally, swimsuits in this country tend to be modeled by very slim women.  Even the suits that are targeted towards more curvy women are often times displayed on very slender models.  Featuring Ashley on the cover of Sports Illustrated is a refreshing breakthrough in an industry that tends to only highlight one body type.  Ashley’s appearance celebrates a group of women who I believe have not been properly represented or acknowledged by the fashion industry for years!

It’s really important to avoid comparing yourself to others and I recommend you focus on being your own personal best at all times.  However, it can take an incredible amount of inner strength for women and men to continue seeing daily images of mostly airbrushed models and still hold on to their own self esteem.  That is what makes this edition of Sports Illustrated so important and why I’m so excited about it.  Ashley is more than a woman with great curves rocking a swimsuit.  I believe Ashley’s photo shoot will literally help set some people free.  Instead of people dieting and torturing themselves to conform to one look, my hope is that she will inspire the public to focus on being healthy, strong, and comfortable in their own skin.

While many people like myself are applauding Sports Illustrated and incredibly proud of Ashley, there have been some critics.  What I find sad is that one of her critics was Cheryl Tiegs, a fellow model.  Cheryl stated that she is concerned that plus size models are sending an unhealthy message to the public.  I never like to assume what is in another person’s heart and I don’t think Cheryl meant to be unkind.  However, it is very wrong to assume that just because a person wears a certain size clothing they are unhealthy.  That is between the individual and their physician.

Over the years I’ve trained people of all sizes and I’ve learned that it is never a good idea to judge someone’s health by their size.  I’ve had the opportunity to perform numerous health assessments and review enough doctor’s reports to learn that there are larger people in great health.  I personally know curvy women that run marathons, have flat stomachs, and look amazing in skin tight clothing.  Sure, there are people that need to lose weight for health reasons (some of it serious) and I help coach them throughout their weight loss journey.

However, I’ve also seen a lot of damage done to people’s bodies due to yo-yo dieting and overtraining in their attempt to achieve a certain size.  Eating disorders are very real and they are usually camouflaged under the guise of “eating healthy.”

When I read an interview about a supermodel crying herself to sleep because she went to bed hungry or I hear a male model admit to dehydrating his body to look “ripped” for a photo shoot, I begin to question “what are we calling healthy?”  It is disheartening to hear a spokesperson from the fashion industry which is  widely known for its unhealthy behavior and body image issues criticize larger models all in the name of public health.  I find it a flimsy excuse for judging others.

Ashley Graham is not petite.  However, I highly doubt she is unhealthy.  Actually, she looks VERY healthy to me.  She works out harder than I do and I’m guessing she maintains a healthy diet.  The most healthy part about her is her attitude and the fact that she’s so confident in her own skin she’s not willing to starve herself to fit someone else’s idea of what she should look like.  She has such a healthy level of self-esteem that she was able to say no to harming herself for the purpose of fortune and fame which is something I wish more models were willing to do.

Please understand, I’m not discounting the hard work of naturally thin models.  When we as a society make the statement “bodies come in all shapes and sizes” that includes thin women too and they should be equally celebrated for their God-given beauty and talents.  The idea behind embracing curvy women is for prejudice and judgement to stop.  Thin models should not have to experience judgement either.

To say that health is all about being a certain height and weight is to put people in a generic box.   The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “positive health is associated with a capacity to enjoy life and to withstand challenges;  it is not merely the absence of disease.”  So far, Ashley fits the bill.

It’s important to eat well, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight.  It’s also important to remember that your number on the scale is personal.  You know when you feel your best and you’re not depriving yourself.  I think Ashley does too.  She’s a great example to us all.

Bring on the swimsuit weather!

With Love,
Jennifer Ledford

Just Say No To The Diet Trap!

Woman is Hungry Dieting - Lose weight without the diet trap - by personal trainer Jennifer Ledford

Today’s article comes from deep within my heart.

It’s a brand new year and for many people a new year means fresh new goals and/or resolutions.  If your goal is to lose weight, it can be really tempting to try the latest fad diet that the fitness or diet industry is promoting.  It’s a normal human response to be intrigued by all the marketing that these industries roll out in January… especially if you’ve gained a few pounds over the holidays.

Before you jump on board and commit to a new diet, it’s important you know that temporary, restrictive diets have a 95% failure rate and can do more harm than good.

Have you ever suffered through the physical and emotional torment of the latest fad diet simply to find yourself unsuccessful and frustrated?

Or, maybe you lost a bunch of weight only to gain it back again. Even worse, you gained back more than you lost.

You are not alone. As a personal trainer I have seen and even personally experienced so much physical and psychological damage from dieting, it makes me want to scream!

Some of the reasons diets fail you are:

They slow down your metabolism
They cause you to store fat, not burn it
They’re unsustainable for most people’s lifestyle
When you stop starving yourself and go back to a normal calorie-consumption, you WILL gain weight
Lack of energy due to being hungry
Some diets ask you to eliminate entire food groups and key nutrients
They can cause binge eating
They can cause stress which is known to cause belly fat due to hormonal changes in the body

Look, I get it. You want to get thinner and you want it now. Most of us do not want to wait the amount of time it takes to lose weight that statistically stays off for life. The diet industry is counting on that and the marketing is very convincing!

Losing weight and keeping it off for good without dieting starts with a change in mindset.  The mindset that you are going to switch to healthy eating.  Eating for health and dieting to lose weight do not always look the same.  Things like portion control, cutting back the foods and or liquids that you know are excessive,  avoiding overly processed foods, and meal planning are all considered healthy eating, not starvation diets or skipping meals entirely.


1) You need to eat.  It absolutely amazes me that there are still diets out on the market today that recommend dangerously low calorie meal plans when the science says otherwise.  Your body will get really good at storing what it doesn’t get enough of.  For example, if you eliminate fat from your diet, your body will not want to burn fat. It will want to store fat.  Sound nutritional research tells us that you need to eat fat in order to burn fat.  I am a firm believer that the low fat and low carb craze has contributed heavily to the obesity crisis in the United States.

Instead of restricting what you eat, you’ll find more success when you focus on a balanced diet that is centered around whole foods.   A balanced diet includes carbohydrates, proteins, fruits & vegetables, healthy fats, and water.  Any diet that cuts one of these important nutrients out should be avoided.

2) Exercise almost every day.  Do your best to exercise six days per week. Try an interval workout 2-3 times per week and alternate with more moderate activity on the rest of the days.

Choose a fun activity on your off day like a moderate hike, cross country skiing, swimming, or taking your kids or your dog to the park.

If exercising six days per week seems overwhelming, start with 20 minutes per day 2-3 days per week . You’ll still get better results than doing nothing at all.

3) Eat in.  This is the biggest tip I can give you.  Cook at home for the next 30 days and bring your lunch. Use light recipes from sources like EatingWell, Cooking Light, and Health magazine.

4) Cut back on liquid calories. Try substituting alcohol, sodas, and other higher calorie drinks with water. Try adding lemon or cucumber for some variation.

If cutting out liquid calories sounds extreme, take a more moderate approach and cut down to half or even a quarter of what you usually drink. You can always go back to your normal consumption if you want to.  This is about figuring out what works for you personally.

5) Cut back on dessert.  Desserts are usually loaded with calories. If you have a sweet tooth, try substituting with fruit or one piece of dark chocolate.

6)  Be authentically you.  It’s really important that you pay close attention to what’s most important to you.  Not everyone wants to be or was designed to look like the models on the cover of fitness magazines.  If challenging yourself to reach an elite athlete status is fun for you and you can achieve it in a healthy way, then by all means go for it!  However, if you know in your heart of hearts you’d just like to live a long healthy life, fit in your jeans, and have the stamina to do the activities you enjoy without a whole lot of restrictions in your life, then general health and fitness is for you so please don’t beat yourself up because you’re not “doing whatever it takes” to look like a fitness model.

I recommend you try my suggestions above for the next 30 days and stay consistent.  However, If this all seems a bit overwhelming,  pick as many things from above that you can realistically implement right away and stay consistent.  Diet and exercise are very personal which is why a canned approach rarely works.  We all have different lives, different goals, and different needs. 🙂

To your long term health and fitness!

A Healthy Body Image Is Key to Permanent Weight Loss


Are you searching for some encouraging words on body image? I found a great quote by Oprah Winfrey.  It is such a powerful statement that I want to share it with you and discuss the importance of a healthy self image.

“Say bye-bye to feeling bad about your looks!”


“Say bye-bye to feeling bad about your looks.  Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel physically inadequate? Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others.

This is a call to arms. A call to be gentle, to be forgiving, to be generous with yourself. The next time you look into the mirror, try to let go of the story line that says you’re too fat or too sallow, too ashy or too old, your eyes are too small or your nose too big; just look into the mirror and see your face. When the criticism drops away, what you will see then is just you, without judgment, and that is the first step toward transforming your experience of the world.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Oprah that we have actually allowed the media to make us feel inadequate. We have succumbed to unhealthy diets — and sometimes painful exercise just to “fit in”.

I believe that you were uniquely designed. Some of us are thinner than others. I also believe it is perfectly normal to exercise and eat right so you look great in a bathing suit — or getting those “guns” to look good in a t-shirt. However, not everyone has the time or the desire to look like a model on the cover of a fitness magazine.

Interestingly enough, an unhealthy body image does not discriminate. This type of self-loathing can occur for any body size. When I was a size two, I was never satisfied with my looks. Now, I’m a size 6-8 with lots of curves and I love the way I look. Am I motivated by vanity? Sure I am.  However, I am no longer a slave to it. I exercise, eat healthy, and focus on living a balanced life.

A poor self-image sabotages your weight loss.


An unhealthy body image leads to yo-yo dieting, over training, and unhealthy eating patterns. These patterns can actually cause weight gain. Yo-yo dieting and over training can actually cause your metabolism to slow down. Being unhappy with your body can cause binge eating which will destroy your hard work. At this point, guilt can set in which may lead to depression and often times more binging.

What do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror? Years ago a fellow fitness coach used the phrase “watch your words, your body’s listening!” That forever stuck with me. When you speak negatively about yourself, your subconscious accepts the information as truth.

And, since the brain “fights to be right,” your subconscious will automatically want to carry out what you said about yourself. If you say “I have a big gut,” then your brain will agree. You will do what it takes to maintain that “big gut.” This is not just ooky-spooky hocus pocus. This has been proven by neurologists!

You can develop and maintain a healthy body image — here’s how:


1)  Discover what you want! Take time to write what you want your health and body to look like — not how the media says you should look. Research what it would take to accomplish these goals. Then decide if your goals are realistic and mirror the life you desire. Not everyone wants to be at the gym five days a week. 

Once you have a reasonable set of health and fitness goals, ignore the outside chatter. There will always be some new diet or pill, a well-meaning friend, and Lord knows the magazines waiting to tell you that your plan is not ambitious enough. Or, that their way is better. My favorite is the person posing and asking “don’t you want to look like me?”

Now, I’m not saying to be closed-minded on a better way of doing things. I’m saying you should always question if a health or fitness idea fits into your life and values.

2)  Speak Success! Tell your body what you want, not what you don’t want. When you look in the mirror, use phrases like “I am losing weight,” or “I have a flat stomach.”  In the beginning this can be tough. You tend to think “you are lying.” However, you are not. In my favorite success book, The Bible, it says “speak as if it is already.” This is called faith my friend! You are believing you can accomplish your goals!

Negative thoughts will enter your mind. That’s normal. You’re human! Just don’t let them leave your lips. Replace each negative thought with a positive statement. If that’s tough in the beginning, use one of my favorite personal quotes. If you don’t have anything nice to say about yourself, don’t say anything at all. You wouldn’t say something that mean to a friend, so why say it to yourself?

Leave notes around the house as reminders to speak positively about yourself. This will help you build the mental muscles you will need to make success talk a habit.

3)  Birds of a feather flock together! Pay attention to how your friends talk about their own bodies. Do they have a healthy self-image, or do they tend to put themselves or others down? Now I’m not suggesting you dump all your friends. Sometimes we need to examine if a relationship is healthy for us or not. If you notice friends putting themselves down, take the opportunity to respond with positive attributes you can point out about them. This practice will help you do the same for yourself. And, you will discover people just can’t seem to get enough of you!

A healthy self-image is critical to losing weight and maintaining it without having to be a slave to dieting. This is powerful my friend. Take it seriously!

Have a question or a tip on  overcoming body image issues?  Please comment below. I want to hear from you!

Blessings to you and yours!