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Tumblr Fitspo reactivated my eating disorder

What had started innocently enough had morphed into a slew of disordered eating habits.


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Internet Culture

Posted on May 7, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 8:54 am CDT


I started my own Fitblr account, and soon I was just like the rest: re-blogging pictures of skinny girls with their running shoes on and their bones sticking out.

I erased the items one by one, as if deleting the record deleted the act in itself. I had become addicted to counting calories. What had started innocently enough had morphed into a slew of disordered eating habits. I realized I had taken it too far. As hard as it was to admit, I knew it was time to do something about it, just as I had so many times before. 

This time though, I wanted a clean slate. I didn’t want a record of what I had deemed to be my failures hanging over what I hoped would become a fresh start. I knew that I didn’t want to be the girl I had become anymore and so I deleted the items in my calorie tracker meticulously, which felt logical and almost therapeutic at the time. But in order to rid myself of her entirely, there was one more thing I had to do:

I needed to delete Fitblr. 

Fitblr accounts, also known as fitspo and fitspiration, are popular on Tumblr. They typically detail one’s personal journey to health and happiness, posting inspirational images and messages along the way. When done correctly, they can be a great source of motivation to those looking to adopt healthier lifestyles, increase their commitment to working out, and improving or changing unhealthy habits. But to the susceptible, it’s a disorder in disguise of health, bad habits masquerading as good ones. It’s a massive trigger that can send you spiraling into a dark world of disarray — one I had visited many times in my teens and 20s. 

I began by following one or two accounts and before I knew it I was hooked. I started my own Fitblr account to document my personal goal of losing 27 pounds by my 27th birthday, and soon I was just like the rest: re-blogging pictures of skinny girls with their running shoes on and their bones sticking out, beside photos of avocado on toast, beside memes with mantras and rules, so many fucking rules.

When I think about it, for me, the problems always start with the rules—and there were plenty to choose from on Tumblr. Rules superimposed over what I perceived to be inspiring and motivational images read, “Remember food is not the enemy, bad food is the enemy.” They said, “Never miss a workout on Monday.” They said, “Your body will thank you six months from now.” They said, “Suck it up now so you don’t have to suck it in later.” They said, “Strong is the new skinny.”

They told me not to quit. They told me not to make excuses. They told me I could do anything I wanted as long as I put my mind to it.

So I did. I started running more, and more. I started pushing myself harder, running for five minutes without stopping, then 10, then 20, then 25. I started eating less, restricting my calories and feeling extreme guilt if I surpassed 1500, then 1300, then 1200, then 1000. When I tried to curb this, the opposite happened and I was eating 2000, 2200, 2400 calories. I recorded them all.

I started losing control and eventually I became scared. Something I had fallen into as a means of support had turned me back into the frightened and confused girl I once was. All the progress and confidence I initially gained in doing things the healthy way was lost now.

I stopped liking my body. I stopped being able to see anything positive in my journey, because there was nothing positive about my journey anymore. It had turned into a series of rules and restriction, and I was burdened by guilt anytime I missed a workout or ate something I had previously deemed bad. 

I completely lost touch with who I was — and why I started this journey in the first place. My boyfriend grew tired of hearing me talk about it, and he became worried, too. I had let my obsession with Fitblr accounts completely derail me.

When I first started losing weight last April, I was healthy about it and I was happy and proud. But by April of this year, I was extremely depressed and defeated. I was mentally exhausted and unstable, and I based my happiness on a series of numbers: digits on the scale, calories in my tracker, and miles ran. Everything was mathematical and everything hurt. 

Deleting my Fitblr account was a bittersweet feeling. In a second, everything was gone. Hundreds of posts that I’d made over the past year disappeared. So did my catalogue of blogs I followed, the people who helped me get healthy before I took it too far. So did my followers.

I wish I could have learned to appreciate the positive aspects of Fitblrs and find balance, but I know that for me there was no balance to be found. Fitspo, which is supposed to promote healthiness, had become no different than thinspo, which promotes eating disorders. 

Since then, my life is slowly beginning to resemble some form of normalcy, though it remains a challenge at times. I still struggle with a few remnant bad habits, but I’m trying to take things in stride now. I’m learning to listen to my body and show it love with yoga and running, and nourish it with healthy foods that make me feel good. I’m learning to love myself again and challenge myself in new, healthy, positive ways.

The other day I put on my headphones and ran through the park, a gorgeous park right in the heart of Toronto. The sun was setting and the air was crisp and there were people around me. It took an hour to convince myself to do it, as I was worried about people seeing me run in public. Then something inside of me said: Screw it.

I wanted to run because it makes me feel good, not because I thought I should. I wanted to run because I love the feeling of the wind in my hair as I take in the view, I love being healthy and I appreciate and love my body for its ability to take me from one place to the next. So I tied up my shoes, cranked the volume on my playlist, and hit the road. The city never looked so beautiful, and I never felt so free.

This article was originally published on xoJane and reposted with permission. Sheena Lyonnais is a writer and editor based out of Toronto, Canada, as well as the founder of Blonde Mag

Photo via schnappischnapp/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


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*First Published: May 7, 2014, 7:00 am CDT