Sunday Longread: The dark side of social media fitness culture

Misleading claims of miraculous transformations are pervasive among fitness influencers

Now more than ever, we sit on our phones scrolling through social media between (or during) online lectures. Even if you don’t follow many fitness influencer accounts, it’s bound to come up at some point as a suggested page. You see these overly defined abs and perfectly toned muscles and can’t help but click to check this person out: it’s almost an impulse. All over their page are diet tips, meal plans, workouts to target specific body parts, and swimsuit pictures. It’s hard not to be fascinated and want to achieve those results. They appear to have cracked the code in getting the “perfect body”. Is there legitimacy to their results, or is it all helped with editing softwares, lighting and camera tricks? Influencers are commonly known to be all about self-love and that all shapes, sizes and body types are perfect and beautiful, yet they all sell this one image that you should strive for and sell the viewer products that help them achieve that.

On social media, “beach body in 6 weeks”, or “how to target belly fat” are some of the most common and misleading captions and video titles that catch a viewer’s eye and attention. These influencers seem to have to quick and easy fix to get the picture perfect body in as little as a few weeks. Most of these influencers are people who have trained the majority of their lives in a sport that requires healthy diet plans, a strict training regimen and vast amounts of dedication spanning many years. To many of the general public, this isn’t the case. Achieving a body type that took years to build and grow is not possible with the short amounts of time they claim. Advice on targeting specific areas such as “love-handles” or belly fat, is impossible. It has been proven by health experts that the spot reducing fat is nothing but a myth, and the only way to work on “problem” areas is by lowering overall body fat percentage. Decreasing overall body fat means exercising consistently and eating a healthy, balanced diet, not the mystified 15 minute YouTube videos claiming they are the secret to a perfect physique.

“It is impossible to achieve such drastic results in such a short period of time.”

At the start of the lockdowns due to the spread of coronavirus, free workout videos by YouTuber Chloe Ting became very popular, particularly, her renowned “2 Week Shred Challenge”. It appears to be the perfect time to achieve these “body goals” and with a workout for less than an hour a day claiming to yield unbelievable results, it’s hard not to give it a go. However, the very concept of a two week shred program, along with the tons of progress pics and videos displaying “success”, can give the false impression that these YouTube workouts will give the results most people are seeking when they start. The truth is, as mentioned before, it is impossible to achieve such drastic results in such a short period of time without drastic dietary changes as well. In fact, it’s commonly supported by dietitians that weight loss is roughly 80% diet and 20% exercise. So rather than being led to believe that this free workout program by an unqualified trainer will lead to shocking results, it is necessary to consider the other aspects of a healthy lifestyle that are important.

Ting’s programs can appear enticing because of video titles promoting short term health goals focused solely on aesthetics. Titles like this give the impression that body features shunned by society such as the “muffin top” and “love handles” can be (and should be) magically removed in just a few weeks with the help of a couple of videos less than 30 minutes long. Quite frankly, it’s misleading and can lead to a loss in confidence when these miraculous results aren’t achieved. While there are similar programs out there, by Blogilates and Rob Lipsett, for example, Ting’s have gained a massive following over the course of the shutdowns. Her two week ab program has over 200 million views in less than a year after publication. Ting’s programs seem to suck you into a destructive cycle that consists of being promised change aimed at appearance rather than overall health, attempting these challenges only to leave disheartened after immediate results were not gained, and finally, luring in more participants as you become just another view contributing to her popularity.

“It is crucial to be informed and do research before falling for these types of fitness influencers’ gimmicks.”

There are many others all over Instagram and YouTube similar to Chloe Ting and it’s important to be aware of these and make sure they actually have qualifications before expecting results from their “training programs” and purchasing their meal guides. They feed off of insecurities and promising ways to “fix” these and even endorsing products like protein supplements that counteract the results their audience’s want. It is crucial to be informed and do research before falling for these types of fitness influencers’ gimmicks. Ultimately, what is most important is to maintain a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle. While workouts like Chloe Ting’s can be used in conjunction with others to help achieve the World Health Organization’s recommended 60 minutes a day of exercise, it is only combined with a nutritious diet that such results can be achieved and sustained in the long term. Many of these influencers can be inspirational in helping to lead a healthy lifestyle, which is an amazing thing and can help people to take control of their health and make it a priority, but the claims that you can “get abs” with their short workouts is a farce. More than anything, in order to increase fitness, it is necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Shannon McGreevy

Shannon McGreevy is the Online Editor of Trinity News and a Senior Sophister student of Biochemistry.