Today we’d like to introduce you to Emily Decker.
Emily, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am an anti-diet-culture CrossFit coach, personal trainer, and mental health advocate working to increase the body-friendliness of the fitness industry.
I originally set out to be a therapist after receiving my master’s degree in social work from USC. But when I graduated in 2013, my own lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety hit a peak, and I developed a rare disorder called depersonalization derealization syndrome. By 2014, I was holed up in my apartment, working from home as a research associate, and only leaving for therapy and acting class. I knew I needed to move my anxious energy, but running outside, which had been a lifeline for 15 years, was now just another source of anxiety.
After a quick Google search for an intense indoor workout, I ended up at a CrossFit box and was instantly addicted. Looking forward to sweating it out and seeing the same friendly faces at 6:30 pm every day got me through the afternoons when nothing else could. I eventually quit my research position and became a full-time CrossFit coach.
As I’ve experienced the fitness industry through a social work lens, I’ve seen so many things that need to change. I’ve honed my focus on how fitness can empower ALL bodies and minds, when explored with mindfulness and without body measurements and food-shaming. These goals inform my private training and coaching at CrossFit Mindset, and the messages I share on Instagram at @emilydeckerfitness.
Has it been a smooth road?
When you’re working against the status quo, nothing is ever smooth! The first fitness-for-empowerment group I developed was a woman’s beginner CrossFit class at my previous gym, CrossFit Santa Monica. This weekly hour of squatting to Britney Spears songs was surprisingly threatening to some. While the owners of the box were the biggest supporters of this fun and lively group, others were constantly arguing with me about the “unfairness” of a woman-only class. But the online trolling and angry DMs made me even more convinced that safe spaces for exercise NEED to exist.
Creating a safe space for exercise became my number one criteria after I relocated to the East side of LA. But as I was interviewing at gyms, I was finding over and over the same diet culture mentality and promotion of one body type as “good” and another as “needs work.” I am so blessed I found CrossFit Mindset, where the values of community, acceptance, and mindfulness inform the gym structure from the top down. The owner, Alan Sereboff, and I are continually discussing how to increase the body-friendliness and inclusivity of the box. It’s become the perfect home for my private training business, where body acceptance and mindful exercise are my top priorities.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Emily Decker Fitness story. Tell us more about the business.
What sets me apart as a trainer is that I emphasize mindset work and body image awareness in place of dietary restrictions and body monitoring. I can’t in good faith weigh and measure my clients when I know that body-monitoring and food restriction are detrimental to mental health. I can’t encourage diets when I know that they fail longterm, harming bodies, minds, metabolism, and our collective body image in the process. When so many bodies are shamed for just existing in a thin-obsessed society, the quest to fit in has resulted in an unhealthy idea of “health.” Orthorexia–the obsession of eating “clean”–is now a diagnosable mental disorder. Eating is human! Moving is human! Movement should be fun, accessible, and encouraging because movement for joy and self-love is the most effective and sustainable way to stay moving and to keep both your mind and body truly healthy in the process.
With this mentality, my clients work WITH their bodies for a win without the threat of punishment for a loss. Their motivation becomes internal, driven by care and love for themselves. The most sustainable results happen when people feel driven to work out of love and trust for what their bodies can do.
I am most proud of every personal record clients set, every handstand they learn, every lift they are able to execute properly because they’ve dedicated time to mobilizing, and every time they tell me they don’t weigh themselves anymore because the scale no longer controls them. In the running challenge I held on Instagram in May, multiple people didn’t think they could run a whole mile, and sure enough, they could. One challenger thought she couldn’t get 25 miles in a month and went on to run 60. Another participant was afraid to join and is now training for a marathon. I’ve seen so many breakthroughs that whenever someone tells me they can’t do something, I respond, “can’t do that YET.”
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Diet culture’s days are numbered. As the research continues to show the risks and longterm effects of any form of restriction, the wave of the future is intuitive eating–eating mindfully based on what your body wants, with no food off limits. Intuitive eating is not easy when we’ve all been raised to ignore body signals and have been rewarded for doing so. But if this generation can become accustomed to it, the next one won’t have to work so hard to fight for peace with food.
I also believe that as clothing companies and gyms become more inclusive of and friendly to all body sizes, we’ll see fitness become accessible and enjoyable in general. The fitness industry has been alienating whole groups of people with their covert body shaming. Before-and-after pictures of small bodies getting smaller, and phrases like, “Get your summer body!” “Get bikini ready!” imply that your body as is NOW shouldn’t feel good to you. Punishing ourselves in pursuit of a day in the future when we’re small enough to be friends with our bodies isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t the business I’m in anymore. As individual trainers and whole companies start rallying against this kind of marketing, I believe the fitness industry can make the shift to body friendliness and improve overall health for more people in the long run. And I’ll continue to work to make it happen.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @emilydeckerfitness
Matthew Wyman, Ellen Hancock, Annette Luna