Health, fitness and body image

Over the last few weeks, I’ve stepped up the number of health and fitness websites, Facebook pages, Instagram timelines and Twitter feeds I follow. And there’s one thing that really stands out – there is very little focus on actual physical, mental or spiritual health. Most of the stories are about body image and a vast number use images of physiques that are unattainable for most of us.

In fact, I’d say the body images many stories present are unhealthy and promote the very opposite of what they purport to be about.

I recently took this picture at my local supermarket. It’s a good example of what is wrong with the health and fitness publishing business.IMG_5105

Killer pecs, best bum ever, nuke your gut – even the nutrition advice in Men’s Fitness is about growing muscle. At least Women’s Health mentions clean eating meals.

A look at the online world is even worse. Almost every story (my high school English teachers warned me about exaggerating claims but I think I’m safe using “almost every” here) focuses on body image and uses a model with either single-digit body fat or focuses on a specific physical attribute.

Throw in the celebrity diet stories and the masses of “bro-science” (exercise and nutrition advice from someone at the gym who received the advice from some pro or more experienced lifter – who got it from some random, unsubstantiated source) and it’s little wonder novice and experienced exercisers are confused by all the conflicting advice.

And, to top it off, the photos used in many magazines are unrealistic. Between photoshop, clever lighting and other tricks, what we see on a page or on a screen bears little resemblance to reality.

Heck, the photographer that shoots the pics at my kids’ school offers a “blemish removal” service for school photos.

That’s just crazy in my view.

What’s clear to me is the images portrayed by many health and fitness publications – both digital and physical – use unrealistic images and poor language.

There’s almost no description of actual science in much of what I’ve read – bro-science doesn’t count – and when there’s reference to some research or a report, it’s poorly explained and rarely investigated with any sort of critical eye.

The trendiest of diets, paleo, is based on a single piece of research that has been largely refuted. I’m not saying paleo is bad for you, but I am saying the assumption that humans were foragers is not as sound as many people think.

So, what can we do?

  1. Don’t click on stories that promote unrealistic body image expectations.
  2. If you read an article that points to some specific science, don’t just accept the author’s interpretation. Look for the source material and evaluate the author’s findings against those of other writers.
  3. Be realistic in setting goals. Dropping 20kg and going from overweight to ripped is not realistic for a week of training. But it could be realistic for a year.
  4. Remember, there are no shortcuts. Living a healthy life is a process, not a project.

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