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Swipe This! My #fitspo-obsessed friend keeps giving me unsolicited tips

How can you set healthy boundaries with a health-obsessed friend?

Jan 14, 2020, 5:38 pm*

IRL

Nayomi Reghay 

Nayomi Reghay

Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected]

Dear Swipe This!

I have a friend who is a little bit of an Instagram #fitspo celebrity. A couple of years ago, she went on this body transformation journey, lost a lot of weight, and got really fit. Her Instagram account gained a small following (she has a few thousand followers) and she constantly posts and shares memes about strength training, fitness, and self-love.

Earlier this month, I decided my New Year resolution would be to exercise more and eat healthier. I know. I’m so basic. But I don’t care! I just want to feel happier and healthier. and I know that happens when I’m more active and I eat cleaner. I don’t have any specific weight loss goals, but I guess dropping a few pounds would feel good because I’ve definitely put on some winter weight.

I shared this goal with my friend and ever since she has been sending me #fitspo posts on the daily. Diets, exercise, all kinds of really annoying unsolicited advice. She also texts me, “Have a great workout today!” when I haven’t told her I’m even going to the gym. I know she is trying to be supportive but she’s making me feel horrible! 

Honestly, when she started losing weight, I was happy for her but I also felt overwhelmed and jealous of her success. So now, having her constantly checking in on my progress is making me feel so anxious and angry! I can’t talk to her without her asking how my “fitness goals” are going, and when I’ve told her that my goals aren’t specific she tells me how important it is to set specific goals. She keeps offering to help me create a plan and I keep telling her thank you that’s really sweet, but deep down it makes me furious.

Maybe I’m being too sensitive? But I just wish she would respect my choices! How do I get her to stop?

Sincerely,

Fed Up with #Fitspo

Dear Fed Up with #Fitspo,

There’s no way you’re being too sensitive! Fitness, nutrition, and weight are incredibly intimate topics. Anyone who assumes there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to those things is out of their mind. You deserve to have support—on your terms. And a friend who can’t respect that isn’t a friend at all.

But here’s the problem. Your friend has no clue she’s disrespecting you! You haven’t asked your friend for the kind of support you need. You haven’t told her what makes you uncomfortable, and you haven’t told her that she’s crossed your boundaries. It would be great if she just intuitively knew what you needed, but clearly, she doesn’t. So she is just trying to encourage you the best way she knows how, and unfortunately, she’s assuming that what feels good to her will feel good to you. 

Is her behavior annoying? Yes, absolutely! Is it unreasonable? Given what you’ve told her about your goals, I don’t think so. 

I get why you’re so frustrated. You’re figuring out new routines that feel safe and supportive to you. That’s challenging, and it’s very brave of you to start this process. Meanwhile, your friend appears to have her relationship to these things all figured out. Behind closed doors, she may not have such an amazing relationship to fitness, but her modest Instagram fame gives her an air of status and success. So if she shoots you a text with a bunch of flexed arm emojis and smileys, I can understand why you feel judged or even intimidated. 

You have a right to be irritated. But you also have to tell her how you’re feeling if you want her behavior to change. It can be uncomfortable to do this, especially with a well-meaning friend, but I think a little honesty now could save you a bigger blow-up down the road.

I also think that some of the resentment you’re feeling may come from parts of yourself that you’ve failed to examine, specifically the part of you that is competitive. You admitted that when your friend lost weight, you were happy for her but also jealous and overwhelmed. It may not have been direct, but you were competing with your friend in your mind before you ever even set your New Year resolution. You can ask your friend to change, but if you still have this belief that you must compete with other women in order to be beautiful, healthy, or happy, this dynamic will probably come up again down the road.

I don’t blame you for competing with your friend. Society teaches women to compete with each other. Within the systems of capitalism and patriarchy, the ways we are taught to compete, quite frankly, suck. And when you add social media to the mix, it’s easy to get caught up in feelings of not being good enough. If you want to develop a healthier relationship with competition, you’ll have to unlearn so much toxic patriarchal nonsense.

I’m not saying this is an easy task. And I would argue that competition itself is neither good nor bad; it’s neutral. Some people are able to take a little friendly competition and turn it into fuel. It motivates and excites them. And some people use competition to feed their fears. They turn it into spiraling thoughts and obsessive behaviors. 

So how do you let go of your negative relationship to competition? You have to accept yourself as you are. I mean really accept yourself. That doesn’t mean you stop desiring to change or grow. But it means you make peace with who you are in this moment. And that might be someone who’s a little bit grumpy about going to the gym today. 

When it comes to something as personal as your body and your wellness, accepting your current state is one of the kindest things you can do. If you’re finding yourself competing with your friend, if only in your mind, you should gently redirect some loving attention toward the body and health that you currently have. You won’t gain anything from comparing yourself to her except anxiety and possibly even resentment. But you will gain something from accepting yourself. 

And if you’re serious about changing your health and fitness habits in a way that isn’t so “goal” oriented, I’d suggest you research the intuitive eating movement and health at every size. You have the right to pursue whatever fitness goals or lifestyle changes feel right to you, and these movements might help you to develop a less critical relationship with your body.

It’s OK if you discover that you don’t want your friend to talk to you about your health and fitness goals. You can set that boundary. But you may also find that you do want support. If you do, I would recommend telling your friend that you’re working on self-acceptance. Tell her you don’t want gym reminders; you want reminders to be gentle with yourself today! Her willingness to support you may surprise you. And if she turns out to be a toxic #fitspo monster, no worries. You can shed that dead weight and find friends who authentically support you.

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*First Published: Jan 15, 2020, 6:00 am