A crusader for change in the health and fitness industry, 27-year-old Conrad Goodhew is flipping the script when it comes to combating the negative impact that body image is having on the physical and mental health of young Kiwi sportsmen and women.
‘The perception that pursuing the perfect social media “before and after” shot will make us happy and healthy, must change. Young athletes need to feel confident about their health by focusing on establishing good habits that enhance their performance and support their mental health over the long term. Quick-fix diets and programmes are just messing with their heads psychologically.’
Hot or Healthy?
A passionate sportsman himself, Conrad slammed head first into the dangers surrounding the pursuit of the ‘hot body’ over healthy living, when a friend suggested he try the Paleo Diet. At the time, Conrad was strongly embedded in competitive rugby (even having played for Manawatū under-18s as a teenager) and was taking performance improvement seriously.
‘I was a skinny white boy from Whangārei, assuming if I did this diet I’d get big and ripped! But I quickly realised that as a performance athlete, I needed my carbohydrates. There had to be a better way, so I began seriously investigating for myself.’
Conrad is now a qualified and practicing Sports Performance Dietitian, working with young professional athletes. He also holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Supplementary Nutrition and Food Service Management, as well as a Masters of Dietetics.
But Conrad doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to telling it like it is.
‘The influence of social media means there’s a lot of misinformation about health and nutrition. Everyone wants to be skinny and look good because that’s what they’re seeing everyday online. But it’s such a distorted picture. This obviously has a physiological impact as disordered eating develops—hence the psychological issues that result.’
Loving the Process
Conrad wants to see people genuinely enjoying their lives.
‘The message I’m trying to bring is about loving the process of living a healthy lifestyle. Focusing on the “before and after” shots, rather than the benefits of long-term healthy living, results in people feeling unhappy about their bodies or performance, and therefore their lives.
‘Exercise makes us feel good because it releases dopamine and endorphins—the “feel good” chemicals. But sadly, people get so focused on the end goal that exercise and nutrition become associated with the negativity of deprivation instead. Having the mindset that you can’t have treats or touch certain foods—that’s no way to live!’
Conrad is especially concerned about the rise of ‘orthorexia’ among athletes and young people. Anorexia is a diagnosable psychological illness, but orthorexia is a new kind of disordered eating.
‘Orthorexia is the result of obsessive “clean eating”. There’s this new language developing around food that doesn’t encompass the full picture of healthy eating. This idea has arisen that if we eat perfectly, we’ll have the perfect body. But what we’re seeing is people becoming malnourished and deficient in certain nutrients, with health complications being the consequence of taking clean eating to the extreme.’
All or Nothing?
The fitness industry is leaping onto the bandwagon of this obsession with so many ‘quick fix’ programmes increasingly available. But they do more harm than good, Conrad warns.
‘I see it all the time. People see the advertisements and sign up and fall into this “all or nothing” mentality. People start well, but when it gets hard or they get sick and fall off the wagon early, they give up hope about losing weight or becoming stronger. But this is not how good nutrition works. Our bodies are actually very resistant to the “all or nothing” approach.’
Conrad has concluded that an unhelpful ‘gloss’ surrounds the clean-eating phenomenon. ‘There’s this perception that it’s something good, but this is a false picture.
‘I’ve been to BBQs where people bring their own food because they don’t want to have “bad” food, or they’re tracking their calories. And that’s all very well and good, but if you’re going to someone’s place to celebrate their birthday, but you can’t even share a piece of cake, then you’ve become stuck in this obsessive diet culture. Not only is it hurting you physically and mentally, but now it’s affecting you socially, by causing tension in your relationships with others.’
Holistic and Healthy
Youth workers will be familiar with the Hauroa Wellbeing model, or Te Whare Tapa Whā, which Conrad fully endorses.
‘We are social, spiritual, physical and emotional beings. “Quick fix” programmes ignore this bigger holistic picture. Even an elite athlete can’t be expected to live an utterly restrictive lifestyle without it detrimentally affecting other important facets of life.’
Conrad wants to see a mindset change not only in the fitness industry, but in general societal attitudes towards healthy living.
‘I have a lot of clients who come to me and want to live a healthier life. Some don’t lose weight, but their whole social and emotional life—how they spend time with their family—changes completely because, for example, they’re more active.
How Many ‘Likes’ Did You Get?
Conrad wants all of us to understand that social media ‘likes’ are poor indicators of success and don’t translate into happiness.
‘Guys with their shirts off, waxed and covered in fake tan—that’s not normal! Science tells us that getting “likes” on a buff chest shot makes you feel good, but, conversely, not getting a like has a detrimental effect, so people keep chasing the “likes” to feel good. This is a problem.’
It's All About Balance
Conrad wants young people to understand that there’s so much more to life.
‘Social media is a very small and narrow world in terms of what life has to offer. Top sports players and business leaders generally don’t put half-naked pictures of themselves online, because they’re out there living well-balanced lives, enjoying what they do and spending time with their friends and families. They’re often out there living the life people on social media are desiring—we must disconnect to reconnect with reality.
‘Life is about balance—work hard, play hard and rest well. If you’re not happy with your life, with what you’re doing, make some changes,’ he advises.
When it comes to living a healthy, holistically fulfilling life, try these tips:
1 Love what you do. Choose a sport or activity that gets you moving, that you really enjoy. And get out there and do it.
2 Work hard. You can’t go through life with your hand out—if you want to be successful, apply yourself.
3 Have down time. Find the balance between working hard and recovering. Rest well. Figure out what relaxes you and enables you to reflect.
4 Remember that life is about the long game. Don’t sell yourself short by chasing the quick fixes. Take your time and enjoy your life.