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Interview: Plus Sized Athlete Krista Henderson on Focusing on Fitness Not Weight Loss

It's all about inspiring women to focus on fitness, and not the number on the scales

Krista Henderson is a plus sized athlete – she’s been competing in triathlon since 2004, when she changed her focus from weight loss, to performance.

Since discovering sport herself, she’s gone on to gain coaching qualifications, and launched a website called ‘Born to Reign’ which motivates and celebrates plus sized women living an athletic lifestyle.

We caught up with Krista, who works in advertising and lives in Canada, to find out more about her and her approach to exercise…

TWC: How did you get into sport and triathlon?

Krista: I started getting into athletics back in 2004. At the time my headspace was really focused on diet and weight loss. I’ve always been a plus sized person and struggled with body image and trying to lose weight. It was when I saw a posting in my gym that there was a triathlon club that I thought “maybe I could do a triathlon”.

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I thought that that might be a little bit too much, so I decided to train for a 25km charity bike ride. I did that event, and was really successful. I was already comfortable swimming and I knew that I could probably walk the run portion of a triathlon so I decided to sign up for my first super sprint triathlon. Once I did my event I really fell in love with it, and from there I hired a coach, and started training on a much more regular basis.

I started to broaden my interests, doing activities like playing squash for cross training, and completed a half marathon, 5km and 10km runs. In terms of future goals, I’d like to complete an Olympic distance triathlon.

What was your experience of other athletes at the race?

Triathlon in my experience is an extremely supportive community. You are training for three sports, you really have to carve your training time out of your personal time. When you are training and you do show up for the event people are extremely supportive and cheering you on, they want you to do well. You define well for yourself.

I love the triathlon community, I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong

We all know what it feels like to feel nervous. I love the triathlon community, I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong – we all train for the same distance, regardless of our pace we’re all doing the same work.

What sort if improvements have you seen through your training?

Once I had my coach and was training on a much more regular basis and was professionally guided I started racing quite a bit each summer. At one point, I think it was my third season, I went back to do the exact same race as I did in my first year, and I knocked 20 minutes off my race time. My weight had not changed – none of it was free speed because I weighed less.

I knocked 20 minutes off my race time. My weight had not changed – none of it was free speed because I weighed less.

That for me was a moment of truth. It showed how much the training really can make a huge difference. When I hit that point where I could get up on a Saturday, go race, as hard as I can, for an hour and 15 minutes, and come home and still feel great, that’s when I knew I’d hit a whole new level, a fitness I never thought I could have as a plus sized person – but it is completely possible.

Is there much kit available on the market?

There are some brands that are starting to make triathlon suits in larger sizes, some brands go up to an American 18, it would be nice to go beyond that. Some do stock plus sizes, but they don’t advertise it.

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Advertisers need to realise that plus sized women do like to exercise and do want to be athletic and I think right now they think there aren’t enough numbers to support changing their range to accommodate for them. I believe as long as we continue to see the body positive movement grow the more they will start to cater.

What inspired you to set up the website Born to Reign?

I wanted to show other women that your weight and your size doesn’t need to be a barrier. So I got a fitness qualification and started to teach spinning classes at 2 gyms, 3 times a week, and I got a personal trainer qualification, and stated coaching some women alongside my job.

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It was an opportunity to test out my concept – that plus sized women would be interested in working with someone who can offer a different perspective that isn’t focused on weight loss.

I think so many women struggle to get past low self-esteem and see themselves in a different light, and I wanted to change that

I think so many women struggle to get past low self-esteem and see themselves in a different light [as an athlete], and I really wanted to change that. I used the coaching to test the theory before launching the website.

The site was created out of my personal experiences, but one of the things I’m really happy about is that I’ve been able to add other contributors so it’s not just my perspective, I’ve got other specialists who come in, which realty rounds out all the advice.

What’s your approach to plus sized athletes who are trying to lose weight?

In terms of the weight loss question, my position, and the site’s position, is that weight loss is a personal decision for somebody. We believe that if somebody wants to lose weight it can be achieved in a much more healthy way, as a bi-product of focusing on healthy behaviours.

My advice is not to focus on the weight loss, focus on what it means to get stronger and fitter.

My advice is not to focus on the weight loss, focus on what it means to get stronger and fitter. Your goals could be how do you run 5 seconds faster or ride ten miles at a certain rpm. Those goals are more healthy and confidence building.

Then through other healthy habits, such as the nutrition that you take on the fuel your body, and recover, your body will naturally adjust and make the composition changes that happen as a result of those healthy behaviors.

You’ll never see a weight loss tip from me, or ‘how to get a flat belly’, my focus is on how to unleash your inner athlete.

Do you agree that the fitness industry is too focused on weight loss? We’d love to hear your stories. 

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