Peloton Has Helped Make Fitness a More Welcoming Place with Health At Every Size Principles
They're defying the stereotypes of what a fitness brand should focus on, and we're here for it.
Since riders first clipped in for live and on-demand classes in 2014, Peloton has been a favorite amongst fitness fanatics. Cyclists, yogis, and runners flocked to the New York studio to take a class in person, while hundreds (sometimes thousands) more followed along at home via live and on-demand classes. And while the brand has faced its fair share of ups (see: eye-popping growth during the pandemic) and downs (such as company-wide layoffs and a safety recall of the Tread+), one constant has been the strong community created by members and instructors, many of whom have amassed a celebrity-like following. The trainers each have their own personality and teaching style but there are some common themes no matter whose class you take — camaraderie, empowerment, and inclusivity. The vibe? That anyone can feel welcome in the Peloton family — including those who follow the Health At Every Size (HAES) approach to health.
Here's how Peloton has created an environment — both virtual and IRL — where this inclusive, weight-agnostic approach to health and fitness is both welcomed and encouraged. Plus, read more about why empowering instructors who hype up your strength may be key to your movement motivation.
Understanding Health At Every Size (HAES)
Under Health At Every Size (which was trademarked by the Association for Size Diversity and Health in 2003), weight isn't a precise, complete measure of health, and a holistic view of your health doesn't rely on the scale. Instead, according to the HAES framework, a person can be "healthy" regardless of weight or body type — and in fact, no specific weight or body type should be condemned nor celebrated.
"In diet culture, exercise is often viewed as a harsh and punishing regime that focuses on losing weight," explains Alexis Conason, Psy.D., a HAES-aligned clinical psychologist. "In an anti-diet or HAES-informed approach, the focus is on moving your body in ways that feel enjoyable." Feeling empowered rather than defeated is key to a HAES approach to fitness for anyone with a history of disordered eating, says Conason. So, hate running but love a living room dance party? No problem, according to the principles of HAES — you do you. Additionally, the HAES view of health is more expansive than simply focusing on diet and exercise (and how they impact weight). Instead, the HAES principles consider how these factors are only one part of someone's overall health, along with aspects such as a supportive community, helpful public health policies, and emotional and mental health.
Why HAES Principles Matter In Fitness
For anyone HAES-aligned or in a larger body, the "gym-timidation" factor of trying a new workout makes Peloton even more appealing. When Emily Ho, a plus-size fashion blogger who says she aligns with HAES principles, relocated and had to leave her old gym, she avoided joining a new one out of fear that she'd face bullying or weight stigmatization. Instead, Ho decided to buy a Peloton Bike. After all, she'd loved cycling classes in the past, and cycling at home would be way more comfortable than navigating packed studios.
Once she began riding, Ho was pleasantly surprised to realize that Peloton's workouts were aligned with her HAES beliefs, thanks to instructors who used empowering, inclusive encouragement rather than harmful diet-culture language (think: encouraging riders to "work off" a certain food or earn their next meal).
"I didn't know [Peloton] was going to be more weight-neutral," explains Ho. "I didn't buy it thinking, 'this is an inclusive thing for me to do.'" Plus, she says she appreciated how instructors strike a balance between offering encouragement and not pushing members to go all out for every single workout.
"There's power in how Peloton instructors continually remind you to adapt to what you need," she explains. "It's affirming." Following a workout to the letter — if it doesn't jive with your wellness goals or you feel uncomfortable with the instructor's style — can unintentionally reinforce diet culture mentality since you might be idealizing a certain weight or body type that particular workout purports to help you achieve. Taking your workout into your own hands, meanwhile, supports your own body autonomy and the HAES principle of engaging in life-enhancing movement, whatever that looks like for you.
Knowing that she's in control of her own workouts has helped Ho find "joyful movement" that aligns with her HAES philosophy, she explains. And research suggests that finding intrinsic motivation for movement is going to be more sustainable than working out for appearance or other extrinsic motivators. ICYDK, intrinsic motivation is when people engage in an activity because they find it exciting and inherently satisfying, as Samantha Gambino, Psy.D., previously told Shape. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is driven by rewards and punishments.
How HAES-Aligned Instructors Impact Motivation
For those aligning with HAES principles as part of an eating disorder recovery, instructor messaging becomes even more impactful, says Conason. "It can be really harmful to someone in eating disorder recovery to go to a fitness class and hear the instructor say the same things that their eating disorder is telling them," she explains.
Peloton member Mollie Johnson* discovered the HAES approach following a struggle with disordered eating in college. Now, she feels safe taking Peloton classes, knowing that she won't be triggered by an instructor promoting diet culture with messages such as "losing inches" or "getting smaller."
"Peloton classes never mentioned any of the key phrases I would associate with diet culture," shares Johnson. Instructor Ally Love is a personal fave of hers. "She's very good at orienting her language around feeling good, and I often leave her classes feeling empowered," says Johnson.
And news flash: An instructor who encourages you by referencing your strength and abilities is likely to motivate you more than someone who falls back on toxic diet culture as "motivation." A 2018 study found that during exercise, people reported more positive emotions and higher body satisfaction if their instructors made motivational comments focused on strength rather than losing weight or changing their appearance. Translation: An instructor that hypes you up makes you feel way better than one that tears you down.
All the Ways Peloton Instructors Are Bringing HAES to Life
No matter what kind of Peloton classes you enjoy, there is an instructor sending inclusive, empowering vibes through the Peloton screen. From Christine D'Ercole, who tells riders "you are bigger than a smaller pair of pants," to Chelsea Jackson Roberts, Ph.D., who cues options for yogis with bigger chests and stomachs, it's clear Peloton instructors are building a welcoming space with their words.
Plus, instructors have the exercise science expertise to back up the "why" behind movements — which, in true HAES fashion, is never focused on changing your appearance or losing weight. Instead, you're way more likely to hear Callie Gullickson gush about how deadlifts help her lift her Trader Joe's bags.
Peloton also rolls out the welcome mat to all fitness levels through their programming, such as "You Can Ride" beginner cycling program or workouts filtered by difficulty level. On the strength side, members can take trainer Rebecca Kennedy's standing abs workouts as an alternative to floor programs (which can be uncomfortable with a large chest or stomach). Logan Aldrige, Peloton's first adaptive trainer, offers modifications and representation for adaptive athletes, and with the new Peloton Rower, members can take classes with Ash Pryor, Peloton rowing instructor, who's spoken out publicly against the fat-shaming comments she's received as a fitness instructor who doesn't fit the thin ideal.
Cycling instructor Camila Ramón, who's shared her own body image journey with riders, knows the power of inclusion — especially in the world of fitness.
"I think we celebrate our members for who they are," she says. "We don't try to push a narrative of what training should look like for people. We focus on strength, mental resilience, and athleticism, which looks different on every body."
Aligning with HAES is a way for Ramón to help members fight back against the diet culture narrative that's been sold to us for so long, she explains.
"HAES meant putting my foot down to my internal critic," she says. "It's about focusing on the things that make you feel your best."