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Decoding The Language Of “Fitspeak”

When logging onto Instagram, do you often feel bombarded by conflicting “fitspiration” mantras? While scanning supermarket tabloid headlines like “Beyoncé Wants You to Get Your Kale On,” do you feel a surge of inadequacy followed by confusion about this whole superfood movement?

Upon hearing the word “tabata,” do you envision a hibachi grill instead of an exercise regimen? Have you given up deciphering what natural health enthusiasts (think: Gwyneth Paltrow) mean when they toss around phrases like “organic avenue detox?”

Whoever came up with this stuff must take pleasure in befuddling your poor brain. Would someone just give you a manual already?

Since popular culture and social media outlets hopped aboard the health craze bandwagon, our society has begun developing a new language. I call it “Fitspeak.”

Here’s what I’m talking about: that sophisticated-sounding terminology used by fitness magazines, slimmed-down celebrities, personal trainers, and self-proclaimed weight loss gurus. Yup…Fitspeak. You’ve likely heard reference to this jargon. But how fluent are you really?

In mainstream Western culture, the concepts of health and fitness seem less focused on positive lifestyle choices, veering instead toward trendiness. With new fads-of-the-moment popping up whenever a Dr. Oz episode airs, differentiating between legitimate wellness benefits and money-making schemes becomes increasingly difficult.

Bonus points if you can sneak “clean eats” into a conversation – you might as well be a Registered Dietitian. Is the average person even aware of what clean eating entails, though?

Maybe. Maybe not. (Personally, I had to research its definition).

Nevertheless, we follow the trends and adopt the lingo. But we’re still missing a vital link: How can we apply these trends to the upkeep of our bodies? By studying the finer points of Fitspeak, we’ll better understand the distinction between passing fads and nutritional values. Ultimately, we’ll become more attuned to own physical well-being.

So, let’s get cracking that Fitspeak code!


1. Paleo: Shorthand for “paleolithic,” the premise behind this dietary plan is that if our Stone Age ancestors didn’t ingest certain foods, we shouldn’t consume them either. The Paleo diet consists of lean meats and protein, high-fiber-low-starch fruits and vegetables, and omega-3 oils.

This means that processed foods (E.g. refined sugars or saturated fats) and carbohydrates – even grains and legumes – are off-limits. In other words, expect to eat like a hunter-gatherer.

2. Gluten-Free: Originally intended to treat celiac disease, the premise behind this dietary plan is that avoiding gluten (I.e. a binder protein found in certain grains) will reduce inflammation of the small intestine.

The Gluten-Free diet consists of unprocessed nuts, legumes, eggs, lean meats, fruits and vegetables, select dairy products and non-wheat whole grains.

This means that any food item containing barley, rye, wheat or triticale (I.e. a cross between wheat and rye) is off-limits. In other words, make the abbreviation GF your new best friend.

3. Vegan: An eco-friendly step further than vegetarianism, the premise behind this dietary plan is that animal proteins and by-products should not be considered food.

The Vegan diet consists of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains and plant-based meat substitutes, such as tofu or tempeh.

This means that processed foods, meat of any kind, eggs, honey and dairy products are off-limits. In other words, if it comes from a critter, it goes nowhere near your mouth.

4. Juicing: Allegedly helpful for flushing out bodily toxins, the premise behind this dietary plan is that replacing meals with organic juices for a three-day minimum will keep your organs and blood stream in mint condition.

The Juicing diet consists of only blended fruits and vegetables. This means that…well, everything else is off-limits. Except water. In other words, you’d better love those leafy greens. (Note: Before attempting a juice cleanse, medical professionals suggest proceeding with caution, as the health claims have yet to be substantiated.)


1. Zumba: Developed by a Colombian choreographer during the ’90s, this workout program involves both dance and aerobics merged into a fast-paced cardio routine.

Zumba combines movements from various Latin genres including samba, salsa, flamenco, hip-hop, tango, mambo and merengue. Some off-shoots also include lunges, squats and martial arts. In other words, Zumba can be described as a hardcore pulse-pounder set to lively ethnic beats.

2. Tabata: Also called HIIT (high-intensity interval training), this workout program involves a series of four-minute resistance circuits that build muscle and torch excess fat.

Tabata combines bursts of extreme aerobic activity and alternating recovery periods. Some regimens target strength training (E.g. push-ups, squats or sit-ups at varying speeds), and others target cardio (E.g. hard sprints followed by a steady jog). In other words, welcome to the longest four minutes ever.

3. Hot Yoga: Widely considered among most effective methods of improving flexibility, this workout program involves numerous yoga poses performed in 40% humidity.

Hot Yoga combines breathing exercises, fluid movements and meditations, just like a traditional yoga flow. The only deviation is that added heat-factor, introduced by Bikram practitioners in order to sweat out toxins. In other words, you’ll need a gallon of water at the ready. Or, you know…five.

Pin It4. Barre: A fairly recent phenomenon that has swept the nation over these past 10 years, this workout program involves isometric pulses, tucks and lifts to sculpt impressive results.

Barre combines ballet and Pilates movements that tone the entire body, while paying specific attention to the thighs, arms, core and glutes. This regimen bases its effectiveness on the science of small muscles tiring quickly, thus working harder. In other words, talk about a burn!

Although these examples only begin to explore the seemingly endless health and fitness preferences out there, at least we’ve debunked some of today’s most talked-about fads. Congratulations, you just passed “Fitspeak 101!”

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Katherine Hurst
By Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer
Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer is a freelance writer, fitness enthusiast, caffeine addict... and in her own words she "embraces her own nerdiness". She lives, loves and seeks adventures on the sunny Florida coast and believes everything is better beachside. Her blog, "Health Be A Hippie," features healthy recipes, organic beauty hacks, exercise tips and snarky observations, while sending a message of empowering women to embrace their true and best selves through natural, nutritious, and active living.

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