Why looking ‘fit’ isn’t the same as being healthy

Click to play video: 'The dark side of online fitness culture' The dark side of online fitness culture
Dr. Riam Shammaa sheds light on the dark side of social media and fitness culture in his new book ‘Looks Can Kill.’ – Jan 31, 2020

If you’ve ever picked up a glossy fitness magazine and looked at the cover models, you’ll probably notice ripped abs, perfect biceps and muscles in all the right places.

Dr. Riam Shammaa, author of Looks Can Kill, says people are quick to get fooled by fitness models without considering what it took for them to be “fit.”

“We call it the 45-seconds of fame,” he told hosts of Global News’ The Morning Show.

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“To have that amazing, perfect shot there is so much. Six months of starvation… dehydration to have that 45 seconds of a beautiful picture.”

Shammaa said he was inspired to write his book after becoming a gym rat himself.

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“When I became a powerlifter… you start going more regularly to the gym and you start understanding the underlying inspiration and aspiration of all the athletes,” he said.

He started to notice more people around him were taking hormones, or appearance enhancing drugs, for the sake of looking “better.”

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He adds online influencers and models who pose as fitness models are often “chemically enhanced.”

“The pressure is very heavy on people,” he said. “Body image is a very powerful tool … everyone wants to look the best for multiple reasons.”

But he says “fit” does not equal healthy.

“People are going beyond healthy to attain a look that is not reasonable for many of us … we’re not made to be the same in terms of our shape or looks.”

As a professional, Shammaa says his goal is to not call out people for using things like insulin or steroids to look “fitter,” but rather raising awareness about the side effects.

Toying with our body image

According to a report in The Guardian, many people use Youtube, Instagram and blogs to become fit at a fast rate.

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“Many young people I see are completely obsessed with Instagram fitness stars,” dietitian Rick Miller told the site.

He said young people follow workouts from “so-called trainers,” even if it’s not right for their body or fitness levels.

“Fitness athletes are stars online, but their followers often try to train at the standard of a professional athlete, without the core level of fitness. Following these kinds of workouts can very often lead to injury and burnout.”

READ MORE: Fat-shaming celebrities makes women more critical of their own bodies — study

And besides seeing models and celebrities who are fit, there are other things that can impact our body image as well.

One 2019 study at McGill University in Montreal found fat-shaming celebrities was “associated with an increase in women’s implicit negative weight-related attitudes.”

Seeing women fat-shamed for their weight reinforced the idea that being thin was good and being fat was not.

“We’re already bombarded by messages indicating that there’s a very narrow range of body types that will be embraced and accepted,” said Christine Logel, a social psychologist and professor at Renison University College, in a previous Global News report.

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“We [also] pay attention not only to what people say directly to us about our bodies but what people are saying to each other and to other people. So when we see people who are already so close to this very narrow ideal… being exposed to criticism and shaming, we think, ‘what does that leave us?’

For more information about online fitness culture, watch Dr. Riam Shammaa in the video above.

— with files from Global News’ Meghan Collie

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