What I Talk About When I Talk About the Kayla Guides

The first draft I wrote of this blog post, I let sit as a such (a draft) for three whole days. When I came back to it, I realized that the entire time I danced around my true opinion about the Kayla Itsines Beach Body Guides. I was also really negative, which made it harder to express my opinion. So I'm going to start from the beginning and that beginning includes a major, major point that I need to communicate. 

A few months ago, Kayla posted something akin to "if you want a beach body, you can never drink alcohol." Which, ok, whatever. I'm not a huge drinker. I'm really not. But that kind of statement rubs me in such a wrong way that I can barely explain it. The extreme restriction of your food, even if you end up with a "healthy" body like Kayla's, is not healthy. This leads me to a secondary point: Kayla's entire bit is about having a body that looks a very particular way. If you want a body that looks just like Kayla's, then these are the workouts for you. If you want your body but better, then maybe hold off. 

Saying you will never eat this or never eat that because it's "bad" for you is incredibly disordered, but is masked by the guise of being "healthy." There are many, many fitness "gurus" with extremely severe eating disorders -- one I used to follow stir fried her vegetables plain in WATER and said it was "tasty and flavorful" with no sauce. Excuse me, but that's boiling a bunch of veggies and calling it a stir fry; not only does it sound frankly gross, it's extremely disordered. It's like the watermelon Greek yogurt "cake" or apples sprinkled with cinnamon and called a "pie." All I'm saying is, thinspo has morphed into fitspo and there are a lot of girls with bad, bad eating disorders hiding it behind "Paleo" diets and weight lifting. Being obsessed with restricting your food and your body is not healthy, no matter how you express it, and denying yourself things you want, from stir fry and cake to a glass of wine, is not only life sucking, but pretty bad for you emotionally. It is possible to live a well-rounded like where you enjoy alcohol and cake as well as kale and chia seeds.  

The fixation on one type of healthy body is not only ridiculous, but damaging, and undermines Kayla's entire message of being healthy. I definitely fall prey to the "bikini body" idea -- I mean, I'd kill for a body like Kayla's -- but the fact is, I'm about 5 inches shorter than her with a completely different body type. It's just not going to happen. There is a way to be healthy, fit, and happy without looking just like Kayla or super thin. The only "fit, healthy" bodies we see are bodies that are thin, and that is wrong. You can be in shape and not that shape at the same time, but you wouldn't know that browsing through Kayla's instagram feed. All the girls end up looking the same (and just like Kayla) and to me, there is something inherently sad about that. 

Beyond those issues, I have issues with the guides themselves as well. Mainly, they cost about $60 a piece (there are two guides, so $120 total) and are about 100 pages long. But way, the workouts only consist of about 15 pages in each guide. So, the bulk of the guide is not workouts: it's Kayla's writing, which hovers somewhere around "big sister telling you how to live your life" and "omg what". For a $60 guide, that kind of grinds my gears. I like to get my money's worth and personally, a 100-page digital file that contains only about 15-20 pages of workouts is kind of a bust. If it was a physical book, it'd be different -- but c'mon, that's just a rip off! 

The guide suggests that alongside the circuits you do 3-4 sessions of HIIT workouts (high-intensity intervals, basically) and then 2-3 sessions of light cardio (like walking). That's a lot of working out. I work out a lot, but I simply do not have time to dedicate nearly 10 hours a week to it. I just don't. I could use that 10 hours to work, write, hang out with Danny, cook delicious dinners, grocery shop, play with my dog, or whatever. 

So what are the workouts themselves like? Most of the workouts are intense and tiring; I find myself sweating, red-faced and exhausted at the end. That being said, Kayla workouts have a reputation as being intensely hard and yes, some moves are challenging (I personally HATE sit ups with a twist and commandos, because I think those moves could easily be replaced by simpler exercises with the same result), but the workouts themselves are not exactly I'm-gonna-die hard. 

It's a difficult concept to express but: most workouts are hard. These workouts are also hard. But I would not rate them the hardest workouts I have ever done. (I think that title will always be held by conditioning weeks in Track when I was in high school.) 

I can see why they get results -- it's nice to follow a simple plan. However, are these workouts worth the $60 Kayla charges? Absolutely not. You could put together these plans on an app like PumpUp or find similar workouts on Pinterest. 

I also want to talk about Kayla's "H-E-L-P" guide, which is about healthy eating and lifestyle planning. It includes a week's sample meal plan and let me tell you, that meal plan is sad. Here are my issues with it: 

  • It is not vegetarian. There isn't a vegetarian option. I hope you like eating meat two times a day (and therefore, have the money to do that). 
  • It is dry

The suggested meal plans are painfully lame. One lunch is literally: flax seed wrap, two cups of lettuce, 1/2 can of tuna. THAT'S IT. I think I would just find the nearest bridge and jump off of it if that's what I decided I needed to eat for lunch everyday to have my ~ideal body~. Way to suck all the joy out of life.  

There are totally ways to eat healthy food that is also fun and flavorful. You don't have to eat plain, dry lettuce with plain, dry tuna on a flax seed wrap, I promise. 

I'm not saying that Kayla sounds like a total bummer to hang out with. Except that I totally am. She advises girls to order "cereal or muesli" when eating out "or just plain fruit." Honestly, get out. That's ridiculous. Have some fun, child, and some restricting your eating so much! Living life miserable and eating cereal while your friends enjoy pizza or pasta or whatever is absolutely not worth it. 

I'm not trying to say that healthy food can't be fun. There are lots of healthy foods that are delicious and fun. But Kayla's guide seems to suck all the fun out of food. She even refuses to call "treat days" treat days. She says you should get one treat meal and that's it, not a day to just enjoy yourself and not stress about how you're going to eat as much dry protein as possible.

Healthy food can be delicious and fun and you don't have to obsess about it like a total weirdo. But that's just me and I guess I don't have Kayla's "beach body" so maybe I'm totally wrong and my life will change when I start eating everything dry and protein-filled. But I also suspect I'd be deeply miserable if I did that too -- and sometimes, you have to make a choice. 

The Verdict

I have a lot of issues with self-styled "fitness gurus", obviously. The fixation on healthy bodies all looking the same way (that is, like Kayla's body) is extremely unhealthy. As well, while I know I need to make choices to eat better, restricting until I'm miserable and forcing myself to never eat certain foods again (like ice cream or full fat cheese) is a concept I don't really want to be involved with. Kayla doesn't seem to have mastered the concept that food can be healthy and delicious, nor does she seem to embrace the idea that there are more examples of healthy bodies than just generally "thin."

Do I like the Kayla guides? Yes, I enjoy them as a workout to supplement my usual cardio and running. Do I think they are the greatest workout ever? Absolutely not. Do I think they are worth the money? No, definitely not. Do I think Kayla needs to think long and hard about the advice she gives to people, especially young girls? Uh-huh, you bet I do.