Is Sharing Your Fitness Journey on Social Media Causing More Harm Than Good?

Having an online fitness account can be fun and help with accountability. But there's also a dark side to it.

Chew On This
5 min read

The tendency to share details about your workouts or meals is a common practice for many social media users, and more often than not, we don’t invest a lot of thought in posting these updates.

They are fun, colourful, and often ways of keeping us accountable for the regime we are following.

However, what happens if the same thing that once gave you joy becomes a source of pressure and stress? Is it possible for something as motivating and seemingly harmless as sharing your diet and workouts with a bunch of friends to turn into something overwhelming and actually hinder your fitness journey?

Dr Saurabh Mehrotra, Associate Director, Neurology, Neurosciences, Medanta, Gurugram, calls it a "double-edged sword."

"Social media invariably comes with its share of benefits and risks. It is for the user that they don't fall prey to the risks. It is very common now to see people share their diet and exercise regimes on social media."
Dr Saurabh Mehrotra

"Herein I refer to people sharing healthy diets. The users report that doing so increases their accountability towards themselves, keeps them motivated and they are more likely to stick to a regime if they share it with a group rather than keep it to themselves. The group may become workout buddies. The motivation is further boosted when they get encouraged/appreciated on social media. This is also intended to motivate others to get into a better exercise and fitness schedule. Exercise is contagious. This has indeed been found to be beneficial and improved the chances of better compliance with a plan," says Dr Saurabh Mehrotra.

However, there is a very thin line between this behaviour and when it shifts to become something unhealthy," he adds..

The Triggers in Calorie-Counting and Before-and-After Transformations

Pakhi (name changed) is a twenty-five-year-old media professional who has had a complicated relationship with food since her late teen years.

She shares that when she tried to make healthier choices and tried using social media to help her with the journey, she was met with something quite unexpected.

It started off on a very positive note, as she shared her progress with her friends and followers. She loved the validating, approval comments that came her way. It was encouraging and motivating… until it wasn’t.

“Hashtags that one would associate with fitness communities often led me down rabbit holes of such minute calorie counting that I didn’t even realise when my well-intentioned efforts began damaging me."
Pakhi (name changed), 25

According to Dr Mehrotra, the obsessive sharing of information, sometimes even of the minutest details, can often be triggering for those who have had any kind of relationship with an eating disorder.

Pakhi shares that the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos were the worst because they made you believe that as long as you stick to a specific regime, for a specific time, your body would also look a certain way.

"This approach was so flawed and needlessly pressuring because there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all when it comes to fitness and wellness,"she says.

"And yet, the pressure to stick to these regimes, whether or not they were right for me, not only led to immense guilt, and some unhealthy dietary choices, ironically, but also to a knee injury!”
Pakhi (name changed), 25

The learning that Pakhi says she took from all of this is to never go on a social media platform for wellness advice, and to only share her journey in a controlled, calculated manner.

An important word of caution that Dr Mehrotra uses here is that the information being shared publicly needs to be scientific, and done responsibly.


Why Do We Even Feel the Need to Share?

Dr Sameer Malhotra, Director and Head, Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi, says there can be any number of reasons for this. It could be to build motivation, or a wish to inspire others, and build a community of followers; yet, as always, there is a flip side to it all.

The sharing might not always be a cumulation of positive factors. For instance, in some people, it could be reflective of underlying psychiatric concerns, or a need for approval/praise from others, as part of exhibitionism or to draw attention, he adds. Dr Malhotra agrees that such behavioural patterns can definitely lead to obsessive tendencies making one believe they can never be healthy and fit enough.

Dr Mehrotra suggests that sometimes a pressing need to share workout and meal prep details can be triggered by compulsion.

“There is a proneness to becoming compulsive. It might not begin as a compulsive need but may become one when we start doing it. A compulsion necessarily means the behaviour is no longer in control. It affects our way of being. Now it has to be done for others, by putting it on social media, for the people awaiting the next post, on occasion even asking about one. The accountability may convert into pressure to engage in sharing repeatedly.”
Dr Saurabh Mehrotra

This shift from doing it for oneself to doing it for others is the beginning of the problem.

This is entanglement, which we as humans are prone to. The users may now start doing it for likes, attention, and bolstering self-esteem.

They may become anxious if the likes and comments are reduced. It may affect their psyche and, in turn, their physical and mental health. The mind now has to do it, leaving little scope for flexibility.


How Does One Safeguard Oneself, While Also Sharing Updates?

Wondering if the answer is to toss that phone or delete that app? The answer does not have to be as drastic as this, instead, try incorporating a more balanced approach.

Both doctors agree with Pakhi’s hard-learned lesson of care and control.

Dr Mehrotra emphasises that the most important thing here is self-awareness and self-control. “Try to be aware of your feelings and thoughts related to it. Recognise when you are doing it for self-improvement and when as a compulsion."

"Technology is part of our lives and extremely beneficial. In itself, we cannot blame technology. The responsibility lies with us to use it to our benefit with discretion and understand the perils that come with it."
Dr Saurabh Mehrotra

Dr Malhotra reiterates that social platforms are good ways to connect with one another, but one should never lose sight of the risks involved. "Introspection, and understanding the motivations behind our behaviour need to be done regularly," he adds.

As long as you stay in touch with your motivations, and your feelings share away to all your heart’s content, but remember to draw the line and step back when it begins to take over your life as an oppressive compulsion, the experts underline.

(Rosheena Zehra is a published author and media professional. You can find out more about her work here.)

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