As America’s obesity problem continues to grow with the average citizen weighing in at an extra 15 or more pounds than in the late 80s, fitness and weight-loss social media platforms continue to increase in popularity.
On one hand, they help to build a community with a common goal of supporting one another and to establish accountability among members. They also provide access to cheap or completely free paths to health and fitness. Unfortunately, the constant influx of before-and-after photos and tips and tricks to following the popular fad diet of the week presents several problems.
First, comparison to others’ progress can affect individuals’ self-esteem by enforcing a certain “ideal” body type. These platforms also encourage dieting and working out largely for weight loss and appearance alone, when in reality, basing one’s exercise and healthy diet plans on superficial outcomes only lead to unhealthy competition with themselves and others and, eventually, disappointment. It also makes it difficult to follow through with the regimen and encourages an unhealthy idea of “health” or perfection. When we emphasize that the thinnest bodies are the “healthiest,” we ignore more important pieces of the puzzle that add up to true health: missing from the equation are mental health, high energy, self-esteem and confidence, good sleep, improved blood sugar or cholesterol, and proper nutrition.
Along those lines, many diets encourage that not only does “thinner” correlate to “healthier,” so does a calorie-restricted diet. While calorie reduction does often lead to weight loss in someone whose calorie counts are consistently too high, by encouraging that fewer calories are better for everyone, many diets ignore that too few calories lead to generally decreased health, less physical ability, and poor cognitive and emotional states. Creating a competitive, comparison-based environment paired with encouraging poor diets and lifestyles can also pave the road to eating disorders and low self-esteem.
Most fad diets also involve the removal of entire food groups such as carbohydrates or fats. This habit has been repeatedly debunked; carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy as they are a type of sugar. The body breaks down any food into sugar in the form of glucose, as it is the most efficient energy source, so carbohydrates provide the quickest energy. Many people believe they are inherently bad because they digest quickly, prompting someone to eat more, sooner than they normally would. To combat this pattern, however, all one has to do is consume a long-lasting (less easily broken-down) food group such as fat or protein alongside a carbohydrate, preferably a complex one such as whole grains. A combination of food groups prevents spikes and dips in energy and provides long-lasting feelings of satiation.
Other plans include extremely limited consumption over a short period of time, from juice fasts to severely restricted-calorie diets for a few days to a week. Often, participants will lose a few pounds very quickly, but it’s largely water weight; a return to a normal diet leads to gaining the weight back just as quickly and can promote negative emotions about one’s progress, sense of self, or body.
While social media have also seen an increase in body-positive bloggers and reminders from fitness platforms that getting into shape is a personal, individualized process, there are far too many damaging myths throughout the internet that disproportionately affect women but can cause anyone misery. Let’s step up for facts and health, not fads and illusions.
Emily Rose is 17 years old and from Athens, Georgia. Beginning in fall 2017, she will attend Mercer University. She plans to double major in Journalism and Political Science and to minor in Global Development Studies. She is a writer, musician, activist, and feminist who hopes to use her platforms to inspire positive change by providing different perspectives on the world’s political and social issues.