Fitness and Social Media: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

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By Danielle Prager


I have a serious bone to pick with the fitness movement that is flooding our social news feeds. Let me first start off by saying that I am a huge advocate for a healthy lifestyle and recognize and value the importance of exercise and a well-balanced diet. I also recognize that there is a fine line between healthy living and obsessive, disordered living. And this is where my frustrations are rooted.

There are limitations to using social media as a platform for fitness that can be very damaging.

We Share What We Want

We are in charge of our own social media accounts. We post what we want and leave out what we please. I’m sure many of you have been exposed to your high school classmate’s perfect relationship on Facebook, only to see the relationship fall apart three days after a sappy post about “the flowers he bought me just because.”

The same goes for the fitness movement. The photos of the “healthy”, low carb meals. The perfect abs. The myfitnesspal screen shot of a 14-mile run. If we let them, these photos can make us feel like failures as we chow down on a turkey sandwich with fully glutinated bread and regular, non-vegan cheese.

Following these social accounts can be valuable as we partake on our own unique health journeys. They can serve as inspiration for future meals and fitness goals. However, I assure you that the girl with the well-defined abs did not take that picture when she was farty and bloated. And your favorite Instagram food account? For every ten healthy food posts, it’s likely there is at least one bacon cheeseburger that didn’t make the cut. Keep that in mind before you beat yourself up for not being “perfect” (whatever that even means).

Diet Shaming and Pushing Personal Ideals

If being a vegan or eating a Paleo or ketogenic diet works for you, awesome. But please, please don’t judge others for their diet choices. We are all on our own personal journeys. Telling someone that his or her food choices are wrong is fat shaming in disguise. Unless a person is actively seeking advice or guidance, it is 100% not okay to offer it to them unsolicited.

Redefined Ideas of “Normal” and a Wavering Focus on Actual Health

I admire beauty as much as the next person – but what exactly is a “beautiful figure”? As our newsfeeds are flooded with six-packs and cellulite-less thighs, I fear that we are slowly redefining a “normal” body as one that is characterized by 12% body fat.

Don’t get me wrong, if 12% body fat makes you feel great, go for it. But we have to stress that a person’s reflection in the mirror, the way they look in a photo, or the number they see on the scale are not strong indicators of health. Appearances can be, and often are, deceiving.

Let’s place the focus on improving endurance, getting stronger, and fueling our bodies with **primarily** nourishing foods. These are healthy measurements of progress.

And please, for the love of God, the advertisements of “lose 5 pounds in a day by drinking this tea that will give you the worst diarrhea of your life and make you lose 5 pounds of water weight, which will result in dehydration and feeling like death” need to stop. There is no such thing as a one-day get fit plan. These advertisements are misleading and enforce an unhealthy mindset.

Disordered Hashtags

#Thinspiration? This is a disordered term. It makes me sick to my stomach and immensely sad that there are people that actually follow this hashtag. I pray to the high heavens that every person reading this does their part to make this hashtag crash and burn.

Rant over.

Those that are seasoned and well informed on the topic of health and fitness know that being “thin” is not an actionable goal to set. How “thin” do you want to be? When will you be “thin enough”? If it’s goals and inspiration you are after, set a goal to do five pull-ups. Set a goal to reach a healthy BMI. These are good goals.

Being “thin” is an indefinable goal, which makes it a very slippery slope for unhealthy behaviors. Please, for your own mental health, be mindful of where you find inspiration.

Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop

This is an obvious one, but has to be mentioned. As you scroll through your news feeds, understand that a large proportion of the photos you see have been retouched. This is a much larger problem that has infected every single form of media, and I hope that it is remedied in the extremely near future – but in the meantime, just know that you aren’t the only person that can’t take a cameltoe-less picture in leggings (the “blur” tool works wonders for removing that).

I Hate the Term, “Cheat Meal”

You are not cheating! You are treating yourself to something you really like to eat, which may or may not be the most healthful food choice. A cheat meal implies that you are in some way allowing yourself to be soooo bad by deviating from your 100% perfectly balanced diet. If you want a burger, eat a burger. Don’t do it all the time, but don’t hype up the experience and plan it out all week long.

“Cheat” is a horrible word. Please tell me how eating a burger can be lumped into the same category as cheating on your wife or cheating on the Bar Exam? Exactly. You can’t.

Orthorexia on the Horizon

Orthorexia is a fairly newly defined eating disorder characterized by an obsession with healthful eating. If approached with an unhealthy mindset and lack of awareness, I fear that this social movement has the ability to perpetuate this disorder.

Orthorexia is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. On one hand, eating healthfully and being mindful of our food choices is important. We only get one body and we should do our best to take care of it. On the other hand, life is short. It’s too short to never go out to dinner with friends out of fear of unhealthy ingredients. It’s too short to spend an enormous amount of mental energy and time planning out every calorie you eat.

Life is all about balance. Have fun. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just like one healthy meal won’t give you the “perfect” body, one bad meal won’t land you on your deathbed. And if you are struggling with what you feel may be an eating disorder, reach out for help. We all deserve to love ourselves and rejoice in the skin we are in.

As much as I appreciate the increased awareness surrounding health and fitness, I hope that we can all work towards spreading body positivity and self-love, both on and off social media. There are many Youtubers and Instagrammers that spread a very healthy message about health and fitness. Some of my favorites are Dani Spies, Mind Over Munch, Fit Men Cook, and the obvious, Blogilates.

Let’s work towards a shared social message that self-worth isn’t measured by the size we wear, how healthy our meal was, or a silly number on the scale.

And for those of you that find it challenging to appreciate and love your bodies as you scroll through your social feeds, I encourage you to unfollow the accounts that evoke these negative thoughts. I did, and I miss them as much as the almond meal and flax seed cookies I stopped forcing myself to eat three months ago.

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