One of my yoga instructors in college used to say “What you think about is where your energy will go.” In a world where are bombarded with social media posts about nutrition and fitness, I’ve started to wonder how constant exposure to photos and posts about restrictive dieting impacts our thoughts. And if our thoughts directly influence our actions, then what impact do these posts have on our actions and motivations related to health behavior change? While I think the majority of people who post these photos are doing so with good intention (i.e. hoping their efforts will inspire others to take the plunge), the effects may not always be positive. It is important to take a step back and notice how constant exposure to this type of media may be subliminally impacting our thoughts, and ultimately our health.
The most common posts about nutrition and fitness are before and after weight loss photos. My main concern with these types of photos are that they drive home the stereotype that weighing less = improved health. The means in which these results are achieved are often negated. And more often than not, these results were achieved by following some type of rigid diet with the main focus of reducing body fat or mass. The showcased weight loss is often lost over a very rapid period of time versus gradual weight loss, which increases your chances of keeping it off.
Research shows dieting (particularly yo-yo dieting) increases an individual's risk of greater weight gain over time, heart disease, diabetes and eating disorders. Yet, people continue to trial the latest diet fads. Making small sustainable behavior changes over time is associated with long term health and vitality. However, making simple changes such as increasing consumption of fruit or vegetables or reducing added sugar in coffee do not make the most intriguing social media posts.
Constant exposure to this type of media naturally increases our need to compare ourselves to others. The next time you get home from a long day of work and log onto social media- notice how many weight and fitness related posts there are. Observe what self-talk occurs during this browsing period. How does this ultimately make you feel? Comparing ourselves to others is a natural inclination; however, what are potential downsides? For one, comparing ourselves to others takes the focus off of the things in which we can control- our choices, and our actions. We often forget that people are posting the best representation of themselves online, while within ourselves we typically see that worst.
I’m not saying we have to give up social media in its entirety, I’m just hoping we will all take a moment and pause before we click that “follow” or “friend” button. Begin to notice how this exposure impacts you… observe your thoughts, because ultimately what you think about is where your energy will go. And nobody likes wasted energy.