There are predators in the fitness industry. Who knew?

Bikram Chowdhury / publicity image from Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)

Bikram Chowdhury / publicity image from Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)

There are predators in the fitness industry. Who knew?

So, Bikram, right?

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a number of clients ask me if I watched the documentary “Bikram: Yoga. Guru. Predator” which is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a cautionary tale of worshipping false idols, extreme capitalism, and enabling the wrongdoings of a predator in exchange for career advancement. The film is eye-opening for some and recycled history for others.

I’ve previously written about yoga and the challenges it is currently facing. From the consumer culture that surrounds a yoga lifestyle to the measures studios are taking to ensure consent in a silent practice, yoga is changing. Podcasts like Yoga is Dead are exploring the toxicity that surrounds yoga from its appropriation by white women to the strict veganism that practically enforces eating disorders. Yoga is having its own reckoning, prompted by questioning devotees who are asking how this solitary form of reflection is now being marketed as a calorie-burning efficient exercise to tone and sculpt.

I actually attended one of Bikram’s classes years ago when I was in Los Angeles. Clad in that tiny speedo and weighed down by that huge Rolex, I joined other devotees in the Hollywood Bowl as he ran us through the set exercises. Starting every single sentence with “the problem with you Americans” and displaying more megalomania than I initially thought humanly possible, the 90-minutes was a sweaty ego-filled circus. I was bemused but others were entranced.

As a trainer, I know that different people respond to different approaches. There are those who want me to be a drill sergeant and those who expect me to be a supportive therapist. Over the years I’ve learned that cruelty is not synonymous with authority or expertise. I can think of other popular fitness gurus, (Jillian Michaels, anyone?) who have built their entire identity and success on a tough-love persona. The idea that you need to break someone down and then build them up to achieve results has more to do with the trainer than their students. They want to be seen as the only person who can create results. They want to be idolized and admired for being the single truth teller in a sea of complicity. And they do this by using their ego to manipulate their followers.

Until something breaks. Maybe they let their podcast audience know that it’s okay for a pregnant woman to have a glass of wine with dinner or encourage them to reject antidepressants because they cause weight gain. Maybe they pay special attention to the young women in their class and touch them inappropriately under the guise of an adjustment. Predators and bullies are everywhere and it’s up to you to detach yourself from them the moment you feel uncomfortable. If their behaviour is criminal, then report it. If it’s foolish then unsubscribe.

We all have the power to take care of ourselves and others. We don’t need investigative journalists and documentarians to confirm that icky feeling. If something feels wrong, it probably is. This journey is about self-improvement and self-presentation, so don’t fall under the spell of someone who fails on all accounts.

Fake meat may be getting a lot of play, but is it healthy?

Fake meat or the real thing? This soy-based product can be made to "bleed" red just like animal flesh. Image source: Anthony Lindsay Photography/Impossible Foods

Fake meat or the real thing? This soy-based product can be made to "bleed" red just like animal flesh. Image source: Anthony Lindsay Photography/Impossible Foods

Fake meat may be getting a lot of play, but is it healthy?

This summer, fake meat went mainstream. It felt like every restaurant chain was boasting meat-free versions of their menu options. Products like The Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat moved confidently to the frozen food section. Even the most committed carnivores tried meat replacement burgers, chick’n fillets, and kale sausages. When products advertised themselves as reputable substitutes to meat, they emphasized their texture and taste. Like the Pepsi challenge of the 1980s, meat eaters were being fooled into accidentally eating vegan — and they weren’t complaining.

Veggie burgers have come a long way. Once constructed from peas, corn, and some sort of sawdust-like binding agent, it was rare to find a vegetarian option that didn’t need to be smothered in sauces to become edible. As soy products evolved with a societal demand, and we learned that being meat-free didn’t mean we were relegated to soft tofu, vegetarian brands became supermarket staples. For many people, the flexitarian lifestyle (eating a mostly vegetarian diet, occasionally including meat) is a healthy solution.

It’s rare that your vegan best friend will complain that they miss the taste and texture of beef or the crackle of chicken skin. When you think about it, meat replacement products that boast these attributes are geared towards the occasional meat eater. So if you love the taste of a burger, but find the sustainability of raising cattle hard to stomach, beefless alternatives are worth a try. Plant-based burgers use less water and generate less greenhouse gases.

But, let’s not lie to ourselves. A burger is a burger. And a burger, impossible or not, is not healthy. They contain mostly soy or wheat protein, as well as added preservatives, salt, flavourings, and fillers to enhance its taste, shelf life, and texture. The Impossible Burger has more sodium with 370 milligrams, or about 16 percent of the recommended daily ceiling versus 82 milligrams in a beef burger.

Would I recommend switching to these new meatless products for health? The simple answer is no. If you are sensitive to soy, salt, or wheat, these new burgers should be avoided. There are other alternatives, though they have not received the benefit of the buzz media cycle, that contain whole grains and legumes that would be a considerable alternative. They are the more traditional veggie burgers and contain less genetically modified and processed ingredients.

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional burger — be it beef, turkey, chicken, soy, or bean. While increasing options to suit all dietary restrictions is a positive step, we have to educate ourselves about our choices. We also have to be truthful and ask ourselves why are we deciding to eat something — is it for ethical reasons, or because we think it is better for us? By questioning the hype cycle, and becoming informed consumers, we can make better choices for ourselves and for the welfare of the planet.