These days, it can often feel as though every Tom, Dick and Harry has an opinion on just about any topic on the internet. Due to the various social media outlets readily available and utilised, we can easily share our thoughts online often without the direct ramifications or criticism that might arise if someone were to make a controversial comment in-person. Personally, I have found on instagram that the more opinionated and firm someone is about their belief on a certain topic, the more exposure they receive. This is particularly the case in the health and fitness industry, whereby there exists a plethora of accounts that put forward their views on various topics ranging from diet-culture and calorie-counting, to techniques and form in the gym. It seems like the more outspoken or unwavering an opinion is, the more exposure that particular page will receive.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, then you probably don’t have an instagram or facebook account in which case I applaud you for being such a unique person (but I also question who you brag to about any of your achievements?). If you spend two minutes on instagram and in the health and fitness category, you will stumble across many controversial, and polarising opinions. There’s the accounts which were created for the single purpose of criticising “diet-culture”, sprouting it as more harmful than cardiovascular disease or cancer. Then on the other side of the coin, there’s the accounts that promote the ketogenic diet as the answer to all of your weight problems, or the pages that are bewilderingly promoting juice cleanses and detoxes as the most effective way to lose weight.
Whilst it makes sense that outlandish and controversial topics derive significant attention, it’s important to remain honest, accurate and objective in the information you disseminate. Moreover, a lot of discussion topics on the internet are complex and do not have a single definitive answer. From this perspective, I would argue that it’s okay to take the middle-ground on controversial and complex topics, even if this means not receiving as much exposure or attention as you’d hope. Obviously there are topics where strongly held views and opinions are justified because of scientific backing or just general moral obligations of being a decent human being (topics such as promotion of exercise as well at the black lives matter movement spring to mind), but the discussion of debatable topics with no clear answer doesn’t automatically mean you have to take a particular side and never deviate from that viewpoint.
For example, on the topic of diet-culture, there are two polarising views put forward by the various health and fitness accounts on instagram. On the one hand, you’ve got the personal trainers, those with weight-loss or body building goals, or those trying to make money off quick-fix diets, promoting the benefits of diets and meal-plans. The personal trainers and fitness pages will often encourage adherence to daily calorie and protein-targets, and whilst they often don’t explicitly use the word “diet” anymore, in a broad context these meal plans could be considered transient diet-plans. These type of instagram accounts are usually quite useful in helping people achieve their weight-loss or muscle-building goals, and often promote healthy meal plans that aren’t too restrictive or difficult to adhere to. The more troublesome diet-focussed pages are the ones that promote juice-cleanse diets or specific dietary plans that restrict certain foods. These are clearly problematic because, well, who the fuck wants to drink celery juice for three days? More importantly, these accounts can easily perpetuate the yo-yo dieting mentality and foster unhealthy relationships with food.
At the other end of the spectrum, we see posts and instagram accounts criticising any form of dietary restriction, labelling any diet as ineffective and dangerous. Here we can often see honourable notions of body-positivity and self-love being promoted and encouraging us to completely ditch the diet-culture mentality of restriction. These accounts are often created by dieticians and professionals who directly deal with the damaging implications of dieting in a clinical setting, or by individuals who have personally been through disordered eating patterns and the exhausting process of recovery. Arguably there is nothing controversial about the body-positivity movement. However, those in the health and fitness industry who are either trying to lose weight for health reasons (or because they simply want to), or who are employed for the purposes of assisting these people, may argue that anti-diet movement goes too far. These accounts would argue that there is nothing wrong with having body-related goals, and if you want to successfully lose weight or gain muscle the best way to do this is to follow some type of people plan and gym program. The anti-diet movements can often be overly critical of anyone trying to change their weight, and over-analyse any food-focussed approach and immediately label it as harmful.
In relation to this specific topic, if you’re anything like me, you probably see that both sides of the argument have merit. Tracking calories and following a meal plan can be useful for a multitude of people. If you are undertaking a fitness-challenge or program and you are limiting the amount of calories you eat to achieve your weight-related goals, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will become obsessed with your diet and body-image, or that you will develop patterns of disordered eating. However, I also think it’s important to be mindful of your thoughts and attitudes in relation to the meal-tracking process. If you feel as though you are becoming obsessed and counting the calories in your gum or becoming hyper-critical of yourself if you slip up and eat beyond your calorie-target, then I think it’s important to recognise this and take a step back. Self-compassion and body-positivity should be at the forefront of your mind when undertaking any fitness challenge or “diet”. However, there’s nothing wrong with having the goal of weight-loss or wanting to change your appearance, particularly if it also promotes improvements in overall physical health. These changes may require consistent hard-work, focus, discipline and determination – all attributes that should be admired and applauded and not merely dismissed as “obsessive” and problematic.
So whilst you might feel pressured to vocalise a strong stance on a particular topic because of fear of criticism or a desire to increase your following and online presence, it’s quite alright if you want to take the middle-ground. You don’t have to espouse strong opinions about topics that are of an ambiguous or fluid nature, because the reason why they are so polarising and decisive is because they are controversial and complex. There is often no right or wrong answer. To take a strong and unwavering view point about topics that don’t necessarily have an easy or fixed answer can open you up to criticism down the track when you reasonably deviate from your initial perspective. In my view, if there is no simple answer then it’s better to put forward both sides of the argument in a clear and objective manner, as opposed to simply choosing a side and remaining rigid in your viewpoint.