Fitness, gym culture, and dieting are all gradually becoming increasingly similar to symptoms of eating disorders. While physical fitness is necessary for a healthy, high-quality life, “gym bros” and fitness content creators may be unintentionally suffering from or glorifying eating disorders.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having fitness goals and routines. Maintaining a proper diet, implementing a balanced exercise schedule, and generally taking care of your body are undoubtedly good for you. But what happens when these are taken to the extreme?
When considering your body goals when you’re organizing your exercise and diet routines, you should ask yourself why you want to achieve this goal: Is it to feel better? To better your physical and mental health? Or is it to impress others? The reason behind your goal can reveal a lot about your self-image and esteem.
Today, gym culture is, for the most part, centered around achieving a body type that is slimmer, more muscular, and more toned. Some might argue that they want this body type so they can feel more confident in their appearance. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel self-confident, exercising and dieting to achieve a certain look can damage your mental health and oftentimes suggests an underlying self-esteem problem.
Achieving a certain body type does not guarantee self-confidence. In fact, those who practice self-acceptance oftentimes have better results; to feel confident in your looks, you have to practice accepting your body as it exists now. Without acceptance, if you achieve your body goals, you may end up shifting your focus onto “fixing” another aspect of your appearance.
Dismissing judgment upon yourself for your “before” photos allows you to focus your energy on loving your body and exercising because you love your body, not because you hate it.
You can’t exercise or diet your way into self-love. Comparing yourself to online fitness gurus is damaging; your body does not function the same way as someone else’s, and your results may not be the same as someone else’s. Constant comparisons can lead to judgment, low self-esteem, feelings of failure, and, in extreme cases, eating disorders.
Regarding dieting, while eating well is not a sign of an eating disorder, consistent focus on your eating habits can be detrimental to both your mental and physical health. Counting calories can increase stress, which can have the opposite effect that you’re desiring. High stress levels are correlated with bigger appetites for sugary and fatty foods, and even worse, high and unmanaged stress levels can negatively impact your digestive system.
Calorie-counting apps, like MyPlate, MyFitnessPal, or Noom, force users to become preoccupied with labels and numbers, and those who use these apps are at higher risk for developing eating disorders like anorexia.
Anorexia is characterized by restricting your daily caloric intake for the purpose of losing weight. On these apps, if you go above your daily calorie limit, you’re often shown a red bar or some other graphic that is associated with making a mistake or being punished. To ensure that you don’t exceed your limit and to avoid feelings of guilt, you might resort to skipping meals or compulsively checking labels.
An example of going to the gym in a more body-positive way is telling yourself that you’re not going so you can come out looking a certain way, but that you want to work out for your own health; however you end up looking should be accepted and celebrated. At the end of the day, taking care of yourself solely for the sake of taking care of yourself is most important.
Instead of skipping meals or swearing off sweets, remind yourself that your body needs food to function, and that eating sweets every so often is not bad. This helps you develop a healthy relationship with food rather than seeing some foods as potential dangers to your appearance.
You should exercise and eat healthily because you love your body and want to take care of it. Your body is here to protect you and keep you alive, not to be constantly Instagram-worthy or “desirable.” Everyone’s bodies are different, but that is not a bad thing. We all deserve to feel beautiful and accepted, no matter our size or body type.