Revenge bodies are toxic - here's why

Stop building a ‘revenge body’: why the best post-breakup fitness regime doesn’t involve thoughts of your ex

Posted by for Wellbeing

Let’s face it: the whole concept of a post-breakup ‘revenge body’ is probably as toxic as the relationship you just left, writes Kimberley Bond.

Zoe* had decided enough was enough. The 34-year-old realised it was time to leave her marriage. Her confidence had been crushed and she no longer loved who she was when she looked in the mirror. The mum-of-one is now starting a new training programme in the hope that getting stronger will help her build back her self-esteem. 

“I’m ready to find that happy, confident girl I was again,” she says. “When I get to that point, it will be a ‘screw you’ to my ex.”

Zoe isn’t the first person to adopt the notion of achieving a ‘revenge body’. The term was popularised by Khloe Kardashian in the mid-2010s, after she dedicated her newfound love of fitness to those who had lambasted her body before.  

“For me, my revenge is not on a person, my revenge is more on life, what people said I could never do,” Kardashian told Cosmopolitan. “It is revenge on everyone calling me ‘the fat, ugly sister’, the this, the that, the stylists that wouldn’t work with me because they didn’t do my-sized bodies. It’s not on one person, it’s really just on everyone who laughed at me before.”

Diet culture at its most toxic

It’s easy to see why people may use revenge as their main motivation to get into the gym, particularly during January, where the mantra of ‘new year, new me’ is commonplace to the point of cliché and diet culture is at its most toxic.

After the indulgent Christmas period, people look towards setting new fitness goals, with British Military Fitness finding that 68% of Brits have “get fit” as one of their main new year’s resolutions, and a third have joining a gym. However, the dreary weather and dissipation of festivities means it’s hard to keep ourselves motivated – 43% of people expect to end up quitting their resolution within a month.

But the idea of tapping into payback in order keep you motivated is not the most psychologically healthy or effective way to train. 

Why we turn to body transformations after a breakup

“After a breakup, one of the main things people do is trying to rebuild their self-esteem,” psychotherapist Sally Baker explains. “One of the easiest ways to do that is to focus on the exterior.

“When you’re doing something for revenge, you’re still hooked into that cycle of pain and loss, so there has to be a period of recalibration where you just focus on yourself.”

The very notion of ‘revenge’ is an unhealthy mindset, says Holly Zoccolan, nutritional health coach and founder of The Health Zoc. “This is not how we want to be thinking about exercise. Exercise is important for overall health and by exercising for ‘revenge’ it gives the impression that you are punishing your body, rather than exercising from a place of peace and respect for your body.” 

Jessie Jones, qualified personal trainer at OriGym Centre of Excellence, agrees.

“Just the idea of working out, changing your diet or transforming the way you look, purely for somebody else, is a damaging mindset,” she says. “A revenge body is all about what you look like and you can often feel results before you see them. Using revenge outsources your motivation to someone else.”

No matter how bad the breakup may be, feelings of anger and the desire to get “revenge” can dissipate. “Revenge, and the feelings that go with it, are acute and generally short lived,” former personal trainer Lucy Arnold explains. Embarking on an exercise routine, however, is the opposite.

“You need time and patience to see results.  If you start a regime based on emotion, you expect to see results as quick as you see your emotions change, which will never happen,” she says. And she’s right: research by University College London found it takes on average 66 days to form and solidify a new habit – a long time, considering it could take far longer than two months to see changes into your physique.

How to break up with unsustainable beauty standards

Instead of using feelings of anger, Arnold recommends you work at something you enjoy, which will make your fitness regime less of a chore.

“Look at how you can make yourself feel better,” she says. “Look at how you can help yourself in the long term and find something to motivate you which will last longer than your feelings of revenge.  Maybe look towards an event for motivation, get your friends and family involved, such as maybe a Race for Life or a parkrun.”

Jones agrees that starting a new exercise regime needn’t be a solitary endeavour: “A healthier way to motivate yourself can still include other people, but you should always have your own health and wellbeing at the forefront.

“Recording how you feel, as well as look, is a healthy way of staying motivated. Write it down: if you’re sleeping better, have better energy levels, or your mood has lifted, forcing yourself to notice these things can be the perfect way to maintain drive.”  

However, it’s just as vital to consider how you are feeling before you start any regime. Breakups can be emotionally taxing and physically painful, and so it’s understandable if you’d rather avoid starting anything new at first.

“Acknowledge you’ve had a rough time and you need to be kind to yourself,” Baker says. “That would be a healthier, more holistic thing to do for a period time rather than throwing yourself in the gym a million times a week and not eating.” 

While Zoe may have initially been motivated by getting her “screw you” body, fundamentally, she has chosen to exercise for the most important person in that situation – herself.

“This is about me, getting back to the happy, healthy, active and bubbly person I was,” she says. “I’m getting back to a better body and mindset.

“It’s about me looking in the mirror and being proud to be me.”

*Zoe is a pseudonym. 

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Images: Getty

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