What is ‘Fitspiration?’: This is not fitness. This is an exercise in illness

Today I am pleased to offer a guest post by blogger Lizz Schumer, who has known the dangers and pitfalls of disordered eating and exercise, and now advocates for healthy recovery and body image.

Here, she shares her experience with ‘fitspiration’ and describes her journey to balanced, intuitive exercise that fit her body’s unique needs:

I called it the “tyranny of the numbers.” I couldn’t be content to run x number of miles, burn x number of calories or spend x amount of time. The three x’s had to line up, like pictures on a slot machine, for me to hop off the treadmill satisfied. Bingo.

In this way, my compulsive exercising brain held my body captive, tied to a treadmill until one would let the other stop. If I skipped a day, I hated myself, my body, the weakness that I thought resting implied. I counted calories like I counted steps, minutes: obsessively. This was not fitness. This was an exercise in illness.

A person only need spend five minutes on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or even Twitter, to notice the “Fitspiration” trend that’s taking over social media. Slogans like “unless you puke, faint or die, keep going” and “No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch,” slapped across photos of tight bodies in tighter clothes flash across the screen in the name of fitness. But what are they really saying?

After years of fighting it, I’ve learned to listen to my body telling me what it needs. My body isn’t a machine and it isn’t a tool. It’s a part of me, and a part that I love and respect. If it’s fainting or puking, there’s something wrong. That isn’t fitness; that’s illness.

And no matter how slow I go, my body still needs rest days. It needs the couch, sometimes. And yes, it often needs potato chips and chocolate, too. And if I don’t give it some off time, my body will break down. Or my mind will, because neither can exist at maximum capacity for long without falling to pieces, because neither were made that way. That isn’t fitness either. But I can tell you what it is.

It’s a culture trying to sell fitness by encouraging shame in our bodies. Fitspiration encourages pushing a person’s body to the limit and beyond, implying that any less is failure. It’s an all-or-nothing attitude that isn’t just discouraging; it’s dangerous. Women are already taught that we’re not good enough. We’re taught that our bodies are imperfect, our efforts are less valuable, our work is worth less. None of these are true, but all of them sell beauty products, self-help gear and yes, workout clothes. We have to look beyond the fitspiration messages and realize that slogans that subjugate aren’t selling us anything we should be buying. That we’re stronger, smarter, better than that.

True fitness, the kind that leaves a person feeling better and living healthier, has nothing to do with fainting and puking. It doesn’t require, or even usually result in, glistening muscles rippling beneath branded spandex. And most of all, real fitness makes a person feel better, not worse. Because my personal fitness level, no matter where it is, is nothing to be ashamed of.

These days, I don’t treat a treadmill like a slot machine, just like I don’t treat my body as a vessel that needs punishing. I put a book over the numbers, cue up my favorite podcast and exercise until a chapter break, the end of the broadcast or my body tells me to. No matter what the numbers say.

Bio: Lizz Schumer is a writer, reporter and photographer living and working near Buffalo, N.Y. The Lizz_headshot copyeditor of a local newspaper, her work has appeared in a variety of forums. Her first book, “Buffalo Steel” is available from Black Rose Writing. She can be found @eschumer, www.lizzschumer.com and www.facebook.com/authorlizzschumer.

 

Do you want to read more about ‘fitspiration’, its unhealthy messages, and related topics? You may find out more about why fitspiration really isn’t that inspirational here; or uncover some of the most damaging fitspiration messages here, and read a report about the dangerous effects of fitspiration on mental and physical health as discussed by psychologists here.

With the news of The Biggest Loser contestant who dropped more than 60% of her body weight over the course of the show and fell to an unhealthy weight, The National Eating Disorders Association asks: ‘Who Is the Biggest Loser? All of Us.” A timely topic that we all must confront.

What are your thoughts or reactions?  Please feel free to leave a comment below!