June 2, 2023
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Commentary: Fitness influencers are harmful sources

Editor’s Note: This is a guest commentary. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.

In today’s social media landscape, it’s possible for anyone to become a fitness influencer. However, this status doesn’t require years of education in exercise science or nutrition; becoming a fitness influencer doesn’t even require a personal trainer certification. So how are these influencers qualified to provide health and fitness information? The simple answer is that many of them are not. There are those who have the education and knowledge and spread correct information to their followers. However, a large number do more harm to the fitness industry than good. 

Throughout my life, I have struggled in my relationships with exercise and food until about three years ago when I began lifting weights and finally found a healthy balance. Despite the progress I’ve made, sometimes I will scroll onto a video that transports me back to my middle school self sitting in my bedroom, overanalyzing my appearance in the mirror, googling “how to lose weight overnight” and going to bed hoping to wake up in a different body. Back then, I thought there was something wrong with me because I followed information from fitness influencers but never saw any changes. 

Before I educated myself about fitness and began lifting weights, I would constantly try to exercise because I wanted to lose weight. I would do random workouts I saw on the internet without actually knowing whether or not they were the best way to reach my goals. At that point in time, I didn’t have much knowledge about health and fitness and I would get frustrated by the lack of progress I was making, which always led to me giving up.  

To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. This is a simple concept but not what people want to hear because it isn’t necessarily easy. Before I understood how weight loss worked, I believed the influencers whose videos promised weight loss after only a 10-minute workout. While logically it doesn’t make sense that only 10 minutes of exercise will cause any significant changes to your body, I still did it because I wanted to believe it was true. 

The processes of losing fat and building muscle takes time and consistency, and there is no magical exercise or food that can change that. However, many fitness influencers claim to have found ways to hack health and fitness, which is misleading to people beginning their fitness journeys, as well as damaging to mental health.  

Chloe Ting is a prime example of how misleading fitness influencers can be. With over 24 million subscribers on YouTube, 2.8 million on Instagram and over 600 thousand on TikTok, Ting is one of the biggest fitness influencers of all time. Ting has been making content for many years now, however, her popularity increased greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic when gyms were closed and people were doing at-home workouts. While the contents of Ting’s workouts are fine, the problem lies in her video titles. If you take a look at Ting’s YouTube channel, you will see videos like “Do this full body workout to get SHREDDED — No Planks No Equipment” and “Get a Flat Stomach and Abs — 10 min.” What these videos are advertising is not physically possible. For one, there is no way to spot-reduce fat and it is extremely hard to get shredded by doing only bodyweight workouts; if you pick any other Chloe Ting video, the title most likely contains similar lies. 

I believe any form of exercise that makes you happy and you can do consistently is worth doing. However, when fitness influencers promote unrealistic goals and spread false information, it leads people to believe that a healthy lifestyle is too difficult or even impossible to obtain. This can contribute to problems, like body dysmorphia, anxiety and depression. I think it’s amazing that exposure to fitness content has motivated people to pursue healthier lifestyles; I just urge that before people follow advice from others on the internet, they do their own research to ensure the source is qualified and that the information is accurate.

Julia Scott (she/her) is a senior Integrated Marketing Communications major. Contact her at jscott5@ithaca.edu.