To the thinspo and the fitspo account, to my best friend with a fitness blog, to the one who just joined the bikini challenge, and the one trying to lose 5 pounds in 10 days. You think that you are inspiring health, but you are not. You are only adding to our society’s obsession with weight and body insecurity.
You may be asking yourself, who am I to be writing this article? Well, what makes me authentic is that I have recovered from an eating disorder. While anorexia may have taken my high school years from me, it also brought me the gift of understanding. You see, I am able to recognize triggers and thoughts that may seem inspiring to some, but cause compulsive behavior in others.
I have been working in the health and fitness field for three years now. I have a Masters degree in Public Health and am a certified health education specialist. I have taken a multitude of nutrition and exercise science classes. I know that exercise builds strength and food is our body’s fuel. I also know that our society has an obesity epidemic. However, when 30 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder we need to know when enough is enough, and what constitutes as balance.
Triggers, let’s talk about them.
- I just overcame hypertension with diet and physical activity and no longer take medication!
That’s great! Healing your body with healthy foods and regular physical activity is something to be proud of. However, when posting on social media, please use your words wisely. There is no need to brand yourself as the chronic condition you overcame. If exercise helped you get off your medication, be humble. Some people need to take medication to live, and that is ok.
- “I have been eating terribly, so I cannot have dessert.” “I am over calories for the day, so I cannot have a drink at dinner.”
These comments make me very upset. Life is about going to happy hour because it’s social and fun, eating dessert because it tastes good, venting to your best friends about your mother’s ridiculous boy comments, and spending countess hours in the library to finish a college degree. If your social media account only involves pictures of food, fitness routines, and “progress photos” you are not encompassing life.
- Constantly posting about clean eating, dieting, “cheat” meals, and body transformations.
Labeling foods as good and bad perpetuate the idea that eating a certain food is a sin, and something you should feel guilty about. Cheat meals imply shame and that we should make up for the sin with compulsive behavior. True friends will not care if you gain a pound, lose a pound, or if you have abs today that you did not have yesterday. True friends do not choose to love you because of your weight. I care about people because of their inner beauty, their passion to help others and to change the world. If your friends are only there for your physical appearance, maybe consider making new ones.
- Posting pictures of your abs or yourself flexing after finishing a workout routines
Go ahead, show us that hard work pays off! But please keep your image real. No need for special lighting or Photoshop. Try not to label workouts as “bikini ready” and include calories burned. Fitness should be about health, not bikini season.
As a public health professional and health coach, I truly understand the importance of nutrition and physical activity in maintaining health. But we need to nourish our bodies because it feels good. We need to exercise because we love who we are and we want to take care of ourselves. We need to fuel a healthy mind to be the leaders that will change the world. But most importantly we need to recognize balance. Mental health is tied to physical health, and we need to protect both. Olympians do not medal without the mental drive to pursue their passion. Two of the most decorated athletes in history, Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt, battled with depression before accomplishing gold.
Remember to show compassion to the 30 million Americans who struggle with a brain disease, otherwise labeled as an eating disorder. Show empathy to the people who may not have an eating disorder, but struggle with body insecurity or body dysmorphia. Most importantly, show support to the 82% of 10-year-olds who are afraid of becoming fat (NEDA). These are the people who are just not ready to say something in response to a triggering social media post, so instead they remain silent. The truth is, these people are the fighters. They are the ones battling a war that they did not choose.
Now I am on the other side, I am recovered. While these types of messages no longer trigger me, they still upset me because they trigger some of my closest friends into practicing compulsive behavior. I have been told to un-follow accounts many times. At the end of the day, that will not help the millions of other followers who are struggling with body insecurities. It is my job to advocate for those who are cannot stand up for themselves. I use my voice to empower, not to pick a fight.
You have the right to post whatever you want. My recommendation is that you contemplate if what you are posting truly encompasses health from an emotional, mental, and physical point of view. Maybe it is time for us to work together and redefine health? Whether you join me or not, I promise to make it my priority to end stigma and ensure that everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion can feel beautiful in his or her own skin.
Jocelyn Resnick earned her Masters degree in Public Health from the George Washington University. Her passion lies in creating healthier communities with regards to both mental and physical health. After battling Anorexia Nervosa throughout high school, Jocelyn became an advocate for eating disorder awareness and prevention. She spent three years working in health promotion on college campuses, which included organizing university wide initiatives for the National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) week. In addition, Jocelyn was part of the coordinating team for the NEDA walk in Washington, DC. She has spent a great deal of time lobbying on capital hill for improvements in legislation regarding eating disorder detection, prevention and treatment. In her free time she enjoys exercising and spending time with friends.