I’m always looking for inspiration in my life. I love finding a photo or a video or an essay that gives me a metaphorical kick in the pants. It’s not like I’m particularly lacking in motivation; I just like to be inspired to up my game (or in the words of Nerd Fitness, “level up my life.”)
But sometimes this desire for inspiration leads me to some really dark, sad places. Sometimes it leads me right into the festering pit known as “thinspiration,” or “thinspo” for short.
If you don’t know what thinspo is, I’m jealous and I would like to trade brains with you. But I’m willing to bet you do know what it is; you just haven’t seen it referred to as such. Thinspo are images, quotes, blog posts, food logs, exercise journals – anything meant to encourage people in their pursuit of the Almighty Skinny.
I usually go out of my way to avoid anything marked as thinspo, but I do like fitspo quite a bit. The problem is that thinspo and fitspo often bleed into one another, and so, for instance, I’ll be browsing a collection of photos of women with cut delts or videos of CrossFit competitors being all boss and shit, and bam! There’s a photo of a girl whose thighs don’t touch, or a photo of a girl with her rib cage poking out, usually tagged with the words “flawless” and “beautiful.”
I run into the same issue when I read fitness blogs or I peruse xxfitness over at Reddit. A conversation about nutrition for endurance athletes will attract women who want to know how they can run five miles each day while never eating more than 1,200 calories. Or maybe a woman will ask for help with reaching her fitness goals, but her fitness goals are “lose 10 pounds, and by the way, I’m 5’9″ and weigh 125 pounds.”
The only thing I’m inspired to do after seeing things like this is cry.
The fact that I regularly come across things like this while scanning the internet for fitness inspiration tells me that the line between fitspo and thinspo, and consequently the line between caring about fitness and having a disorder, is porous and blurry and easily crossed.
If you are prone to disordered eating, then the world of fitness must seem like a safe harbor, a place to indulge your obsessions without drawing criticism, because after all, you aren’t starving yourself completely and you’re spending a lot of time in the gym. You’re just being health-conscious!
And the bleed-over goes the other way. I read an essay in “Sole Sisters” about Amber Trotter, who was a champion runner as a high-school student, but whose competitive spirit led her to develop an eating disorder. She said it wasn’t even like she made a conscious decision; she just sort of slipped into it. Her eating disorder was so severe that she developed osteoporosis – when she was a sophomore in college.
Trotter is hardly an anomaly. As a commenter pointed out a few weeks back, female collegiate runners are extremely prone to developing eating disorders – maybe even more so than any other sport.
In fact, eating disorders among female athletes are so common that they’ve even named a condition for it, known as the “female athlete triad.” A female athlete with an eating disorder is likely to experience amenorrhea, low bone density and a lack of energy due to inadequate nutrition.
While I have a hard time understanding the desire to starve oneself into thinness, the desire to lose weight to be more competitive at a sport is one with which I am much more familiar. I understand the desire to shed body fat for more visible muscle definition, or the desire to drop a few pounds so as to lose seconds per mile in the 5K. That desire was behind my recent efforts to lose a few pounds, even though I am already a fairly thin woman.
For me, disordered eating dressed up as good fitness habits is a far more dangerous trap than disordered eating with the goal of being skinny like a fashion model. I couldn’t care less about looking like Karlie Kloss, but I care intensely about being the fastest runner I can possibly be.
The main thing that keeps me from falling down that rabbit hole is understanding that food is a non-negotiable part of life. It is not some optional thing that I can just decide to skip if I don’t feel like it. When I lost weight, it wasn’t because I started eating less. I just changed what I ate, and in fact, I actually eat more now than I did before. And when I have run on an empty stomach, I am usually slow and sluggish, which is how I would fully expect to be.
I find it sadly ironic that food, which helps people reach their highest levels of performance as athletes, inadvertently becomes the very thing they fight hardest against.
If you think you might be dealing with these issues, I suggest you check out the resources provided by the Female Athlete Triad Coalition, which is a non-profit group dedicated to addressing disorders among female athletes.
And because I can’t bear to leave this post on such a sad note, here is some fitspo featuring ladies who lift heavy and eat well, which is my favorite kind of fitspo!
- Nerd Fitness shares the story of Staci, a fairly average young woman who decided she wanted to be a fitness superstar. She tried the normal route – running and eating next to nothing – but she hated the way it made her feel. Now she lifts like a champ, eats like a horse and gained a bunch of muscle-weight, and she looks fantastic. I dare anyone not to be inspired by her.
- Man Bicep – by the way, how much do I love the name of this blog? – posted a video of Annie Thorisdottir, who is the 2011 CrossFit Champion. Her name – which loosely translates to “Thor’s daughter” – is very fitting, don’t you think?