Can Doing Crunches Really Lift Your Self-Esteem? The Full Interview

working out improves self esteem

The Well-Rounded Health Series: Part 2

Emotional health is tied to more than just counseling and dealing with your feelings. In so many ways, how you care for your body impacts how you feel inside. I decided to do a series on how to keep well-rounded health, where we will explore how physical health is tied to your emotional health.


Working out improves self esteem.

I asked Gwen of San Diego Mission Fit Camp how attending a fitness camp can raise your self-esteem and emotional well-being, and here is what she had to say.

What inspired you to start working in fitness boot camps?

I started teaching Fitness Classes part time when I was in college, and upon graduation continued teaching a few classes before and after work, as I pursued a career in Public Relations. Originally I thought I would work at a gym a few hours each week to just to get the free membership, but quickly found that the best part of each day was waking up at 5am to teach a 6am spin class before going to my “day job.”  Unfulfilled by my cubicle-bound entry level job I decided to try my hand at event planning and worked for a year with a Catering company in San Francisco.  I soon realized that serving fattening foods to wealthy clients wasn’t fulfilling what I was sought as my life’s purpose.  All the while I was still teaching fitness classes in the early mornings and late evenings, and my classes were growing, and my participants gave me great feedback.  I felt inspired and motivated by inspiring and motivating them.  I found a job listing for a boot camp instructor position and quit my safe, secure, salaried position for an hourly “independent contractor” job at Boot Camp SF.  I was soon teaching 6 classes per day, outside to a variety of clients, and worked with them closely each session to help them achieve their oals.  To some, I was introducing fitness for the first time, to others, breaking them out of their “rut” in the gym, or pushing them to achieve new levels.  In the 3 years that I worked for Boot Camp SF, I felt like I had really made a difference in many people’s lives, but knew that if I ever wanted to advance in my career I had to start my own company.  I relocated to San Diego, in search of better weather, cheaper rent, and a fresh client pool, and founded Mission Fit Camp. Now it it’s third year, I continue to change lives in a very meaningful, measurable way, and am still inspired and motivated by the commitment and drive of those I train.

How do you think taking care of the body helps you feel better internally?

self esteem working out adviceExercise is a powerful mood elevator.  The endorphins that are released after a workout puts clients in a better state of mind. Breathing deeper during fitness oxygenates the blood and clears the brain.  Exercising helps aid the function of all organs in the body, so our hormones are better regulated, our digestive system runs smoother, our lungs breathe deeper and our heart works more efficiently.  Also, just by making the decision to allocate a little time and money each day on our health, we are showing that we value it and make it a priority.  I believe that just about everyone knows that they are supposed to exercise.  The messages are all around us.  When we don’t there is some guilt there, just like if our room is messy, if our bills aren’t paid, if we go more than 6 months without getting our teeth cleaned at the dentist.  We know we are supposed to be doing it, and the time and mental energy we spend stressing about the fact that we are not, is unhealthy.  Just by getting in a workout, we reduce the stress and worry of “man I really should have gotten to the gym today” which puts us in a better state of mind as well.  Time and time again I hear from clients that when their lives get very busy with commitments to others, and they fail to honor commitments to themselves (i.e. exercising regularly) it makes them feel guilty, angry and powerless. Clients who have been active for a long time, who stop their routine for whatever reason, tell me that they miss the mental release just as much as the physical strength.  There is a calm that you feel after your heart rate has come down, and you’ve stretched your muscles, and changed your clothes.  The physical act of exercise produces a healthier mindset in all of the above ways.  I always joke that the hamster’s favorite thing in it’s cage is it’s wheel.  We are creatures as well, and if we are car seat, desk chair and couch bound all day, we miss out on all of the physical and mental rewards of moving.

How has staying active in boot camps helped transformed your life and wellness (or the life of someone you know)?

The best example I can think of is a client I had about a year ago. He was a young, single desk-bound technology professional, who was about 50lbs overweight.  He started Fit Camp at a pretty low fitness level, and attended four 6 AM classes each week for 4 weeks.  That month we were having a 4-week sobriety challenge (it was January, and a popular time to “detox” to lose holiday weight) and he quit drinking which led him to eat healthier, have more active weekends, and cut out late night bar food and heavy brunches.  He lost 17 pounds that month.  I got to know him pretty well, as our class sizes are small, and in the months that followed I watched him change not only his body and appearance, but he started making many other changes in his life.  He quit his job and left San Diego to work on a film crew documenting humanitarian aid on a ship that brings doctors to sick children off the coast of Africa.  His job is no longer in a cubicle, sitting for 8-10 hours each day, but now on his feet, seeing the world, and meeting all different types of people.  From what I can tell as Ifollow him on facebook, he is happier more now then ever. I’m not sure if the workouts gave him some clarity – perhaps a moment out of his daily grind to connect with himself and discover what he wanted out of life, or if the weight loss empowered him to continue to make big changes, but it was as if I saw him go from crawling, to walking, to running, to flying over my head, and I am so proud to be a part of, maybe even catalyst for his life change.

What are the self-esteem benefits of eating right and exercising?

self esteem working advice san diegoIf we eat right and exercise, our body functions at it’s best level of performance, and we feel good about that.  If we are at a healthy weight, feel like we have at least a baseline level of functional fitness (if I need to jog to my gate to catch a flight, I can) we feel more free.  When our body is hindered by excessive fat or limited functional fitness, we feel trapped, and limited in what we can do.  You start to hear more “I can’t” statements from those who are obese, or sedentary.  By challenging ourselves in workouts, we continue to grow, and suddenly “I can” or “I can try” start to enter our vocabulary.  Believing we can raises our self esteem.  Knowing that we put work into ourselves and it paid off makes us feel accomplished. Eating right is key to maintaining a healthy weight, which lends itself to a healthier body image, and therefore higher self esteem as well.  It ties back to self value as well.  In this era, the easier and cheaper way to live is by eating unhealthy and being sedentary.  Drive through restaurants are the best example of this.  For $1 per item you can have dinner in 5 minutes and you don’t even have to stand up to get out of your car.  If you instead dedicate the time to exercise, grocery shop, cook at home, and the money to eat fresh foods, join a gym or sign up for a boot camp, you are showing yourself that you put value on your health, and this will make you feel like a higher priority in your own life, and raise your self esteem.

What do you recommend as the first step for getting on track in health and wellness?

Do what you love.  Just like you are unlikely to succeed in a job that does not make you happy, you are unlikely to stick with a workout routine that you don’t like and look forward to.  If you get nauseus just thinking about walking into a big gym or bored visualizing yourself in a yoga class, then keep trying different forms of exercise until you find one that makes your tail wag.  Not everyone likes fitness, and that’s ok – what about a sport?  Some people like dancing, or manual labor (habitat for humanity) or competition (running 5K races for best personal time).  Some people like looking in the mirror when they lift weights, others like swimming in the ocean.  Different workouts require different skill levels, and yield different results – so if you are results driven and want a “ballet body” then a barre class is probably best for you.  Also, think about how committed you are when you start.  Some modes of exercise will require a high level of accountability, like a personal trainer who will charge you if you don’t show, whereas others require you to be very self motivated, like shooting hoops at a public basketball court or jogging around your neighborhood.  In this era of Groupon and other daily deal sites, you can inexpensively try many different fitness options – from small pilates studios where the instructor will know your name and everyone will see you in the mirror – to outdoor boot camps where you will feel like a kid at recess as you listen to birds or the ocean instead of top 40 hits.

The end goal is to move more and eat less junk.  From my experience, those who exercise feel a connection with their body and don’t want to “undo” all of the time and money that they invested in their health, so begin to make better eating decisions as well. For those 100+ pounds overweight – start with a healthier diet, and some very basic low impact exercise – like walking or riding a stationary bicycle.  The diet will be enough in the beginning to slim you down to a weight that you can more safely and comfortably participate in other fitness activities.

How can participating in a boot camp improve emotional health?

Boot camp improves emotional help in two main ways.  The first is the mood elevating effects of strenuous exercise, pride in knowing that you achieved something challenging to you, and the endorphins that follow. The second way (outdoor) boot camp improves emotional health is that it is a group workout without the distraction of mirrors and music – clients get to know each other in a noncompetitive nonthreatening way, and trust each other very often for partner or body weight drills. Every day at Mission Fit Camp, the same small group of 5-15 clients gather together with a common purpose and passion, to finish the class stronger then when they began it, and to become healthier by the end of the program.  By fostering healthy relationships, not only do clients enjoy the hour more, but they leave in a better emotional state then when they arrived to class.  During the rest of the day, they may have to negotiate with clients, discipline their children, confront their coworkers, but in the hour at Fit Camp, everyone is working together and supporting each other to achieve their shared goals.  To live a healthier, happier life.

About Jennine Estes, MFT

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653