Editor’s note: In this month’s fitness feature story, 10 Truth Bombs About "Perfect" Fitness Selfies, we discuss the dangers of falling for fitness scams and the deception that lies behind the hashtag #fitspiration. In this inspiring and honest post, Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith--a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month--opens up about her own struggle with fitness and health inspiration.
I’ll be the first to admit it. Even as a health teacher, I’m terribly confused. Seemingly every day, there is a new study, article, or plan, telling me what I can and cannot eat. As someone who was obese as a teen, I’m extremely susceptible to these messages, regardless of how much I actually know.
Often what I teach my kids about food—to eat a rainbow of colors, that carbs give you energy, to enjoy everything in moderation—is very different from what I practice myself. It’s disheartening, but even though I know what a healthy diet actually looks like, and how good I feel when I’m eating healthy, complex carbs, I find myself going to extremes. Paleo, gluten free, clean eating, smoothie cleanses—everything I would tell my students to be wary of—I’ve tried at least a few times myself.
And then there’s the working out. If I believe everything I see in my social media feed and read about celebrities, I’m a failure if I don’t work out five days a week and preferably two times a day. Hashtags like #nooffdays, #fitstagram, and #fitspiration remind me constantly about how far I have to go.
It appears like I need to be doing a magical combination of cardio, weight training, yoga and Pilates—and wait—now we’re kick boxing too? That’s what the Victoria’s Secret “Angels” do. If I ever want to be at a place where I can accept my appearance, I’m going to have to step it up and do more. I could always be doing more.
So what ends up happening? The intermittent fasting makes my metabolism slow to a halt, and the extreme interval training causes injuries that set me back. When I feel like I’m “being good,” I’m skipping out on dates and dinners so I can eat clean and avoid anything that might throw me off track.
This isn’t much fun, but at least I’m being healthy, right?
Wrong. Health is about so much more than the physical. I know this. Heck, I teach it every day. Health is holistic, and it’s about our mental, emotional, and social health too. If I’m skipping out on special occasions for fear of eating some extra carbs, am I really being healthy at all?
This is all hard to admit, because I want nothing more than to be a good role model for my students. But I get it in my head that the best way I can be a good role model is if I actually look the part. Throwing aside the fact that I’ve maintained a 125-pound weight loss for over 15 years—and, for the most part—do it in a healthy and balanced way, I still feel like I need to be doing more.
I know logically that I’m being ridiculous, so I’m often able to steer myself back. But today’s teens are not so lucky.
I had a girl in 7th grade come and talk to me about how she can eat healthier. Turns out, she was weighing herself every day, avoiding dairy because one of the Kardashians said she should, and spending an insane amount of mental energy worrying about how much she should work out.
She’s only 12 years old.
All of the advice I gave her was the advice I needed to be giving myself, but I couldn’t help but feel despondent. If I can’t protect myself from this constant barrage of fitness and health “inspiration,” how the heck am I supposed to protect her too?
I wish I could end this post with an answer, or at least “5 Tips for Helping Teens Deal with Unrealistic Social Media Body Ideals,” but I can’t. The best I can offer is a bit of my own story, and the desire to get the conversation going so we can help educate our students—and ourselves—about what it means to love and take care of the body we’re in.