I read an article in the Guardian this week got me pretty mad. In it the writer tried to go in for some kind of moral panic about the #fitspo trend, and how it wasn’t too far off from the dangerous, pro-anna #thinspo hashtag. I immediately wanted to write an angry blog post refuting all the article’s points but instead I thought it would be a lot more productive to write about why I love #fitspo instead and why I actually think it’s great for women, if they should so choose to follow it.
My first real brush with fitspo happened around this time last year when I found myself working with a very enthusiastic follower of all things exercising and clean eating. Pretty soon our whole team was sharing mason jar breakfast ideas and protean ball recipes. I live in Melbourne so of course we’re all insufferable hipsters but I was so pleasantly surprised to see a whole group of women banding together over something so positive instead of the usual complaining about our weight and the latest restrictive diet we all wanted to try.
Here’s the thing, I’ve always been pretty slim and pretty fit but I realise now that I never really understood the basics of nutrition and exercise until I started this fitness journey, all inspired by some of my favourite Instagrammers. Where I once avoided strenuous physical exercise in favour of my daily cycle ride and a little bit of pilates, now I’m eagerly running to my boxing and bootcamp sessions every week. Where I once ate an OK diet, now I think about food in terms of how much nutrition and nourishment it will give instead of how many calories. And I’m so much happier for it. I can’t even explain how much my overall wellbeing and mental attitude has changed now that I’m serious about my health and fitness.
Could some women, particularly those recovering from eating disorders take #fitspo too far? Of course they could and my heart goes out to anyone suffering like that. But fitspo has some great positive messages that the majority of women really need to hear. We’ve been (mostly) raised in a society where being skinny is what matters and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a female friend say they’re worried that too much exercise will make them bulk up and look unfeminine. Fitspo empowers women to take control of their own health and to question the ridiculous skinny aesthetic that is pushed on us by fashion companies and the media. And of course the whole movement has come from social media. It’s made by women, for women and we get to choose what messages we want to see by voting with likes. Are the incredibly toned bodies on Instagram also unrealistic? Yes perhaps they are, but I personally think it’s a lot better to strive for a strong and healthy body rather than try and look like a 14 year old runway model.
Another thing that makes me sad is the incredible negativity put towards bloggers like The Food Babe. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to people who have harassed her so much, they’ve been banned from her page. Vani Deva Hari is an American blogger who campaigns for cleaner eating and gets constantly derided for her unscientific, unprovable claims. I don’t understand why some people are so insistent on tearing someone down who is just trying to challenge the additive-filled, junk food diet that is being pushed on us by food companies. OK so she’s not a scientist. I don’t think it takes science to see that eating natural whole foods is best and that big food companies care about profit more than our health. Anything that encourages people to think more critically about the foods being pushed on them and making more mindful decisions about their eating habits it a great thing in my opinion.
Anyway I did promise that this was going to be a positive article so thought I’d end on a short list of the biggest things that have made a difference to me health this past year:
- Ordering a weekly veggie box. Not only is my fridge always full of healthy food now with no extra effort from me, I actually help stop waste in the farming system by buying the misshapen veggies that supermarkets refuse. Oh and local farmers get a fair price for them. Double bonus!
- Working with a trainer. I now attend an outdoor fitness group along with my husband and some friends. Having someone to push you and the support of your peers really has a huge effect on how hard you work.
- Eating more mindfully. My diet has changed so much now I think about what I’m putting in rather than what I’m cutting out. Brown rice, pasta and quinoa have replaced those low fat rice crackers and bread. And I treat myself regularly too!
- Paying attention to my stress. I can now see that stress was the number one barrier to better health because when you’re body is wasting energy on worrying, there’s not enough left for anything else. Regular yoga, meditation and more smiling have helped me let go of all that worry and focus on the positive.