Let's Talk- Toxic Fitness Goals

There has always been so much pressure on people to lose weight to fit in with beauty standards. While it is important to maintain healthy diet and exercise habits in order to look after yourself and your wellbeing, sometimes the pressure of weight loss can overshadow the original goal of keeping healthy. It's for this reason that it is so easy to slip into toxic fitness goals, which can actually be quite detrimental to your overall health.

Receiving comments like “you have lost so much weight” from people after not seeing them in a long time might seem harmless enough, but can sometimes be quite uncomfortable for the recipient. People often address weight loss as a form of congratulations or act like it’s a compliment, when in reality, it can make the other person think one or more of the following things...

  1. I was so ‘big’ or ‘unsightly’ before that you have noticed a stark difference in my appearance.

  2. Weight loss is something that we should all aspire towards.

  3. You probably haven't seen me in a long time in order to make that judgement.

Even if you have lost significant amounts of weight, what people do not see is what you may have undergone to get to that weight, from all the unhealthy mindsets to the starvation techniques behind it - all they get to see is the end result. Congratulating others on weight loss may be unintentionally condoning or positively rewarding the formation of body dysmorphia, or perhaps even an eating disorder, not only in the person you are speaking to, but in bystanders too. So just don’t do it. Please refrain from commenting on people’s physical appearance, full stop. Especially if they never even asked for your opinion in the first place.

I know people often mean well and I assume they have good intentions. In fact, I myself have probably accidentally been guilty of comments like this in the past. I myself cannot say that I have ever been subject to a full-on and serious eating disorder, but I have experienced issues with my body image throughout my entire life and have always struggled with my weight. So I’m trying to learn and deconstruct my own internalized unhealthy biases and the facts surrounding body image as much as I can.

Overall, I feel as a society we need to move on from our obsessions with looks and the need to comment on other people’s weight all the time. I know from experience that this mindset is especially prevalent within the South Asian community, which I am a part of, because for them you’re either too thin or too fat and it seems like you can never win, because they’ll never be happy.

The problem is that nothing is more visible to others than someone’s appearance and weight- it’s the first thing they notice. Female celebrities often get drowned in this type of criticism too, from Jesy Nelson to Billie Ellish to Adele, it seems like the whole world is obsessed with female bodies. Don’t congratulate people when they lose weight and don’t ridicule them when they put on weight either. Whatever happened to ‘it’s their body, so mind your own business’?

In the same way you wouldn’t judge someone on their mental health, don’t judge people on their physical health either! You don't know their situation or lifestyle, so don't be so critical. Why do people think that just because they can see someone's appearance, they can automatically tell the state of their health and are thus at liberty to make judgements? Skinny doesn’t equal active and healthy and fat doesn’t automatically mean lazy and greedy. It doesn’t work like that because you could be severely underweight and therefore unhealthy, or a little overweight but have healthy eating and exercise habits.

Everyone’s body is different and at a different stage of development, so healthy looks different for different people. Yet when a seemingly ‘fat’ person loses weight it’s deemed an achievement they are rewarded for, but if a ‘skinny’ person loses the same amount, it’s an eating disorder for which they are hospitalized. While all eating disorders are just as serious, sometimes people who were already overweight to begin with are taken out of the equation entirely, in favour of those who showcase more visible symptoms, which prevents people from seeking help should they need it. If you feel you are suffering from an eating disorder or from body dysmorphic disorder, please don't hesitate to seek help here.

The Beauty industry capitalizes on making people (young female girls in particular) feel as insecure as possible. There are so many toxic and fad diets out there, profiting from this very phenomenon. They make it sound like losing weight is so easy and patronize people for not being able to ‘control’ their calorie intake. Ignorant people, like Katie Hopkins for example, make millions on fat-shaming others.

What people like this don’t understand is the fact that people’s metabolisms differ. So while some people might struggle to put on weight, others may put on weight easily. That’s why you may come across some people who seem to eat nothing but junk food and still don’t put on much weight. And the same goes for the other way round– some people may be eating healthily and exercising daily, but still be struggling to lose weight because their body type stores fat more readily. Starvation or fasting may not always help either. In fact, it can sometimes lead to people gaining even more weight because their body becomes so used to not eating, that when they start eating again, their body stores food as fat as quickly as possible.

Especially in the current global pandemic, a lot of people are stressed and overeating because they’re at home all the time. I think it’s perfectly fine to give yourself a rest from toxic fitness goals and beauty standards! It’s an intensely difficult period for us all now and it’s okay to feel lazy and lethargic by default because of lockdown. Of course, remember to look after yourself and prioritize both your physical health and mental wellbeing. While this may include healthier eating habits and regular exercise, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to lose weight and have your body look a certain way in order to be happy and healthy. Instead of going on some crazy detox diet, maybe just detox yourself from toxic fitness goals and beauty standards.