After an espresso and a handful of almonds, I made my way to a 2.5 km track near my dad’s house. It was just another Saturday morning in high school. From early morning till lunchtime, I’d run laps around the track for hours. The inspirational quotes under pictures of thin but strong women that I’d seen on Tumblr the night before would consume my mind. Don’t quit until you’re proud. I would keep running until I felt faint or my vision went out. Then I’d go home, shower, and guilt myself out of a big lunch.
My family and I were thoroughly invested in the idea of fitness. The closest to junk food Dad had at home was cacao nibs, vanilla protein powder, and (homemade) dehydrated mango slices. We all had memberships to the same gym and our idea of family bonding was going to pilates together or on a hike.
Although a dedication to health is in no way a bad thing, there is a difference between caring about your health and obsessing over it. The former is just being healthy. The latter is called orthorexia and it has become a common issue within the online “fitspo” subculture. The National Eating Disorder Association defines orthorexia as “an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating.” A study from the University of Pisa found that between 1 in 5 and 1 in 2 people have eating behaviours that are similar to orthorexia but it is difficult to give a specific number because orthorexia isn’t an officially recognized disorder. So, social trends which promote these obsessions over fitness are just damaging an already hurt part of society.
Although images of skinny women with inspirational quotes written over them may seem like it is inspiring you to exercise in a positive way, it is more often than not leading to feelings of guilt or stress over food and exercise (two things that are supposed to bring you joy).
Thankfully, there are a lot of people working against these ideas and publishing anti disordered eating content. Some reject the idea of “fitness” all together opting to favour emotional healing and peace overall. Accounts ranging from clinical psychologists, like Dr. Colleen Reichmann (@drcolleenreichmann) to fitness instructors, like Jess Takimoto (@jesstakimotofitness) focus on the joy of a workout and of a good meal.
Dr. Colleen Richman known by her 85.6K followers for her instagram posts that are mostly just blocks of text on a colourful background. Her anti-orthorexia posts have slogans like you were put on this earth for so much more than tallying macros and cutting bananas in half and it’s really okay to eat brownies that are not made of black beans. Others focus on body positivity (bodies are not meant to stay the same. Can we stop putting pressure on folks in their 30s, 40s, and 50s to look the same as they did in high school?, Your body is not a “project” for you to try to make perfect. It’s the home to your soul.). She often addresses issues in a mix of serious and comedic tones which allow for people to connect with her in different ways.
Jess Takimoto focuses instead on the joy of working out and on bloating positivity. As someone with IBS, she often poses in mirror selfies joking about how she looks pregnant, aiding in the normalization of bloating. She addresses the controversy around before & after pictures and encourages people to question this trend. She prefers to measure her progress in her feelings around a workout.
The best steps to take against the normalization of orthorexia is to choose to support (and spread) content that focuses on joy and normal body functions. It is also important to focus on your own negative thoughts about food and exercise. Attempt to make a change not just on who you follow but on what you think about your health habits.