The extent to which social media has come to play such a ubiquitous role in daily modern life is truly astounding. The exponential growth of both people using social media and the ever-changing landscape of social media platforms combines the transformative impact of new technologies and the decades-long trend towards global interconnectedness in ways we’ve never seen.
But social media has long ceased to be just a space for viewing vacation photos and sharing silly cat videos. Social media feeds are increasingly a source of news and information for many users, including fitness novices and junkies alike.
Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest et. al can have a positive impact on your fitness journey by providing workout motivation, inspiring new recipe ideas, and creating a fitness support system, but only if you harness its power effectively.
On the flip side, using social media poorly during your fitness journey can be harmful if it exacerbates negative thinking patterns and self-sabotaging behaviors.
Here are a few dos and don’ts for using social media to advance towards your fitness goals while avoiding the negative impacts it can have on your physical and emotional well-being.
Do: Find inspirational posts and influencers to follow.
Most social media platforms make it easy to find “fit-fluential” pages and posts by making suggestions for people you should follow based on your interests and online activity. So start by liking photos, videos, and articles that motivate and educate you to get recommendations for others that expand your fitness horizons. You can also use the hashtag function on most platforms to search for less common terms like #kundaliniyoga, #ocr (obstacle course racing), #metcon (metabolic conditioning), or #cauliflowercrustpizza in order to filter down to posts concerning your specific interests.
Do: Connect with likeminded individuals at all stages of your journey.
Social media makes it possible to be more connected than ever with groups of people who share your affinity for fitness and desire to live a healthier lifestyle. You can join Facebook groups and fitness forums to find a local workout or accountability partner, start a challenge, or find a supportive coaching program. As your fitness journey progresses through different stages of conditioning and strength, you can use these groups to find new and different challenges to continue to elevate your fitness level and athleticism.
Do: Take most advice with a grain of salt.
Much of the fitness advice offered on social media falls into two categories: evidence based, factual advice, also known as science; and anecdotal advice based on first — or second — person experience, often referred to as “bro science”. Given the number of “fitspo” memes perpetuating the zombie fitness myth that “muscle weighs more than fat” (which, it should be reiterated, is NOT true) or presenting one-size-fits-all diet advice with little context, you shouldn’t rely on social media postings for anything other than a starting point for further discovery through your own research from valid and reputable sources. Remember also that just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for you. A significant part of your fitness journey will require trial and error to find the methodologies and practices that both work for your body and can be incorporated into your lifestyle.
Don’t: Compare yourself to others.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Recent studies on the use of social media show that 60% of people who use social media report feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, much of which stems from the habit of judging oneself harshly in comparison to others. You should learn and draw inspiration from the social media space without creating hierarchies in your mind that place you behind or ahead of someone else. Focus on YOUR journey and allow yourself to live all parts of it with the peace of knowing that your journey will progress in its own time.
Don’t: Compare yourself to others.
Seriously, I can’t stress this point enough. Stop. Comparing. Yourself. To. Others.
Don’t: Start and end your day on social media.
Rest and recovery comprise a crucial fourth pillar of your fitness journey in addition to diet, exercise, and hydration. Staying up late cruising social media can disrupt your sleep patterns by exposing you to blue light from LED devices at the time when your body is trying to wind down. Checking social media first thing in the morning can start your day on the wrong foot if you’re spending too much time comparing yourself to others and judging yourself harshly as a result. Make it a point to start cutting off your social media checking habits 30–60 minutes before going to sleep and using the time in your early waking moments to set an intentional morning ritual, whether that includes time for meditation, yoga, or just sitting quietly with your thoughts.
Don’t: Forget that social media is someone else’s “highlight reel”.
Most social media pages are curated to show the most interesting and active parts of each person’s life while excluding the mundane moments that are a part of everyone’s life, like waiting at the DMV. Furthermore, few social media influencers share the unhealthy practices they may be using to get unattainable results with the transparency that allows you to put these results into perspective. Don’t get too wrapped up in the fact that your life doesn’t look or seem like theirs and remember that everyone has mundane moments in life that never make it to “the Gram”.
Your time on social media can be a great way to learn the basic nutrition and exercise science behind fat loss and build practical lifestyle skills to help you achieve your ideal fitness level. Avoid the common pitfalls that lead to negative thinking, depression, and insecurity via social media by using these tools to generate new ideas and build connections that help you focus on the “big rocks” during your fitness journey: a healthy, balanced fat loss diet; regular physical exercise with an emphasis on resistance training; and a self-care and awareness based mindset that you can sustain as a lifestyle over time.