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Peace, Healing and the Overweight Body

Rochelle Rice provides plus-size women with the tools to see beauty in their bodies.

Subject: Rochelle Rice, MA

Company: In Fitness & In Health

Finding Her Calling. To speak with Rochelle Rice is an inspiring experience. A New Yorker through and through, she is a pint-size dynamo with a voice that commands both authority and empathy and a smile that elicits instant trust. She is a regular presenter on the conference circuit, and for good reason. Her dedication to helping plus-size women reconnect with their bodies and find freedom of movement has inspired clients and colleagues to push past and break down the myths of today’s society. Rice first joined the fitness industry in the mid 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1996 that she shifted her focus to the overweight population and opened In Fitness & In Health Wellness Center for plus-size women in midtown Manhattan. “I am blessed to know that this is the work I am meant to do in this lifetime,” says Rice. This “work” has taught her that it’s not about achieving the body of the past or the future; it’s about achieving comfort in the body of today.

Understanding the Client. “When I first started working with the overweight population, it was a specialty,” she recalls. “Ten years ago we were trying to help people understand they could be ‘fit and fat.’ Today, overweight is the American population.” And it’s a population, according to Rice, that is not properly served by enough trainers who are truly interested in carving out a niche. “Trainers need to determine whether they can work with this population, without judgment or prejudice,” she advises. “Trainers can physically move the overweight client, but the movement itself, or the touch of a trainer, may dissociate the person from her body even more.” Such dissociation may lead to continued conflict and more negative self-imagery. “The greatest challenge [in helping this population] is facilitating a ray of hope for the overweight client [so she can] truly begin to trust her body—a body that she may feel has betrayed her for most of her life.”

Making the Connection. Rice insists that clients learn to disconnect with the numbers on the scale and reconnect with their bodies. She has found that this is best accomplished through understanding of anatomical, emotional and practical perspectives. “Believing and creating trust that the body can move, no matter what size, helps build the bridge from an inactive to an active lifestyle,” Rice says. “It is my belief that we are seeing little success with sustaining weight loss because people are not connecting with themselves on a deeper level.”

In order to learn more about connecting with the body, Rice closed her facility and began to devote more time to enhancing her education with training that would “help me to see the whole person clearly and to better offer skills and tools to help clients connect to their body.”

Custom Programming. Despite closing her facility, Rice still provides private training, group classes and a “Size Sensitivity Training” course for health professionals at various facilities in New York. “‘Broadway Babes’ is the favorite hot group class,” she says. “I choreograph to Broadway show songs using props like boas for Dreamgirls and derby hats for A Chorus Line.” In another program, Rice integrates “the feeling states of digestion” into a 6-week yoga program in which “clients begin to differentiate between fat, abdominal muscle, abdominal tension and digestion.” She also hosts a wellness weekend once each summer, featuring workshops such as “Breathe & Eat”; “The Gym Class You Wish You Had”; and “Art Experiential.”

Self-Reflection. Rice suggests that professionals seek out this population after gaining a bit of introspection. “Trainers need to understand themselves first as individuals,” she says. “We need to be grounded and connected to ourselves. We need to have explored our individual food issues. We need to have taken the time to do some psychological work on ourselves with a professional. We need to model a behavior that is, to the very best of our ability, one of compassion—from one human being to another.” Only then, Rice explains, can professionals truly help the plus-size client find peace and healing within her overweight body.


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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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