Why Instagram is rarely reality when it comes to safe weight loss

Why Instagram is rarely reality when it comes to safe weight loss

Accredited sport and exercise scientist Luke Edmunds has a bone to pick with Instagram. If you think following a swathe of super-fit trainers and influencers will help you lose weight, he’s got news for you. 

My name is Luke Edmunds, I’m a fitness coach and trained exercise scientist, and I have a problem with Instagram. From weight loss hacks like ‘skinny tea’ and waist slimming belts, there are a variety of both implicit and explicit messaging that tells us losing weight is easy and even fun!

Unfortunately, Instagram isn’t always reality, especially when it comes to losing weight safely and maintaining a healthy lifestyle long-term. So I’m sharing my tips for how to sustain healthy habits, and how to cut through the sometimes questionable content on our Instagram feeds.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.

1. Seek out well-rounded evidence

Newsflash – influencers aren’t always experts. Recent research into this culture found just one in nine fitness influencers/bloggers shared evidence-based advice, with the overwhelming majority lacking credibility factors.

The first and arguably most important evidence-based fact to know about long-term weight loss is it begins with healthy patterns of behaviour – not your Instagram #inspo, the latest fad diet, supplement or a generic $25 training plan.

The research around healthy and sustainable weight loss is exceptionally clear. As unsexy as it sounds, the strongest indicator of losing weight is behavioural change. My colleague at Fitness Playground gyms, Dr Pippa Wood, is an expert on this, and shares her top tips here.

2. A ‘blue tick’ is not a degree

Ask yourself, does the person giving advice have any relevant qualifications? Are they transparent with where their information came from? Or are they simply promoting a brand they are in paid partnership with?

Yep, this includes likes of Kylie Jenner who, despite her blue tick verification, millions of dollars and high-profile celeb status, is not an expert in healthy weight loss. In fact, Kylie herself has been previously caught out promoting a weight loss tea that received an official complaint by the federal trade commission over misleading marketing tactics, with no scientific evidence to support its improbable weight loss results.

Instead of following celebs or influencers who are popular for their pretty Instagram feeds and high-flying lifestyles, seek out qualified health professionals or dieticians for your dose of social media motivation!

3. Remember pictures filter real life

How often do you see captions talking about behaviour change, sustainability, advice with cognitive restraint and a focus on long-term goal setting, accompanying perfectly positioned selfies?

Despite an increased awareness of the use of angles and lighting in ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos, as well as the role that filters play in distorting reality, it’s easy to take images as fact. The impact this has on our mental health is hugely detrimental.

It’s hard not to compare yourself to the fitspo influencers you may see in your feed, and science backs this up. Studies have shown that women who view a set of Instagram fitness images report lower levels of body satisfaction than those viewing travel images.

The learning here? Be sure to unfollow any accounts that make you feel guilty or bad about yourself, or cause you to negatively reflect on your own appearance. Trust me, these feelings will prove more hindrance than help to your motivation levels.

4. Understand the process

While Instagram may indicate otherwise, fad diets or eight week training programs are not conducive to long-term, healthy weight loss.

Research tells us the most common traits of people who healthily and successfully lose weight (and keep it off!) are as follows:

  • consistent adherence to a nutritional plan developed by a professional
  • Practising cognitive restraint or impulse control
  • Self-monitoring
  • An ability to focus on the long-term goal.

This tells us the key to healthy weight loss really is a matter of how you battle the mental challenges to sustaining behaviour change.

5. Be wary of the ‘paid collaboration’ tag

While there have been more recent progress in Instagram’s push for transparency around advertising, it is important to learn how to differentiate ads from fact. A huge portion of Instagram content is essentially advertising, designed for you to purchase a product or service, as opposed to inspire a more holistic lifestyle that supports safe and healthy weight management long-term.

So next time you’re scrolling Instagram looking for weight loss tips or inspiration, do so with caution and, if you’re looking for some healthy accounts to follow, consider, @movable.muscle, @monkeyfoodz, @the_fitness_dietician, @jshealth or @teresacutter_healthychef.

Luke Edmunds is an accredited sport and exercise scientist with more than eight years’ experience in the fitness industry. He is currently a coach at Sydney’s Fitness Playground gyms, with a passion for helping people reach their fitness goals and creating long term health habits. Follow Luke on Instagram at @eljayedmunds.