I want to talk about health. In this crazy world of obesity, eating disorders, confusing messages to love your body the way it is – whilst obsessively counting calories, exercise crazes, diet fads and the unattainable bodies of supermodels projected everywhere we look on billboards and TV ads, it’s hard to know what health really means. Teenage girls especially, are a group that struggle to combine eating well, exercising and actually being happy with ourselves.
Here are some disturbing, but probably not shocking statistics;
- Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S. alone.
- 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
- Over one half of teenage girls and nearly one third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviours such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives
ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) states ‘There isn’t one conclusive cause of eating disorders. Multiple factors are involved, such as genetics and metabolism; psychological issues – such as control, coping skills, trauma, personality factors, family issues; and social issues, such as a culture that promotes thinness and media that transmits this message.’
On the other end of the spectrum, here are some facts about the accelerating obesity rates
- Worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980
- The percentage of adolescents aged 12-19 years who were obese increased from 5% in 1980 to 18% in 2010
- Globally, 44% of diabetes, 23% of ischaemic heart disease and 7-41% of certain cancers are attributable to overweight and obesity.
The World Health Organisation states that; ‘Supportive environments and communities are fundamental in shaping people’s choices and preventing obesity. Individual responsibility can only have its full effect where people have access to a healthy lifestyle, and are supported to make healthy choices.’
It’s hard to get healthy on your own – and it’s often impossible to get help from family and friends who don’t care or understand. When we try to eat healthier foods, all too often parents freak out and cry ‘eating disorder!’ (Fair enough, as it shows they’re concerned for your wellbeing – but really annoying). On the other hand, if we enjoy our junk food a bit too much, we’re warned we’ll get ‘fat,’ as if it’s the worst possible thing a human could be. Obviously I can’t speak for all teenage girls in saying this, but it’s the case in my family and many of my friends. We receive so many conflicting messages on the ‘right’ way to be healthy from the media that they basically all cancel each other out, so who do we turn to? As ANAD and the World Health Organisation both clear, we need support to prevent both eating disorders and obesity, but where do we get this help from?
I have a suggestion, and you don’t have to take my word for it. But, maybe you could try it out if you’re having issues with losing weight, or just want to know what it feels like to get your body (and mind) in better condition. I’m talking about fitblrs. These are tumblr blogs dedicated to health and fitness; filled with inspirational quotes, pictures, tips, recipes and vast sources of information on everything nutrition, exercise and wellbeing. This is all fantastic for anybody who has been utterly bamboozled by the media, as it’s a return to basic knowledge about the ‘how to’ of weight loss (if that’s what you’re after), or whatever health/fitness goals you’re going for. However, the most important thing about these blogs is that they’re communities. People support, give advice to and are there for each other. I follow personal trainers, mums and bodybuilders along with teenagers (majority age demographic on tumblr) on their up-and-down fitness journeys, just like me.
Obesity is a huge issue in society at the moment, as eating disorders also ironically are. The weight loss ‘struggle’ is heavily discussed by women’s magazines and other mediums, perhaps causing us to view being healthier (not even thin, but healthy), as something that will be inherently hard, when it should really be a focus on returning our bodies to a state we will function best at. In a TED talk, Alisa – a doctoral researcher on clinical health psychology at UCL explains that viewing weight loss as a test of willpower, deprivation and simply ‘eating less’ is all too often doomed for failure. She also doesn’t give a golden ticket for weight loss, as it is up to us as individuals to find sustainable lifestyle changes that will be enjoyable and maintainable. Alisa stresses the importance of finding food and exercise that you enjoy, or your motivation levels will quickly run dry with the prospect of gruelling (insert workout you hate) sessions and no (insert favourite food), ever.
Watch the whole thing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWfqBy4sSD8
Joining the fitblr community helped me personally stay in a healthy mindset consistently, (of course I have bad days, sometimes weeks or months, too, just like everyone), and gave me the idea to do things I enjoyed to become healthier, not necessarily what my friends or family did. One post in particular really spoke to me. In fact, it was like an angel came down from heaven – trumpets and everything, when I saw a post saying ‘It’s ok to have off days. You are a human, not a machine.’ I had always approached fitness through an all or nothing perspective, and these words helped me see exercise as a part of my life, that although would enrich my life if I persevered at it, would not define me as a worthy person or not. I did go to the gym religiously for a few months when I was extremely focused on achieving a particular physique, but I’ve since toned it down to fit in with my other priorities. Fitblr’s have been relevant to me for over a year, through a variety of stages in my lifestyle (including being sick, busy, during exams, and when I had heaps of free time), and in the blogs I follow, there is also a wide range of lifestyles.
I feel that we often underestimate the importance of a healthy relationship with food for our wellbeing. Give your nutrition too much importance, and it rules your life with meal planning, rules and so many N-O’s you can’t keep count. But, don’t think about it enough and you will eat anything you’re offered, whenever you want to (or don’t particularly want to, but it’s free, so you might as well); in doing so inevitably develop health problems such as diabetes, lethargy, bloating and many more associated with eating high sugar or fat foods frequently. It’s a tough balance to strike, and one that I feel fitblr’s have helped me to make in my life. My main problem is probably stopping eating when I’m full, because I love cooking and food just tastes so good that I want it ALL. However, the most important thing is to do what works for you. There’s absolutely no point in me saying what I do, because my way of life is probably totally different from yours, making my diet impossible for you to maintain.
So called ‘motivational’ pictures the media shoves down our throats often make us feel guilty more than anything, because we don’t have the willpower to attain that perfectly chiselled six pack, perky booty or toned legs. What’s so great about fitblr’s is that you can follow the stories of girls, women, and the occasional guy just like yourself supporting each other and making progress in a positive way. There’s no hint of deprivation or starvation on these blogs. Instead, the focus is on making progress unrelated to weight loss. Things like eating more natural food and less processed sugar-packed factory made crap are celebrated. Running longer, lifting heavier and trying new sports are changes that are only good for your body and mind that many fitblr users engage in.
In the pursuit of backing up my championing of fitblrs, I sent a little survey out to some of my followers. I didn’t really expect much feedback, but the answers I got were great, and so inspiring to read! I already knew this from looking at blog’s ‘about’ section, but many girls use fitblrs not only to lose weight, but also to get on track with a healthier lifestyle in recovering from an eating disorder such as anorexia. In fact, 3 out of the 5 responses I received were from girls who had recovered from an eating disorder. One 16 year old tumblr user says that ‘fitblrs are the reason why I started my fitness/clean eating lifestyle. I used to desperately want to be skinny, but once I started reading about health and fitness, I was hooked.’ On their own, teenage girls’ minds are dangerous places. Self-hate, frustration and guilt are all feelings that can stem directly from body image, and when we only have the skinny, photo shopped women in the media to compare our bodies to, it’s depressing. It’s hard battling with the constant temptation of junk food, as well as unhealthy habits the world throws at us – and fitblrs really help in focusing on the healthy – not the skinny. The weight will take care of itself if you do this.
Another girl who has benefited directly from fitblr’s says ‘they helped me to fully recover from bulimia. I was able to control the ed (eating disorder) years ago but fitblrs helps me to really be proud and self confident in my body and eat with joy and happiness.’ If that doesn’t make you want to start a Fitblr, I don’t know what will, because reading this brings warmth to my heart.
I don’t profess to be any sort of fitness or health guru; my weight fluctuates from month to month and I struggle a lot with binge eating. But even when I’ve gained weight, my eating is off track or I haven’t exercised in a while, fitblrs help me to stay positive and know that I’m not alone. It helps me stop viewing a healthy lifestyle as something difficult and laborious, but as something that makes me feel good. The number of times I have used tumblr to motivate myself to go to the gym, or not binge is copious. When I feel too lazy to go for a run, fitblrs remind me that running is actually really fun and puts me in a good headspace. (Yes I’m serious. I know it sucks the first few times, but after a few regular runs, it makes you feel like you could rule the world), they reinforce my self-worth even if I’m not as pretty or toned as the girls in the airbrushed magazines, and reassure me that it’s normal to not feel like sunshine and butterflies about living a healthy lifestyle all the time. Because sometimes you just want to drink hot chocolate, eat McDonalds and stay home watching Disney movies. And that shiz is good for your soul every once in a while.
I’m very lucky in that my friends eat healthily, which is a huge help as it’s a proven fact the eating habits of your friends influence your own. However, even if you do have unhealthy friends, there’s thousands and thousands of girls (and boys) trying to lose weight or just be healthier on fitblrs. In my experience, if you ask someone a question on there, they will give you the best advice they can, which is usually pretty good, as there is a LOT of information they are exposed to on Tumblr.
Fitblrs have just helped me so much that I feel it would be selfish not to share them, hence this article. None of my real-life friends have a fitblr, because it’s not for them. But if just one person reads this and thinks it could benefit them, I’ll be ecstatic. It’s not an overstatement to say fitblr’s changed my life. I went from being an unhappy girl with a BMI veering towards overweight who thought starvation was the only way to get the all important ‘good body’, to a much more confident, healthy young woman seriously informed on nutrition and exercise.
So, if I’ve sold the concept of fitblrs to you and you’re keen to see how it can help you, then make a tumblr blog, search up tags like ‘exercise’, ‘fitspiration’, and ‘healthy eating’ and follow some blogs you like the look of. It’ll snowball from there. You don’t have to share any personal information if you don’t want to, or dedicate massive chunks of your time to blogging. Just a few posts daily is sufficient to top up motivation levels for me, and it will help to keep health fresh in your mind throughout the day.
Sign up here: https://www.tumblr.com/register
I’m really enthusiastic about health, if you couldn’t tell, and even if you don’t start a fitblr, I hope this post has been informative or inspiring in some way.
Good luck with everything, and happy blogging