The Most Dangerous Thing for Your Health

Leaning Out

This is a photo of me taken last week at the gym. There are some days, like this, when I feel so confident and love how lean I look, and there are other days when I feel puffy and gross. The mind truly does play tricks on us.

The other day, I made the mistake of visiting the Daily Mail Online website to peruse the current happenings in the world of celebrity and entertainment gossip. One of the first articles I stumbled across in the headlines was an entire article dedicated to the fact that Brad and Angelina had visited a Subway restaurant. Why is this in the news? I honestly don’t know. There must be a cluster of individuals existing in society who genuinely care about the fact that Brad and Angelina ate sandwiches. Anyway, the next article I stumbled across was an article about the beautiful, inside and out, Cheryl Cole. The “author” (although I think that is far too generous a description for the person who wrote this piece) of the article put together a compilation, spanning over several years. of all the times Cheryl’s weight has fluctuated, and decided to make their own assumptions about why this could have happened, which were mostly summaries of things happening in Cheryl’s personal life at the time. After reading the article, I thought to myself, there is FAR too much of this in the news right now. The Daily Mail is one of the most popular, most widely read, internationally recognised sources of entertainment news and a quick glance down the list suggests a troubling reason for its popularity. The majority of articles are focused on women’s bodies; what they are wearing, what they are eating, how they look in a bikini, how thin or fat they are, and all things physical. Depending on your school of thought, you may believe that we, as consumers and members of society, caused this obsession with looks and bodies, or perhaps that the media was the root of this current obsessive phenomenon. Either way, many of us are fuelling it and many of us are allowing it to destroy us.

A quick look at Instagram shines light on a dark world of body-obsessed individuals, some of whom are pretentious in their own self-obsession, and some of whom are seemingly lost and desperately trying to achieve an ideal that appears to be almost unattainable. There are hashtags used by the elite such as #fitnesslife or #aesthetics, and there are hashtags used by the more vulnerable such as #edrecovery (for survivors of eating disorders) and #fatgirlproblems. The rise in fame of fitness superstars such as Emily Skye, Kayla Itsines, and other mega-fit fit girls has resulted in a new physique for many women to aspire to. A friend of mine recently raised the question as to whether this new ‘ideal’ body type is potentially even more unattainable than the previously sought-after thin body type. This really stuck with me and made me think, is it arguably easier to be thin than to maintain a fit physique with a lower body fat percentage and a higher muscle mass? Is this new ideal more or less attainable for most women? Of course it is healthier, but do women find it harder to achieve, and could it therefore be even more damaging to their self-esteem and self-confidence when they struggle or fail to achieve the ultra-lean physique?

Over the past couple of years, thanks to social media, there has been a large increase in awareness of WBFF (World Beauty Fitness and Fashion) Pro athletes and models who have to take on an extremely regimented, strict eating and exercising routine to drop their body fat percentage extremely low, build muscle, shred/lean out, and stay as lean as they possibly can before hitting the stage in a teeny tiny bikini, or teeny tiny shorts if they are male. These individuals are the celebrities of the fitness world and some of them appear almost superhuman as their toned physiques are practically flawless. However, even some of these beautiful human beings struggle with body confidence and body dysmorphia as they fight cravings, have difficulty with maintaining their low body fat percentage all year round, and have to keep up their rigorous exercise routines. You see, they are human just like the rest of us. Some bloggers are very forthright and admit when they have cheat meals, celebrate the joys of peanut butter and chocolate, and share all aspects of their healthy lifestyle; the good and the bad. Other bloggers promote an unhealthy attitude towards food and fitness, beating themselves up for having ice cream or a treat, and over-compensating for that one light beer by punishing themselves in the gym the next day. Their followers, who are essentially their fans and who take inspiration and advice from this fitness guru, then adopt the same beliefs and attitudes towards food and exercise as them, which can result in self-destruction if misunderstood. There are some bloggers who don’t share the bad and only share the good, and this is perhaps the most damaging to the perceptions held by many of the young men and women who are following them. These followers believe that their idol only eats broccoli, plain grilled chicken, and pounds out two gym sessions a day, all whilst remaining perfectly lean, full of energy and loving themselves every time they take a mirror selfie. No way is this the case, I can assure you.

This obsession with our bodies and our looks is not healthy. What we should be more focused on is discovering healthier ways to eat, more fun ways to stay fit, new exercises, new super-foods, and how to feel great. If there is one thing I have discovered, it’s that focusing on nutritious food and the right kind of exercise will in turn lead to the body that you want. Anyone who follows me on Instagram or Facebook will know that I still struggle with some of the things I have described in this post, but I am working hard to focus less on my body and more on my health. If there is one thing I have realised, it is that someone who is as critical of themselves as I am, will potentially never be satisfied with his or her body! I don’t want to accept that; I want to learn to be satisfied and celebrate my progress, rather than focusing on my shortcomings. I want to love myself and be happy and comfortable in my own skin. We shouldn’t be reading articles like the one about Cheryl Cole, because honestly, who cares what she looks like? She’s been extremely successful as an artist and a TV presenter, she remained strong throughout a very public separation from her cheating partner, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and she stands up to Simon Cowell. We should be taking inspiration from the things that she has achieved, rather than judging her for her fluctuation in weight. Would you rather people focused on your body, your eating habits, your exercise routine, or the goals you have achieved and the amazing things you have contributed to your community? Remember that you never know what is going on in a person’s life and what you see online is only what they want to show you. Everyone has struggles, nobody is perfect, very few people genuinely love what they see in the mirror, and everybody has things that they dislike about themselves. Rather than focusing on the negatives, try to focus on the positives; the things that are going well. When you eat, enjoy the food and put love into what you cook for yourself. When you exercise, have fun with it and push yourself, because you are probably stronger than you think. Take care of your body and your mind, and remember that your ultimate goal in life is simply to be happy.