Considering how much effort I put into building my knowledge, brand, and platform as a fitness expert, I threw it all away pretty fast, and with no regrets.
I got into it because I was pissed off. I also left it because I was pissed off. It takes some explaining.
I started my personal fitness transformation 26 years ago, at the age of 25. In so doing, I became aware of just how much bullshit permeated the industry. But I was a skeptical bastard and didn’t fall for it, despite how pervasive it was. I had it in my head that it was hard work to get fit and required a caloric deficit to lose weight. I had my mom to thank for this: I’d witnessed her try and fail with every fad diet and weight loss scam over and over.
That was the first pissed off instance: how the fitness and weight loss industry was a cesspool of pseudoscience, quackery, and scams. I wanted to be a voice of reason.
When I was 40, I was tired of the MBA marketing executive stuff and wanted to pursue my passion for writing. Since fitness was something I knew a lot about, and I was pissed off at how much bullshit people were being sold, I endeavored to carve out a path as a science-based writer who exposed such bullshit. Within a year, I was the fitness columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Two years later I was writing for the Chicago Tribune and those pieces were being republished in major outlets worldwide. I’ve also written hundreds of pieces for AskMen and Chatelaine, and been published in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, TIME Magazine, the Guardian, and a bunch of other places. I also have published hundreds of fitness pieces on this blog, which has millions of readers.
In 2014 I wrote a science-based weight loss book titled Lose it Right that was published by Random House Canada.
I will say that while I was angered at all the bullshit, I met some of the finest people alive by working in fitness. The bullshitters may be the most vocal and have the largest marketing budgets, but there were plenty of good, honest, hard-working heroes I encountered. I have made lifelong friends with people who got into fitness because they genuinely care about helping people.
I didn’t leave because I felt it was a lost cause. Rather, I think I was one of the people that helped move the needle. My voice and others did a lot to make people aware of the bullshit, and how to change their behaviors to embrace fit and healthy lifestyles. We fought the good fight and we gained ground. I’m proud of my accomplishments.
Toxicity in the Fitness Industry
This isn’t about buying detox tea from some Instagram model. It’s about things like fat shaming, sexism, racism, and full-blown white supremacy. Despite all those awesome people, there are also a bunch of bigoted troglodytes. It’s bigots on steroids, which is both a metaphor and sometimes literal.
I fought that fight too, and helped to make some progress. Yet in 2018 I learned that one of my friends in the fitness industry was a sexual predator who used his popularity and position of authority to assault women and get away with it for years. It created a schism between those who cut ties and those willing to let it slide. I was the in the former group, and seeing how many were willing to easily forgive his numerous transgressions, shame those who spoke up, downplay what he did etc. soured me on a lot of it.
But that was only part of it.
Ground Zero for Stupid Diets
That’s what my agent said the United States is.
I wanted to get a book deal with a major U.S. publishing house, and my agent said, “The problem is, no one wants debunking. People like bunk.”
I wrote a weight loss book I’m proud of. It sold to the biggest publisher in Canada and did well here, but we couldn’t get American interest from a major publishing house. If I was willing to write some trash about how the keto diet cures cancer, I would have been off to the races, but that wasn’t going to happen.
So, I evolved beyond fitness and weight loss. I’d mostly been writing about motivation anyway, and if you can motivate people to lose weight, you can motivate them to do anything. What’s more, I’d uncovered an exciting and rarely explored aspect of motivation – that of the sudden, transformative epiphany that comes with an abundance of motivation to set a new course – that I was excited to write about. I didn’t just get the U.S. deal, but we also sold it to a big house in the U.K. It was my first stage in moving beyond fitness with the publishing of my second book, The Holy Sh!t Moment.
Been There, Done That
I was also craving a change. I’d written hundreds of articles on fitness, often breaking into new territory, but I was getting bored. I remembered what it was like to tackle a new subject in fitness, one where I was determined to write the definitive piece on the subject, chasing down the best interview subjects and digging deep to explore aspects others had not. I used to be excited to do that, but I’d done it so many times in that genre that the thrill was gone.
Finding Where I Belong
I got into fitness because I care, because I wanted to help people. Once there, I did my best to help change it from the inside, including being an early voice to speak out against fat shaming and embrace body positivity. One of the other things that bothered me was all the crap about being an “alpha male.” Just … barf.
The whole desire to be an alpha male bullshit was linked with the Elliot Rodger massacre in 2014. That was my breaking point, so I wrote a piece titled “The Myth of the Alpha Male” and was pleasantly surprised to see how many young male trainers lauded and shared the piece. It went viral and also led to a gig writing for TIME Magazine, where I spoke out against so-called men’s rights activism.
And over the past six years I’ve taken more and more interest in issues of social justice, exposing bigotry, and encouraging people to do better. The most popular article on my site isn’t about fitness. It’s about how men often feel entitled to women’s bodies, titled “She Doesn’t Owe You Shit.” And last summer Chris “Captain America” Evans retweeted a short piece I wrote on the stupidity of straight pride parades and it ended up being republished in numerous media, getting read by tens of millions of people.
I’ve been called “social justice warrior” too many times to count. I do not consider this an insult.
In The Holy Sh!t Moment I interviewed a trans woman whose life-changing epiphany was about her gender identity. I also interviewed feminist icon Kathrine Switzer about the epiphany she had to get more women into running. And the overarching premise of the book isn’t finding motivation for purposes of self-aggrandizement, but to help make both you and the world better. Over the years I’ve written over a hundred articles that were focused on social justice, and often many people have asked me to “stick to fitness,” because they didn’t want to read this social justice warrior stuff.
But I’m not sticking to fitness. With the exception of volunteering as a trainer for people with disabilities, I’m mostly done with it, although you may still see the odd article here and there.
I’m not focusing solely on matters of social justice now because those pieces are my most popular ones. Those pieces are my most popular ones because I’m good at it, and I’m good at it because I care. And it seems others care too, based on the feedback I’ve received. If you are new here, I’ve put a sample of some of my better pieces on my FAQ page.
I’m focusing on social justice now, and have largely left fitness behind, as I mentioned earlier, because I was pissed off. I am angry at the lack of caring and compassion in the world, and the prevalence of greed and hatred. I want to do something about it. I want to help make things better.
My next book is going to be focused on matters of social justice, based on the article “Be a Hero” and its sequel “Put Yourself in Harm’s Way.”
But it’s not just writing. I do public speaking on matters of social justice and using one’s privilege for good. You can learn more about my speaking topics on my Speaking page. If you or someone you know needs a good speaker at your event, I’d be delighted, so please reach out.
So, there you go. That’s why, despite my URL still being BodyForWife.com, I’m not really a fitness guy anymore.
I feel like I have ended up right where I belong.
My new book THE HOLY SH!T MOMENT, is now available. GET IT HERE!
You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
READ / PROVIDE COMMENTS FOR THIS ARTICLE
James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.