Fitness is a big trend in social media and has been for some time now. Many social media platforms have blocked #pronana and #promia, but people find a way around it by adding letters and numbers to the hashtags. The thing with eating disorders, is they made you very sneaky so of course people find ways around bans. Some websites put up a warming which encourages users to seek help and asks then to clarify if they’re sure they’d like to see the content. No such restrictions are on fitspo. Many of the biggest social media influencers are fitness accounts, and unfortunately, fitspo is just as harmful as pro-ana and pro-mia.
What is pro-ana, pro-mia, and fitspo?
Pro-ana stands for pro-anorexia, and pro-mia means pro-bulimia. Saying Ana or Mia personalising the eating disorder, which is understandable given that an eating disorder voice can feel like someone else is in your head. However, it’s very easy to get comfortable in the illness.
Fitspo stands for fit-spiration which basically means fitness inspiration, just like pro-ana and pro-mia communities will have thinspos (thinspirations).
Why are they harmful:
Fitness influencers are not inherently harmful, but there is an overlap between pro-ana/pro-mia content and fitspo content, which is why fitspo is bad.
Slogans like “I only rest when I’m sleeping” and posts encouraging you to really really think about what goes into your mouth and having discipline is a facet of both. The difference is that instead of an emancipated figure thinspos share, fitspos share extremely lean physiques. They both post about being disgusted by body fat, about how being thin/lean will make you happy, people will like you more, you can have a bikini body.
If anything the fitspos are nearly more deceptive than the thinspos. Fitspos (in particular those selling their own workouts and fabricating before and after pictures), tend to only show themselves at certain angles, before eating so their stomach is at the flatters, flexing, posing etc so you work and work and work.
You eat what they eat, you do the same workout and you can’t figure out why you don’t have the perpetual prominent abs they seem to. have. The answer is that they don’t. They don’t actually look like that all the time or even at all. This is why fitspo is bad, because it’s so misleading and encouraging behaviour that could turn self-destructive.
We know pro-ana and pro-mia are harmful because they promote objectively harmful behaviour. Fitspos promote excesses exercising and a strict diets under the guise of health.
Anorexia and bulimia aren’t the only two eating disorders
Eating disorders are more complex than being bulimic or anorexic. The most common eating disorder is actually OSFED/EDNOS which is one of the ones the hardest to get taken seriously enough to be given help. More relevant to this discussion is orthorexia.
Orthorexia is an eating disorder characterized by an obsession with having a healthy diet and lifestyle. Orthorexic’s might eat strictly “clean” (or even a raw diet – raw diets cannot be all or nothing, even the biggest advocates of a raw diet eat around 10% cooked food).
We see orthorexic’s behaviour online and condone it. We’re not concerned when our favourite influencers post about bringing a Tupperware with chicken, rice, and broccoli or bragging about never having a cheat day, exercising no matter what life throws and them etc
Too much of anything can make you sick and that includes health foods and gym sessions. It’s important to note that there’s no such thing as good food or bad food. Labelling foods like this is toxic because it’s more about the quantity and frequency of what you eat that matters!
Orthorexia can have the same negative effects on the body as other eating disorders like amenorrhea.
But we need to stop judging how serious an eating disorder is based on weight and physical health. They’re a mental illness first and foremost. Someone might be “weight restored” but they’re still mentally anorexic. The eating disorder is still there.
Does this mean we should ban health content?
I’m not saying we need to ban heath content. The #pronana bans aren’t doing anything but helping them get sneaker. Eating disorders make you very calculated, manipulative, and sneaky – not having access to a hashtag won’t sway them. What it might do is stop those who don’t have an eating disorder yet or are at the early stages from getting sucked into a toxic community, but for those already in it, it’s not saving them.
We’ve actually already made progress. Whenever a Kardashian promotes a diet product, at least half the comments are slating them for promoting diet culture. Were recognizing that glorified laxative teas and meal replacement shakes are trash, but we don’t have the same energy for influencers who are romanticizing “I’ll rest when I’m dead” attitudes.
We’re all for calling out diet culture, but we still fall short when it comes to seeing why fitspo is bad.
A lot of fitness influencers are actually fine. They talk about rest days and cheat meals. They’ll allow life to happen, but there are too many toxic ones.
Being fit is not an issue, sharing your fitness journey is not an issue. The reason why fitspos are bad is when they deceive their audience and promote orthorexic behaviour.
What can we do:
Deep down I pity fitspos like I pity pro-ana and pro-mia accounts, but that doesn’t absolve them of what they’re doing. The harm to others is why fitspo is bad, as well as pro-ana and pro-mia accounts. Whether you have anorexia, bulimia, or orthorexia encouraging others to engage in eating disorder behaviour is wrong. Most people with eating disorders don’t do this, and most health influencers don’t either. At the end of the day, fitspo is just as harmful as pro-ana and pro-mia
I think the least of the diet companies capitalising on this. They’re not sick, just greedy.
When we see posts like this we need say “hey this is actually harmful”, and unfollow. We need more education and resources to help tackle eating disorders, and we need vulnerable people to be taught that what you see on Instagram is fake. You won’t look like a fitspiration, and that’s a good thing.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder please reach out for help. Organizations like Beat, Bodywhys, and National Eating Disorders can offer support.
This is an interesting one but I think the one big difference between proana sites ad fitspos is intention. A lot of fitness accounts at the core don’t have a negative intention in the same way that proana sites do. Unfortunately, the impact that has depends more on the mental state of the person consuming it than it does the person producing the content a lot of the time. If a person doesn’t have a healthy attitude towards diet/ health/ food etc they can take any kind of fitness or food content and make it negative x
I think that everyone can make something good into something bad by obsessing over it. Saying that fitness inspiration with their perfect instagrams (I mean it’s instagram, 90% of the content took 100 pictures to get the perfect shot) is somehow making people become sick is just not okay. Pro ana and pro mia (and all the other ones) actually tell people to harm themselves. Fitspo tell people to become healthy.
I agree with that but it’s harmful when they start selling “health” products that actually aren’t healthy like meal replacements etc which a lot do
I agree with this SOOO much! People really need to recognise orthorexia more and how severe it is x
There is definitely a very fine line between inspirational fitness content and triggering content for those who are living with an eating disorder. Something that could be perceived as motivational to those in a healthy head space, like sharing weight loss progress, can be spun to further encourage eating disorder habits. I’m not sure that there is a ‘one size fits all’ solution, but awareness can help us to work towards keeping the space as safe as possible for those who are vulnerable.
thank you for explaining this. What do you think about the intense juicing-mania going on right now? I think that constant detoxing can be harmful to your body. Because I use the juice detox/cures for some health reasons -and I benefited from them thankfully- but almost all of them is harmful after 10 to 15 days. Especially if you are drinking it on an empty stomach.
I’ve actually wrote about juicing a good bit for a site I write for! A lot of ingredients in juices like ginger are really healthy and beneficial, but the calories are so low on juice cleanses that it veers into unhealthy territory and shouldn’t be a longterm or regular thing
As someone who doesn’t really follow fitness accounts this was such an interesting read. I’d actually never heard of pro-ana and pro-mia sites either!