Tired of exercise top trumps? Here’s five ways to handle a toxic fitness culture

Are you tired of people playing exercise top trumps? Discover five ways a toxic fitness culture can manifest – and how to handle them.

Ongoing government restrictions prompted many to adopt resolutions and implement lifestyle changes that work towards a healthier version of themselves.

As a result, fitness culture boomed and social media feeds were littered with screenshots of running trails, fit bit calculators and post workout selfies. For some, the health and fitness phenomenon injected some much-needed positivity into lockdown, for others it has led to friends, colleague’s, and social media acquaintances to regularly instigate health and fitness related conversation that impacts their wellbeing.

Five ways to handle a toxic fitness culture

In this article, PT Gemma Holland at the health and fitness brand I Run Far shares how to navigate the five most common scenarios that prompt health and fitness one-upmanship that leads toxic fitness culture. 

1) Office ‘banter’

Co-workers spend copious amounts of time with each other, as a result, they are usually the first to notice lifestyle changes made by each other. A change made by one colleague can have a knock-on effect and before you know it, a handful of colleagues are implementing the same lifestyle modifications. If the office is on a wellness kick, conversation can fast become one track minded with colleagues constantly comparing health and fitness notes. This conversation can then trickle across to those not participating in the workplace fitness boom. 

I have heard several scenarios where colleagues continually comment on a co-worker’s choice of lunch and even their fitness regime. This is often portrayed as ‘banter’ however, I have little time for it. If you are on the receiving end of unwanted comments from a co-worker, stand firm and express that you do not appreciate their remarks.

This doesn’t have to be as heavy handed as it sounds, a humorous comment such as ‘do you comment on everyone’s lifestyle choices’ or ‘wow, if I need advice, I know who to ask but for now, I’m OK’. If you do not feel comfortable tackling the topic face to face, do not hesitate to see advice from either a manager or HR.’

2) The WhatsApp group

WhatsApp groups have taken on a new sense of necessity throughout lockdown. However, continual notifications can lead you to feel that you are on 24hr call. Additional pressure can mount when group members post what they consider personal achievements such as new running routes, personal bests, or gym selfies. This can have a real negative impact on group members that are battling with their self esteem or use exercise as a punishment for the foods that they feel that they should not have consumed.

Firstly, it is important to state that even though some lockdown measures remain (WFH for example), it doesn’t mean that your day-to-day responsibilities or general ‘busyness’ is reduced to the point that you can reply to messages as and when. Therefore, take back control and mute any groups that you feel negatively influence your mood.

Consider communication made via a smartphone as ‘life admin’ that can be updated when you deem necessary. You can even dedicate an hour of your choosing everyday to replying to messages and return when you deem appropriate. This will break the chain of constantly engaging with content that you feel is triggering to your wellbeing.

3) The friend turned ‘influencer’

Podcaster, upcycle extraordinaire, home décor influencer or beauty guru, it seems that everyone has a friend that discovered their desire to become an influencer in lockdown. Everybody strives to be their friend’s biggest cheerleader; however, it can be tricky if their actions (unknowingly to them) spark feelings of self-deprecation in the viewer.

If your friend/acquaintance has discovered a new lifestyle that they showcase on social media (whether that be snapshots of their protein shakes, calories burn or workout schedule), and it inflicts a negative impact on your wellbeing, it’s worth approaching the situation three-fold:

  1.  Remember that social media is often the highlights of persons life that is filtered to perfection. Therefore, posts rarely hold any accuracy. 
  2. Do not be afraid to alter your social settings to hide a person’s post. You can always blame your lack of ‘likes and comments’, on not seeing the posts due to the platforms algorithm.
  3. Every time you see a post that inflicts a level of self-doubt, tell yourself one positive thing that you have done that day and/or one thing that you love about yourself. Get creative!  It can be anything from liking the way you navigated a certain situation, your outfit that day or even how you took the time to speak to certain people that day.

4) The persistent asker

We all have someone in our lives that ask a lot of questions. Although it is often harmless, it can grow tedious if the person often enquires about a subject that makes you feel uncomfortable.

If a person frequently asks, ‘how your diet is going,’ ‘what did you get up to at the gym’, or ‘what you eat daily’, be firm but fair. Often, they hold good intentions and are not aware of the impact. There is no harm with stating light heartedly, ‘oh I hate talking about diets etc, lets change the subject’. This will deter them asking questions in the future.

5) The not-so-subtle class show off

Health and fitness one upmanship is often initiated from a person that strives to show off. For instance, if you have run one mile, they state they have run two. Worked out for an hour, they will say they spent the day in the gym. 

Obvious one-upmanship is frustrating. However, in all honestly (although it may be hard to believe), it regularly stems from the persons own insecurity. Remember, you do not know what is going on behind closed doors so try not to take what they say personally.

Photo by Craig McLachlan