Strength for the ‘girlz’

Local dietician and fitness trainer’s program emphasizes a healthy relationship with the body

Trainer and dietician Traci Haynes has been working with Kiley Miller for the past two years.

Trainer and dietician Traci Haynes has been working with Kiley Miller for the past two years.

Photo by rachel bush

During an interview with Traci Haynes at Velocity Fitness (the Chico gym she co-owns), she bragged about the teenage girl sitting next to her. “She can do 9 pull-ups … oops, sorry, homegirl can do 12! She’s almost catching up to me!”

Haynes was talking about Kiley Miller, a 14-year-old she’s been training for the last two years.

But Miller is not just any “client.” Two years ago, she was battling anorexia and had lost 20 pounds. That’s when Miller’s parents, Christi Miller-Fuchs and Justin Miller, sought help from Haynes, a registered dietician who specializes in eating disorders.

Haynes has worked with the teenager on developing healthy nutrition plans, while also beginning strength-training practices.

“Her recovery process was quite amazing,” she said.

Inspired in part by Miller’s progress, Haynes opened a class at Velocity dedicated to physical training for teenage girls called Strong Girlz. She noted that the class is not specifically centered on eating disorders; it has a wide array of participants, including athletes training between seasons.

“It’s about working on a healthy relationship with the body,” she said. “Improving body image is a big thing.”

Velocity does indeed employ a unique approach to fitness and nutrition. The 2,600-square-foot gym has no mirrors, and Haynes prefers to speak in terms of energy used, not calories burned.

“It’s about listening to their bodies. People often come in here and fret over what they ate; they feel guilt. So you had a cookie? Did it feel good? That’s OK. Honestly, I’m probably going to get a hamburger and fries after this, because I want it. And I’m a dietician. But it’s OK.”

The nutrition philosophy Haynes speaks of is referred to as “intuitive eating,” which is often used to help patients overcome eating disorders. Promoting the idea of becoming in tune with the body’s signals for nourishment, intuitive eating is used as an alternative method to traditional diets, where the focus is based on numbers—portions, calories and fat grams—to dictate meal plans.

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch coined the term intuitive eating in their 1995 book of the same name. However, the movement’s roots date back to the ’70s, when authors like Susie Orbach, who in 1978 published the book Fat Is a Feminist Issue, began speaking about the relationships between women’s bodies and food.

Miller is in good company when it comes to struggles with body image issues. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women in the United States (and 10 million men) will experience one within their lifetime, and roughly half a million teenagers will have an eating disorder.

But as Ana Vicuna, program manager of Youth Services for the Butte County Department of Behavioral Health, pointed out, determining legitimate statistics isn’t so easy.

“The eating disorder is often not the primary diagnosis, so it doesn’t always get tracked,” she said, referring to patients registered within Butte County.

It was Haynes’ own lifelong battle with anorexia that influenced her to make a career shift to helping other women with the same struggles.

“I had dabbled in everything before,” said Haynes, who spent 20 years as a dietician, working in various settings, from hospital clinics to nutrition education fairs. “But I was still looking for something I could be super passionate about.”

After relapsing with anorexia in her 30s, Haynes re-evaluated her interests when therapist Lisa Welch suggested she work with other young women with disordered eating.

So began Haynes’ new focus as a dietician. Remembering the importance of her own recovery process through strength-training, she also developed the plans to open a gym with best friend Robin Sinclear, who’s trained individuals in Chico for the last seven years. Since 2013, the women have run Velocity Fitness, initially using Haynes’ garage as their workout space.

“We’re fortunate to have an array of [fitness] options here in Chico. What sets us apart, though, is the experience each of us brings, from a fitness and nutrition standpoint,” said Haynes, who is now a certified trainer as well. She and Sinclear are also Russian Kettlebell Challenge-certified and StrongFirst SFG Kettlebell-certified instructors.

And Strong Girlz has been running since the inception of Velocity, which relocated to a space along East Avenue last March.

“Even when we were operating out of the garage, I had five girls working with me when I started that class,” recalled Haynes.

While Haynes says her work with the girls has been one of the “most meaningful experiences” in her life, she recognizes the continuing prevalence of disordered eating.

“There are triggers around every corner,” she said. “It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly causes it for any given individual.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common factors include self-esteem issues and societal pressures. For those seeking counseling centers, Vicuna says four are offered through Butte County’s Department of Behavioral Health, including one in Chico.

For girls like Miller, the continued support from programs like Strong Girlz is invaluable for the recovery process. Last April, she competed in Chico’s StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge as the youngest girl in the competition. “I was surprised at how much strength I had,” said the 14-year-old.

That’s exactly the kind of realization Haynes is shooting for.

“I want the girls to see what their bodies are capable of, and continue to come because it’s fun and they want to, not because they have to lose weight for prom or look a certain way on Instagram,” she said.