A Look Into The Triggering World Of Diet And Fitness
By Carolyn Digby
Navigating the road to recovery from an eating disorder is no easy path, never mind taking into account the world around us. Daily we are exposed to images that could be potentially triggering to someone who has experience within the realm of eating disorders, and no other industry is quite as rampant as the fitness and diet world.
If you have any sort of social media presence (be it Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or what have you), there is a "fitspiration" or “fitspo” trend; posts that are intended to inspire us in our fitness endeavours. These posts can come in a multitude of different themes, showcasing fitness transformations or inspirational quotes. "What is your excuse?" is often a common phrase used to motivate followers into whatever the fitness regime du jour may be. While the posts have good intentions behind them, they can often have the opposite effect and illicit feelings of guilt and shame rather than inspiration. They can often provoke feelings of not being good enough, and be contradictory to the mentality of recovery.
News articles can only add to this. It appears every time you turn on the news or open whatever website of your choice, you are inundated with headlines like "The top 10 foods for weight loss" or "5 exercises you can do to burn fat". The message is that these are things you need to be doing in order to take care of yourself, to achieve the "ideal" body image, and there is no other way.
Related to this fitness culture, I used to be involved with a company heavily involved within the industry; health and wellness was a core part of their brand image. There was a corporate culture that fostered an incredibly supportive environment of colleagues with their fitness goals, however it could become quite overwhelming at times. For someone who has recovered from an eating disorder and who struggled with over-exercising, being within this environment could be cumbersome as I had to actively keep my recovery in the front of my mind regularly. By no means is pursuing an active lifestyle necessarily bad; it's when it becomes an obsession which leads to a path of disordered behaviours or triggers mental anguish is when it becomes a problem. You can't take a "one size fits all" approach to fitness; everyone has their own preferences, time commitments, medical background, and priorities that take into account their ability to work out or be physically active.
Although I am fully recovered, I would be lying if I said this cultural mindset didn't bother me from time to time. As part of my recovery, I had to change my relationship with exercise and fitness to focus more on my overall mental health. Now, I exercise because it makes me feel good and only participate in activities I truly enjoy, rather than to achieve a specific physique or to maintain an unhealthy weight. But it took awhile to get there, and it took a fair amount of work given that we live in a world with relentless interest in diet and exercise.
Simply ignoring these messages so engrained in our culture can be difficult. To change an entire mentality surrounding fitness and exercise is not impossible, although it would take the effort of many and the course of time. So what can we do right now for ourselves? We may not be able to change other's behaviour, but we can certainly change the way we critically think and look at the fitness industry.
With social media and those fitspiration posts, the first thing to keep in mind is that they don't tell the full picture of what is truly going on for that specific person. I once heard the phrase "don't compare your backstage to someone's highlight reel", and that really resonated with me for a number of reasons. The people behind these social media accounts are just like you and me, with their own batch of insecurities and not so glamorous moments. Rarely do people post about the days spent on the couch on Netflix binges or spent running errands with no time for exercise. Remember that same person is also a person who leads a normal life, and that's totally okay!
For the endless news articles and headlines, it's important to remember they are written for those who are not suffering or recovering from an eating disorder; you are not the intended audience. It's usually blanket advice that doesn't necessary work for everyone and doesn't promote a balanced lifestyle, and it's truly meant for those who are in the right place medically and mentally to take it into account. Think of it in this simple way: let's say you don't like football. You are reading a news website, and an article about the BC Lions comes up. You scroll past it without clicking on it or reading it. Let's do the same thing with these weight loss articles; they aren't relevant to us!
Another important concept to note about the author or website of the article. Often, they are written or sponsored by a company who has a vested interest in the products or whatever offerings that are being touted, and the article is used as indirect advertising. Rarely do such articles appear that have no underlying business motivations behind it.
Lastly, if you are in an environment that pushes for constant fitness like I was (whatever it may be), it's up to you to ultimately decide what is best for you and what the best surroundings are for you to recover fully and maintain it. For me, I had to remember that their support was well intended, and at the end of the day it was my decision if I wanted it to effect me or not. You can be a bit selfish in this regard; if you have someone who is constantly intrusively pushing active endeavours, do you need them in your life? You need to value your own mental and physical well being above all; being in a supportive environment with those who understand and will not be pushy can do wonders.
At the end of the day, while we cannot get rid of every single trigger that exists in the environment, we can learn to live harmoniously within it. Small actions that we do for ourselves and as part of our own self care can not only ripple a small change within yourself, but can trickle out to the world around you.
Carolyn went to the University of Victoria for psychology, and is currently working towards applying for a Master's degree in the same subject. She hopes to uncover what sociological and personality aspects contribute to the development of eating disorders. Otherwise, Carolyn loves writing, drawing, travelling the world, and of course, her handsome cat.