Alice Liveing is one of the biggest names in fitness. Now, she wants to talk about the reality of building a brand based on what your body looks like.
“I look back and think, ‘I can’t believe I did that’,” says influencer Alice Liveing, referring to her diet and exercise habits at the start of her fitness journey. In 2016, she was just becoming a name in the fitness world. To the outside, she was the definition of fit: shredded, slim and eating ‘clean’ (her handle at the time was @cleaneatingalice). But to maintain that look, she wasn’t as healthy as she seemed. For starters, she lost her period and she was plagued with disordered thoughts and habits – so why did she continue?
“My story started at theatre school, a very aesthetically driven industry. Aged 22, I found fitness and started to change my physique. Not only was I getting praise online, but all of my teachers were like, ‘You look amazing’. I started getting leads in my musicals at college. I got an agent. Lots of things happened to me when I got smaller,” she says.
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It is unusual to hear a fitness influencer reflect on their ‘journeys’ this way. While those on social media may chop and change their messaging as they learn and age, very rarely do they stop to check in on their past habits and how they built their success. Liveing does.
In fact, when talking to Stylist, she’s quite brutal with her opinion of her success, of which she has a lot: a following of 700,000 people, three published books, and her own app, Give Me Strength. “Definitely, my success came off of how I looked. I don’t think I’d be where I am now if I didn’t look like that,” Liveing says.
Success on the other side of diet culture
Now, her body has changed. She’s more relaxed with her workout routine, her grid is filled with strength-building workouts, compassionate captions and real food (buttery toast, eggs including the yolks, roast dinners piled high with puffed Yorkshire puddings) rather than macro-friendly recipes.
It took a long time for her to believe that she’d still have followers if she lost her shredded body. “My brain connected success and looking a certain way. The fitness industry has changed over the past few years, but it is very hard to shake off the expectation of having to fit a particular aesthetic. I’m still learning to deal with changes in my body and there are days where I still feel really uncomfortable in my skin and find it really challenging to be on camera or to show up as myself,” she says.
And yet, her audience has continued to grow. Perhaps that’s because what we want from social media is changing. We are done with the aspirational content, we’ve seen through the veil of perfection, and we want people to be real. “I think that I’ve had the ability and the trust of my audience to unlearn a lot of those bad behaviours in a very public, but hopefully very honest, way. And in a way that a lot of people can relate to.
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“So many of us just shrink ourselves because we’ve been told that’s how we become successful or get attention or fit in. In doing so, we actually lose a little bit of ourselves. We have a crisis of identity. We can go too far. And then you kind of come out the other side and go, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe I did that.’ You become grateful for your health and wellbeing and manage to have more balance. That’s the journey that I think almost everyone that follows me has gone through.”
How to measure your fitness success
Does it have to be this way? Do we have to punish ourselves before finding a more compassionate way to move and eat? Of course not, which is important to remember going into January, a time where people often set goals that they will meet or fail depending on how much their body changes.
“I actually don’t feel that it’s right to tell people they can’t have aesthetic goals. But with my personal trainer hat on, the most sustainable results and the most healthy and long-term results come from those who actually seek out things like performance goals,” Liveing says. “Measuring success based on what we look like can be unfulfilling. Having a more positive focus that shifts away from just what you look like to how much you’re enjoying your training or how well you perform in the gym are much more valuable than just looking at yourself in the mirror.”
Having experienced the benefit of letting go of body obsession herself, Liveing now encourages everyone to set their resolutions – whether for the new year or just generally – without these extremes. “December seems to be about making yourself feel terrible by being out of control and then January’s even worse because it’s about punishing ourselves. But if the motivation to move comes from a place of negativity about how you feel about yourself, how you feel about your body, your appearance, then it just kind of sets the year off on a bad tone.
“We have such a black and white view of health and wellbeing: you either eat takeaways or you go to the gym, or you either love chocolate or you love a protein bar. There’s actually a massive amount of people in the middle who want to exercise and feel healthy and eat out and have a drink. Why can’t we do both?”
That might be the ‘aha’ moment you needed, but Liveing herself didn’t have quite a clear breakup with her restrictive lifestyle. “It slowly became a trade-off of priorities. I couldn’t continue to look the way I did and have the life I wanted. My physical and mental health wasn’t being served by that life anymore and the stuff on the other side – going out, enjoying my food, having a social life – was so much more important to me.”
Crucially, she doesn’t regret those years, but hopes that we can all learn from them: “I was a product of an environment that a lot of us existed in. It was the start of social media, diet culture was absolutely rampant. I did a lot of growing and a lot of unlearning stuff and I think that it’s OK to make mistakes. My true growth has come from owning those mistakes and actually reflecting on them and being able to come out the other side and say, ‘I used to do this and I don’t really believe in that now and here’s why.’ It’s important to me to be really honest and transparent about that process.”
Alice Liveing’s Give Me Strength App is available to download across all platforms, The Give Me Strength January challenge starts on the 3rd of January for 4 weeks.
Images: Lydia Collins
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