I was at the gym the other week when I noticed one of the trainers wearing a shirt stating, “Strong is the New Skinny.” The trainer seemed to wear the shirt as a message of empowerment, but I read it with fear. Has strong become the new skinny? Have we transferred our societal obsession with thinness to an obsession with fitness?

There has been a backlash against the impossibly thin body ideals portrayed in the media. The covers of celebrity tabloid magazines wonder: is she too thin? But lest we ponder accepting our bodies—and where is the money to be made in that?-- we have been given a new impossible ideal to meet. Thinspo has been replaced with Fitspo. No amount of fitness seems to be too much. Tell a friend you are doing Soulcycle, barre class, and hot yoga all in one afternoon? No one blinks an eye. Crap yourself during Crossfit? That was a good workout. Consume nothing but green juice for a week? Your body needed that cleanse. We are on an endless pursuit of health and we’ll do a whole lot of unhealthy things to get there!

While thin ideals affect primarily women, men are equal targets in the muscle mania. Men’s magazines are filled with images of impossibly buff men with bulging muscles and promises of sexual prowess. They not so subtly imply: you too can have all this, if you take these supplements, try this new exercise routine, and follow this diet. A study by Field et al (2014) found that nearly 18% of boys and young men reported extreme concern with their weight and physique and many were also engaging in potentially unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to attain their ideal physique. These concerns centered on muscularity rather than thinness and were associated with increased risk of frequent binge drinking and drug use. To read more about this study, check out my post here.

When does the pursuit of health cross over into eating disorder territory? Here are a few signs:

  • Preoccupation with food and body
  • Measuring health by the way your body looks rather than feels
  • Comparing your body with others’
  • Defining your self-worth based on your body and eating

If you are unsure whether or not you or a loved one has an eating disorder, reach out for professional help. The National Eating Disorder Association offers a free helpline and you can find more information here.

Remember that health can come at a wide range of different body shapes and sizes. Health can be achieved through eating mindfully and engaging in pleasurable fun forms of physical activity. Health is not about pushing yourself past your limit, restriction, or deprivation. Health is about working with your body, not against it. It doesn’t need to be a struggle. 

To learn more about Dr. Conason and mindful eating, please visit www.drconason.com.

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