Until five years ago, I never gave fitness or nutrition a second thought. I skipped breakfast, I went to work and had a brownie and a latte for lunch. By the time dinner rolled around, I was so hungry that I would make an entire box of pasta and my partner and I would eat all of it. I would park myself on the couch afterward and bore myself to sleep with television. Looking back, I was not unhappy with my body physically. I have never really allowed my feelings about body image to be led by what I saw in magazines and on television: however, I was unhappy emotionally. I felt sluggish, bloated and unmotivated. My turning point was the third trimester of my first pregnancy where I said to myself ‘why am I building my baby on all of this non-nutritious food?’ From that moment on, I decided to live what I label as a ‘healthy’ lifestyle. Now, I fill my body with whole foods, limiting heavily processed items. Out of these changes came a passion for inspiring other women to make similar changes for the right reasons: to improve self-esteem, to improve mental well-being, and to gain the knowledge that everything being put into the body served a nutritional purpose and, in turn, protected me from future illness.
My original intention for this post was to write as open call for ‘health’ bloggers, facebookers, instagrammers and tweeters to incorporate more balance into their content, because I think the definition of health is relative. One person’s idea of what it means can differ from the next. So when writing a facebook status, posting a fitness inspired photo on Instagram or tweeting a magazine article featuring the latest health trend, it should be taken into account that there is no one way to define a healthy body and healthy practices. I feel that there is a general assumption that the only way one can be healthy is if they look like the photos featured in fitness magazines, and that is why the blogs and social media accounts (seen on various websites seen here, here and here). These made me start to think that inspiring others to get healthy should be focused more on how eating well and moving more makes you feel on the inside. As I researched blogs and social media sites, I realized this is a much deeper issue. I saw an emergent theme of this is the only way one should look like and eat in the curation of ‘fitspiration’ imagery and quotes. It left me feeling that I am supposed to purchase the most beautiful produce, squat until my butt doesn’t droop, eat copious amounts of peanut butter to achieve the body and beauty of a celebrity and not stop exercising until I am proud enough to wear a bikini.
After looking at many different fitness blogs, and seeing countless photos of so-called perfect bodies as well as quotes such as ‘everything in moderation, including moderation’ I began to feel that fitspiration has gone past simply trying to inspire women to get fit. The Fitspiration trend now seems to be driven by aesthetics, even though fitness level is not based solely on how one looks. This quote says it best; “Fitness is your body’s ability to effectively and safely perform a required physical task. It includes cardiovascular and muscular elements as well as flexibility and balance. It’s entirely relative and individual to each person. What we consider fit for an athlete is completely different than what is fit for the general population, which is, again, different to the fitness of someone with a disability or disease. Our fitness isn’t determined by the weight, shape or size of our bodies.”
After months- even years- on social media sites, the idea of ‘fitspiration’ has turned from fit is the new skinny to you must work until you’re ready to give up and then work even harder. The problem with articles/posts like these is that there is an obsession over the look of being healthy. These posts do very little to promote physical activity and eating well for internal purposes. The approach to health that is being taken is not holistic- it is all about how to gain the confidence to wear whatever clothing one wants, or enter a figure competition. The message is that in order to look like the fitness models in the photos, you one must never give up or slip-up: and when you do, you’re not working hard enough.
The decision I made to make up the majority of my diet with whole foods, and become physically active, was because I wanted to lead a healthy lifestyle as a mother, not because I wanted to maintain a certain body weight. I was motivated by how being physically active made me feel inside, and how awesome it felt to eat a ton of fruit and vegetables day to day. I know what it feels like to love fitness – to feel healthy from the inside out. I exercise and eat well, but I embody what I consider balance. I still eat chocolate when I want it, and on average I work out a maximum of 20 minutes a day- that’s it. As a result, I am in what I think is excellent health, and my athletic physical appearance is just a bonus. My mental well-being is intact, because I don’t let it get to me if I missed a workout or if I’ve had a few treats on the weekend. I don’t give a restrictive image in anything I post on facebook, Instagram or twitter- I have yet to start a blog, but I intend to. I am using my social media accounts to show that while I love fitness and nutrition, I don’t pressure myself with an all-or-nothing approach. I am issuing a call to action for bloggers, instagrammers, tweeters and facebookers; please advocate for fitness and health but please question the all-or-nothing image that the example sites given in this article have helped create. Look at your life and reflect on what makes you feel good from the inside out, because chances are that unlike the curated pages on Pinterest, Instagram or Tumblr, your real life includes much more balance.
Tara Kleinsteuber is a Conestoga College Recreation and Leisure student who is currently doing her placement with YWCA Cambridge. She aspires to one day offer non-profit health and fitness programming for women that inspires confidence and encourages holistic well-being.