Why I Stopped Looking at Social Media for Fitness Inspiration

By Hannah Luke

Content warning: Descriptions of disordered eating, BMI and body weight

Weight gain is an inevitable part of life, but as I watched the number on the scale rise higher than ever, I was compelled to shift my carefree lifestyle into one fixated on “health and fitness." It wasn’t until I had completely broken down, exhausted and starving after a calm day of shopping with friends, that I realized how far from healthy I had gone.

The holidays are a time of joy, spending time with friends and family, celebrations and of course, food. For me, this was especially true and given my history of a high metabolism, I was able to chow down without giving a second thought to my caloric intake. To my dismay, my metabolism wasn’t able to withstand the massive amounts of stuffing and pie I was consuming for weeks on end and eventually, my body showed this. Having always had a petite figure, I was alarmed and disappointed to find that my once flat stomach had begun to protrude. My decrease in self-confidence eventually led me to social media for fitness inspiration.

I have always actively taken part in sports and other physically demanding activities—not to stay in shape or to burn calories, but because I enjoyed it. Yet as I saw my body transform from its previously fit form, I turned to exercise as a means of trimming down and punishment for eating too much rather than as a fun pastime. When I first started to show interest in fitness, I turned to one of my best friends for help. Her goal was to become a personal trainer and to major in exercise science; it seemed to me that her body was evidence of her expertise. Starting in the midst of winter, she and I would peel ourselves out of bed at 4 a.m. before school every day and head to the gym. We followed popular fitness Instagram accounts for suggestions and inspirations to get our bodies into what we thought was the perfect shape. Eventually, the lack of sleep stopped her from coming, but I continued to go alone.  

In addition to increased exercise, I also created a strict diet plan for myself. With the aid of the app MyFitnessPal I strictly logged everything I consumed down to chewing gum and breath mints. I remember reading online that Victoria’s Secret models ate fewer than 1000 calories a day and decided that in order to have a desirable body, I would have to adhere to this diet, sometimes going to as low as 500 calories a day.  

For almost six months I was able to stick to my diet plan and lost over twenty pounds. My immense weight loss was especially alarming considering that my BMI was never in the overweight category. In fact, even at my peak weight, my BMI was in the center of the healthy range, at 21. At the lowest, on the other hand, my BMI had dropped to 16, and was in a high health risk range. I began to feel weak and my bones ached. Sleeping on my sides became painful as my hip bones pressed against my mattress, so I started sleeping on my back.  

Despite this, I liked how my body looked. Many of my friends even compared it to those of popular models and social media stars. I took great pride in this. I constantly checked social media and tried the newest exercises, juice cleanses and other diet trends. I knew that I didn’t need to lose weight, but I rationalized it by telling myself that the girls on social media didn’t either—and yet they seemed so healthy and happy!

At this point it had been several months since my last period, but it was just one less thing to worry about. Because I had always been thin, my bony appearance wasn’t shocking and no one seemed alarmed at my sudden weight loss. I never refused foods that I deemed “healthy," like fruits and vegetables, and I never skipped meals. I assume that this deterred others from questioning my well-being.  

Eventually, I was unable to keep up my energy levels, and activities that were once enjoyable became a chore. When I collapsed into tears after a few hours of walking downtown, I knew I needed to make a change.

Deleting my calorie counting apps was the first big change I made. It was hard at first to allow myself to eat the foods and meals which I once restricted, but it made it easier to stop comparing my diet to others. Eating more became less stressful over time, but I still found myself comparing my body to others.

 My biggest problem wasn’t necessarily my diet, but my self-esteem. In order to overcome this and grow stronger physically, I knew that I would have to grow mentally. Unfollowing models and “health and fitness” Instagram accounts was one of the best decisions I’ve made. By doing this, I’ve realized that I don’t need to compare myself to anyone. My confidence has skyrocketed. My weight has gone up considerably and I now rely on my body to tell me what I need to be healthy. I am mentally and physically healthier and happier than ever, because I look within myself for confidence and validation.