Is the Online Fitness Community Broken?

I recently had a short discussion on Facebook with someone who had linked this article criticizing the online fitness 'movement' which has arisen from social media. The writers are clearly half kidding, so I have no particular beef with the authors, but it did make me think.

As you will see, some of these points are slightly more, ahem, advanced arguments than others. The article's 11 points were (in case you don't want to read it):
  1. The movement makes celebrities out of normal folk.
  2. Creates guilt for eating normally.
  3. Pushes extreme fitness as sexy.
  4. Uses a lot of memes.
  5. Individuals complain about the lifestyle they self-impose. 
  6. They upload videos of common workouts that anyone could do. 
  7. They act as if they are qualified to prescribe nutrition
  8. Liking everything on social media, cult like aspects.
  9. Neon.
  10. The food they eat makes the writer sad.
  11. They date, and procreate with other health junkies.
My opinions are mixed. I follow a lot of online fitness sources- pinterest, instagram, blogs, and twitter. I don't follow blindly and I'm attracted to the social medias of smart, real, ballsy people above others. The people I follow tend not to think of chocolate as a capital offence. So here goes...

Where They Have a Point

Yes, 'celebrifying' (#1) is odd but this happens in every social media genre on the internet. People like getting life insights. If enough people in the world care about your life, you are famous yes. It is a little strange I admit. 

The two comments about eating (#2, 7 and 10) are real concerns. Readers should be careful who's nutrition advice they are taking. Some social media 'stars' in my opinion just know what they need to do to look as they want, some have problematic relationships with their food, where they become so obsessed about being healthy that they become disordered. The social media validation that comes with their exposure likely isn't helping and it worries me that anyone would follow their lead. Some do present food so 'healthified' that it looks and is nutritionally nowhere near real food. 

Demos, like nutrition, should be left to professionals (#6). However I wouldn't presume that 'everyone' knows how to do something. Everyone starts somewhere. Frequently in the new days that happens on social media. 

Yes it can be cult-y. Just don't be sheep-y. Question what people say. Find your own groove. Know your limits, get some real advice. Don't feel shamed by people who think their thing should be everybody's. This applies to everything in the whole world from fitness to careers to belief systems. 

Where They Pretty Much Don't

I think #3 is a stupid diversion for the article to take (in the article itself they use a specific photo and say it 'isn't sexy'). Surely we have learned by now that insulting someone else's way doesn't make your way better. That insulting obese people wont make them thin, insulting underweight people wont make them gain, insulting muscly people wont make them take up endurance cardio. Insulting people wont make them convert to coveting your preferred form of bodily presentation and 'health'. The meme comment is also highly pointless. 

Complaining about something self imposed (#5) is human. I complain about work, I chose to do a PhD. I complain about legs hurting and tiredness and getting up early. I choose to work out. I choose to socialise. Sadly humans are mopey biatches. Truth. 

Neon. Is just some colour. And I quite like it. Also its obvious they'll hook up. People like people who are into the same stuff they are.


Now, a few more points: some social media stars inspire people to get healthy. We need that cause' the western world isn't doing so hot in that regard, at both extremes. The article's last point is something I can really get behind too: 
"Why can’t we all just be normal and healthy?!"
I like my inspiration down to earth. I like real people with jobs and commitments who still rock it.

Also in our discussion came the differentiation of functional vs. vanity exercise, and how functional and/or directed and enjoyable is likely the healthiest route. That healthiness to be thin isn't really healthiness. We also chatted about protein supplements and to directly quote:

"The protein thing makes me want to scream. Hanging around a gym does not require extra protein, you don't loose protein by gym osmosis!" 

Also discussed: the random vilification of specific foods, with no strong scientific reasoning; pseudo nutrition in general; and two papers showing that most athletes don't require supplementary protein. The joys of knowing fellow scientists into exercise!


What grinds your gears about the online fitness community?

Check out this great rant about a rage inducing article in Harper's Bazaar too.


  1. Great post! Although I did get a bit sulky when the author of the post was grumpy about neon ;)