Listening To Fitspo Ruined My Body

Although fitspo is not a word defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary (yet), Google will tell you that: “Fitspo refers to images and words that women post with the purpose of inspiring themselves and others to live a fit, active life. Unfortunately, the images often portray dangerously thin, overly sexualized women with bodies that the vast majority of us will never be able to achieve.”

Thanks to social media, fitspo is posted everywhere by millions of people and the fitspo directed at women all seems to have the same theme. For women to lose body fat and gain muscle definition, they must lift heavy weights. It is almost the norm these days for a cardio-based workout to be frowned upon. In my quest to make this world more well-rounded, I wanted to share my personal experience, because all women are different and not all women should lift heavy to obtain their ideal figure. Some women should actually not lift heavy and all women should know that fitspo is total bullshit.

I am actually fairly well educated in the world of personal fitness. I was born into a family with a mother, father, and a gym family. By the time I was born, my dad had been in the bodybuilding/ powerlifting world for ten years and is still, although on a less intense scale, in that world today. Fitness is his life, weights are his best friend and the gym is more home to him than any house he has lived in. He raised me in the gym, I have grown up around the most knowledgeable people in the fitness industry. Weekends with my family were often spent traveling to various powerlifting meets for my dad to compete in and my first boyfriend not only had to meet my dad but had to be interviewed by an entire slew of powerlifters from the gym before he could date me. Fitness is in my blood.

Although I was always around fit people, I always struggled myself with being fit, to my own extreme standards (thanks dad). Growing up in an extremely healthy home gave me an unhealthy love of the foods I often could not have. High school and college brought on weight from beer and the bagel shop I went to every day and for ten years, I have been on the never-ending struggle to lose ten pounds.

January of last year I decided to go all out as far as fitness was concerned. Fitspo lured me in and from there I found some fitspiration (fitspiration: women whose bodies had components I desired in my own). I read every article I could find online written by these women, and most of them had an ebook you could buy online with workout routines to follow, grocery lists and lifestyle tips. I studied their diets and I was determined to finally reach my goal. For the majority of women I followed, quinoa, oats, and wheat were running rampant. So I bought it all, changed my diet and hit the gym with one concentration, to lift heavy.

In my mind an alarm was going off, my real life mentors at the gym had always told me lifting heavy was not the way to go for my personal physique. But hell, what did a bunch of old muscular men know about how a woman wants to look!? (Spoiler alert: everything). I hit the weights hard. I already had a routine that I went by, but I was now going to load up the pounds. Every week I would push myself to lift more, squat more and bench more.

After one month, my ass was so big and muscular that it could not fit in my jeans. Now, you might be thinking a big round ass is hot, and I would agree. But the big ass thighs and calves that come along with a big round ass are not the look that I was going for. I did not morph into a female body builder overnight (those women have more dedication, willpower and drive than you could imagine) but my goal was to tighten up, not bulk up.

Now this should have been a big red flag to abort this mission but in all of my reading I had learned that initial weight gain was normal, because muscle is more dense than fat. So as time goes on and I am eating oats like they are going out of style and deadlifting more than I weigh (and doing cardio three times a week), I am telling myself that any day now the weight is just going to fall off. But it didn’t, within two months I gained ten more pounds and looked masculine. My muscles bulged and I was mortified. My biceps were big, my back was muscular and my self-confidence was lower than it had ever been. None of my pants could fit my muscular lower body and my weight just kept going up. I reached out to the mentors I had listened to online, only to be told they didn’t know what to tell me. They only knew what worked for them. They told me to go to a professional, which up until this point, I considered them to be.

Soon after I cut out weights cold turkey and I laid off the grains, which, when eaten in excess, result in bloating and weight gain. Since last spring I have worked really hard to soften my muscular disposition. I hired my super fit boyfriend to train me at the gym but was so upset at the sight of my muscular figure next him that I would rush home crying. I was so embarrassed for him, standing next to me, that I could not work out with him. The most I do now for definition is yoga and high intensity TRX suspension training, using my own body weight to smooth out my figure and I am a “cardio bunny,” as most fitspo negatively refer to. I run a few miles a few times a week. I also went to a team of professionals who assessed my personal physique and directed me to workouts specific to my body and a food program specifically made for me, which got me on the track I needed to be on all along. It has been over a year and a half since I gained that muscle and I have not yet been able to get the body I desired, but I no longer strive to look like the women I used to study.

The moment I started looking at other women’s bodies and wanting mine to look like theirs was the moment I went the wrong direction. My body puts on muscle that boys hitting puberty dream of, and I knew this yet ignored the alarms going off in my mind. I believed every article I read, every testimony I heard and I thought it would work for my body. I trusted fitspo and I followed it. In all of my reading, I never read a disclaimer that lifting heavy isn’t always the answer and I wish I had. Every single woman on this planet has a different body than the next and we need to understand that and spread the word, we need to talk to professionals about weight loss, not someone with a good body and a tumblr account. I made a mistake that I am hoping you don’t, don’t trust everything you read and don’t become obsessed with fitspo to the point that you hate yourself.

View Comments (6)
  • YES Rachel. I love this. I’ve heard it said that “fitspo is just thinspo in a sports bra.” Hrmmmm, mebbe I need to write an article about thinspo…
    MUA, darling!

  • My other problem with fitspo is how it always sounds really accessible to achieve, but really, many of those women are spending A LOT OF TIME on their bodies and diets. Time that many people don’t actually have to achieve those goals OR to maintain it once they’ve reached it. Some of the accounts I’ve seen are women who are either sports models or competitors who have devoted their lives to looking like that. Which is awesome. But how many of use can devote a few hours a day, each day to training?

    I had my perfect body when I was farming, but I was working out in the fields 10 hours a day. I could lift half my body weight up on my shoulder without a problem. But without that being my DAILY, ALL DAY routine, I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to THAT point. So I’m going to try to just get to the best I can be for my current situation (and to train for an upcoming backpacking trip) and feel happy with the positive results I do see.

  • This is a great article. We often do the same thing with diet and nutrition – following some “ideal” that is supposed to work for everyone. As a dietitian, I know this isn’t true. It’s very refreshing to see someone else standing up for the same concept in the fitness world. Get it girl!

  • No, this really is not a great article. You must be quite the anomaly, the ability to gain so much muscle in a one month time frame that you were busting out of your wardrobe. So many women would love to have that physical trait. Interesting, too, that you have such a special physique that you *should not* lift weights. As you said grains “when eating to excess lead to bloating and weight gain.’ Sounds like your diet was the problem and you got fat – that is the only thing you could gain quickly in 2 months. Girl, you did not gain 10 lbs of muscle in 2 months! You would have been lucky to have gained 1-2 lbs in that 2 months.

    Oh, and having a dad that is/was a powerlifter, does not make you anywhere knowledgable about fitness. You admitted that you had a ‘never ending struggle to lose 10 pounds,’ ‘struggled to be fit’ and ate beer and bagels daily while in college. Hardly someone who has fitness in her blood.

    I do agree that Fitspo perpetuates unrealistic expectations and is no better than thinspo, in some aspects. But you are wrong to perpetuate the stupid myth that women will get big, bulky and masculine from lifting weights.

  • I totally relate to your story. Fitness model Jamie Eason *used* to be my inspiration. Following her horrible fitness advice caused me to gain weight and none of my pants to fit. I still have bulging shoulder and pec muscles that haven’t gone anywhere, despite abandoning weights for over six months. I’ve cut back on protein too. Anymore tips you’d suggest for reducing muscle? Also, a friend had me take a body type quiz – you sound like me, both of us mesomorphs. Easy to gain muscle. *sighs*

  • Its really nice to read about this, I completly relate to this. I too fell for ‘Weight lifting cant make women bulky’ etc. Well I did became bulky. Heavy weight lifting ruined not only my body but also my hormones. Its very easy for my body to build muscle, the more muscle my body got the more my testosteron levels increased, which made my hair fall of a lot. It was untill my body couldnt handle it anymore, my hormones always out of balanced. I came across an artical like this, I too went cold turkey.
    I does take time, now I do more cardio and pilates, my hair is growing and I start to feel good again.
    I really wish more women would speak about this.
    Thank you!

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