We are obsessed with numbers. We love numbers. We love facts, figures, stats and measurements. And never before have we been more obsessed. Why? Because numbers are a universal language. Numbers mean the same in every part of the world. Numbers are black & white. Numbers provide us with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. A ‘ good’ or a ‘bad’. Every time we see a number we’re immediately able to place value to it. And when we’re able to attach a numerical value we are then able to understand and accept it.
In the fitness industry, and more specifically in #fitspo [fitness inspiration] on social media there has been a significant rise in the discourse surrounding numbers. From calories, to daily steps, to kilos lost or gained, fitness influencers can’t stop talking about numbers. But why are they doing this? Is it helpful? Should they be doing it? And is this obsession with numbers making us any healthier, fitter or better?
Let’s start with the bleeding obvious: The calorie comparisons.
Two different foods placed side by side. ‘X’ amount of calories VS ‘X’ amount of calories.
The posts which taught us that pasta has more calories than vegetables, that regular cheese has more calories than low fat cheese, and that water has less calories than a tablespoon of peanut butter.
The posts which were shared to ‘educate’ not ‘judge’. To ‘inform’ not ‘preach’. To simply make us ‘think’ about what we’re eating but not to be scared.
TOO LATE FITSPOS.
Disclaimers and long-winded captions aside these posts were provocative and they sucked the life out of every single person trying to preach a healthy relationship towards food. They triggered those who were already struggling with food.
Calories are important. I’m not saying they're not. But I can’t help but feel like we’ve stepped into a time capsule and we’ve gone back 60 years. Take the visual representation of a handful of almonds compared to 10 sweets. If we all ate 10 sweets, and happily stopped at 10 sweets, and simply put the bag away and skipped off merrily we wouldn't be in the midst of an obesity epidemic. THIS IS NOT ABOUT 10 SWEETS.
Dear Fitspos, please, please stop sharing your carbs, fats and proteins. Please stop revealing your macros. Regardless of whether you think your numbers are ‘healthy’, regardless of your disclaimer which states that your calories are in line with your personal fitness goals/competition/cut, regardless of whether you think you're helping, STOP. You’re not helping. You’re hindering. Your followers don't care about disclaimers. Your followers don't pay attention to the part where you say that your macros are short-term, unsustainable, for a specific event, and that they shouldn't be copied. What they see is results. What they see is the answer. What they see is the magic number.
“I was X weight before and now I am X amount heavier/lighter and I’m soooooo much happier now”
Nothing negative about that right? Wrong.
If you look in any comment section of a ‘transformation’ you'll find someone asking ‘What is your height?’ Why? Because people love playing the comparison game. And more than that, they love the comparison numbers game. Moreover, your ‘before’, your ‘unhappy’, your ‘unhealthy’ is someone’s ‘goal’. Think about what you're saying. Think about who might be reading. Think beyond your target audience. And think about your responsibility.
Whilst your post may be with positive intention the stats your sharing aren't necessary. Let’s face it, you could post the photo without the numbers. The numbers you provide only make it easier for women to obsess over their own bodies and to compare their bodies to yours.
Post your picture. Post your progress. Post your journey. But just leave the numbers out.
What you lift
If you're posting a workout video you don't need to post the weights you are using.
If you're a ‘fitness influencer’ we don't need to know the weight of your 1 REP MAX.
Post about your PB. Be proud of your accomplishments. Tell the world you lifted 2x your bodyweight. But avoid the specifics. Why? Because ‘HEAVY’ is subjective. And the information you are providing is pointless to everyone else.
People compare. People copy. People get injured.
Leave the numbers out.
Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin & Moov, just to name a few, it’s been the decade of the Activity Tracker. And were tracking everything from steps taken, calories burnt, heart rate and our sleep. And whilst initially it was a great way to get the everyday person more active, more conscious and more ‘healthy,’ like every single god damn fitspo trend it’s created a backlash. It’s created an obsession. It’s created an unhealthy attitude towards health and fitness.
Put simply, if you're pacing up & down the living room trying to hit your steps you have a problem. If not hitting your target numbers causes you anxiety, stress or upset, you need to get rid of it.
Throw the Fitbit away.
*Spends 2 hours writing an informative, educative caption about a subject which is of upmost importance* receives 50 likes.
*Posts basic ‘I think I’m an instagram swimwear model but actually my mum took the photo' shot* 93093258092 likes, 500 new followers, 15 DMs and a telegram.
I give up.
I get it. It’s hard not to lose the will to live. You can’t help but wonder ‘Why do I even bother?’ ‘What is the point?’ ‘Why did my picture only get 100 likes?’ ‘Why am I losing followers? Was it something I said? Maybe I should start posting on hump day. Maybe I should start posting calorie comparisons, my stretch marks, my bloated belly, my mental not just physical ‘transformation’. Maybe I too should start playing the game.
Cause that’s all it is. It’s a game. A numbers game.
Please stop doing what you’re doing.
Please stop sharing your calories, your macros, your weight.
Please stop talking about numbers.
You are not helping. You are not educating. You are not inspiring.
The only thing you are doing is playing the numbers game.
And we know exactly what you're doing. And we know why you’re doing it. Because people are obsessed with numbers. Revealing your weight, your macros, your calories, brings in the likes. These figures make your posts go viral. And viral posts brings in the followers.
The reason why people are obsessed with numbers is because people are obsessed with control. Attempting to control. Gaining control. Maintaining control. And numbers make everything easier to control.
Numbers give us value. Numbers decide whether we are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Numbers give us the opportunity to define our worth. They give us permission to either love ourselves or hate ourselves. And this is why fitness influencers need to stop talking about numbers. Because they are fuelling an unhealthy, dangerous obsession. An obsession where people on the internet are quantifying their self-worth via numbers.
But we are more than just numbers. We are more than a number of likes. We are more than the number of followers we have. We are more than the number on the scale, the size of our clothes, the number of calories we’ve consumed, the weights we’ve lifted or the steps we’ve taken. We are more than a number and these numbers do not define who we are.