It isn’t easy for most of us, no matter how much we want it.
If you’ve been searching the Web for tips, tricks and inspiration, you’ve probably come across the hashtag “fitspiration” on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. It usually accompanies a photo of some beautiful buff body in mid-workout, meant to bring out your stamina and perseverance as you see just what’s possible, because other people are doing it, and look, here they are! And they’re amazing!
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— Anna Victoria (@annavictoriafit) May 24, 2015
The problem is, it’s probably not working.
Fitness coach and author Lawrence Judd says that it’s more likely to hurt than to help, because it’s the wrong kind of motivation for long-term weight loss and fitness. Judd explains that there are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is about wanting to improve, or to be healthier, or to become better at an activity you’re already enjoying, like running or tennis. Extrinsic motivation is about having a specific goal in mind, and is usually about reaching an ideal physique, usually one seen on other people.
Extrinsic motivation is what makes you wish you looked better, and makes you see exercise as an unpleasant but necessary evil to make you acceptable. Judd says that fitspiration, which is all about extrinsic motivation, treats exercise as a punishment that must be endured, and operates on guilt.
Old-school fad diets, complete carb withdrawal, and “I have to drop 10 pounds before some event where everyone will see me” are all products of extrinsic motivation, and Judd says that while this type of activity gets fast results, they’re not long-lasting. And sometimes, the whole thing backfires.
That seems to be where I’m living now, in a world of wishing I were thinner, and seeing a late-night snack as a way to soften the blows of the day. I know I shouldn’t eat this now, but screw it, I need a little pick-me-up, I think to myself as I open up the jar of peanut butter at 11 at night. I go through phases where I’m determined to exercise every day for three weeks, and then it stops, because I’m not liking it and I’m tired of spending so much time on something I don’t like.
But I wasn’t always like this.
Years ago, I started thinking about my health instead of the way I looked. I’m an older mom with young kids, and separate from the usual gripes about my weight and how I look, I started to think about the long-term picture. I grew up with young parents, young grandparents and even a young great-grandmother, and while I can’t give that same experience to my kids, they certainly deserve the best I can offer. This was my intrinsic motivation, and one day, the dial on it turned up to 11.
I hate exercise almost as much as I hate gyms, but I found my way into it via yoga, which I enjoy, and the Wii Fit Plus, which is highly visual and makes everything feel like a game. I did the skateboarding, the obstacle course, biking, hula hoop, boxing and everything else that promised me some cardio.
I went on Weight Watchers, which seemed like the one plan that still allowed me to eat regular food.
Already a baker, I turned my efforts toward healthy baking, not just looking at Weight Watchers points but also at ingredients that were good for my body. I even started a blog about it, so I could test and then store all of my recipes.
I lost 40 pounds. I felt great.
Time has passed, and without getting into the details, I went through a particularly harsh period of life that replaced my motivation with a need for comfort. I’m inching toward recovering it, and thinking about it the way I used to—exercising because it’s fun, not just to look good—is what’s going to push me to return to my healthy ways.
So be healthy, and be fit, but don’t berate yourself. Don’t let fitspiration turn you into someone who loathes herself. Looking and feeling healthy is wonderful, but being obsessed with a sculpted body isn’t necessarily going to get you there.
Don’t punish yourself. Judd sums up: “Don’t be dragged into the mire of self-doubt, body-shaming and food anxieties that certain areas of the fitness industry are all too capable of cultivating—fitspiration, I’m looking at you here. Embrace fitness for what it is—a tool to enhance your life, not something to rule it.”