Does this make my butt look big?

TW: This article mentions eating disorders. 

#ana (8.9m posts)
#boxgap (41.7k posts)
#thynspiration (15,475 posts)

Welcome to some frighteningly common social media hashtags. What makes them frightening? To be such common hashtags they have to be common thoughts, and more importantly, common aspirations. The number of posts is how many there are on Instagram alone at the time of writing. For those who aren’t aware, ana is a ‘nickname’ for anorexia.

I’m not exactly sure when such a serious, debilitating illness became an inspiration for thinness, but after years in the fitness industry I’m well aware of the dangers of the ‘when I’m skinny’ mentality that lurks in the shadows. Having worked behind the scenes in the fitness industry, I’m well aware that this mentality can be a great selling tool. I know trainers who ‘fat shame’, gyms who angle mirrors unflatteringly, and companies who only use photoshopped models for advertising. To be honest, I’ve fallen for it myself . As a matter of fact, it was the constant search for the biggest calorie burn that led me to lifting.

I thought I’d left the scene of the ‘skinny’ search behind, and with mottos such as ‘strong is the new skinny’ and ‘strength in beauty’ I mistakenly believed that the view of beauty was changing. I was very clearly wrong, and see it regularly in the gym.

You’d be hard pressed to find a coach who hasn’t had clients who refuse to lift heavy for fear of ‘getting bulky’, clients who finish a workout and run 10kms because the session wasn’t ‘long’ enough, those who turn white during a workout and need to sit from a clear lack of fuel…I have had clients quit because they swear they have developed Popeye’s forearms (they hadn’t – they’d trained three times). In the past I’ve offered nutrition coaching which involved keeping a food diary and answering some simple questions. This allowed insight into their current relationship with food and their body. Without fail, there was a fear of eating and a pattern of restriction and guilt. When did food become the enemy? When did our bodies start deserving to be punished? Why are we dictated by the scales?
This is not healthy and something we deal with very seriously.

I’ve learned over the years that if we’re aiming simply to be skinny, we will pretty much do anything to achieve it and this can compromise our health significantly. We end up with an unhealthy fixation on things such as calories and the scales. We’re scared to lift a tooth brush in case we develop a muscle. We freak out if we get hungry but have already hit our specific calories for the day. We’ll then either starve or run around the block just so that we can eat a piece of lettuce. We view dietary fat as the enemy. These are clearly examples towards the more extreme end, and eating disorders are complex, however fatphobia is pervasive and disordered eating patterns are prevalent.

Becoming healthy is different. This is more about aiming for bio feedback that supports your lifestyle – quality sleep, a healthy relationship with food, balanced hormones. You may find that your body is bigger than the person next to you, or smaller, and that’s ok. What matters is that it’s the best that you can healthily be. 

Have you ever tried to workout at full intensity without having eaten? It’s a bloody miserable experience.

Do not judge yourself based on your size! Don’t go down the path of counting how many calories you burn in a workout – your phone app or your clever watch aren’t going to be accurate. Stop freaking out about how many calories are in your food and start thinking about what the quality of it is. This is different to saying eat with abandon – it is encouraging you to move away from obsessing over numbers and move towards empowering yourself nutritionally and choosing to eat whole foods that will fuel you.  When you’re working out, hit it as hard as you possibly can (and this will vary – you can’t go balls to the wall every session and not expect an injury). Track your workouts and watch your results. Be proud and healthy and happy!

Why are you working out? Those with a healthy relationship to food and exercise are working out because it is part of their lifestyle, not because they want to be skinny. They love the challenge and competing against themselves each workout. Focus on that – how much stronger or faster can you become? How has your mobility improved? Can you get up from the floor without help? Can you ride your bike to work without getting a stitch?

You need to be honest with yourself – are you searching for skinny? Or are you searching to grow as a person, both physically, mentally and emotionally? That’s what life is about, and the gym is a way to support that.

The most beautiful changes that coaches hear are those that are mental; the confidence that you’ve gained and how you view yourself. It’s much more gratifying to love yourself for who you are, than to love yourself based on a dress size.

If you suspect you or someone you care for has an unhealthy relationship with food, please speak with a professional – not your local life coach or insta-celeb. Your GP is a great place to start and will be able to put you in touch with qualified specialists who can help you on your journey. You can also access The Butterfly Foundation online for resources and support if you aren’t ready to meet with your GP.