Eating Disorders In The Fitness Industry: A Marketing Tool?

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We expect this to ruffle some feathers, but we think it’s a topic that needs airing. Read, share, discuss…

Like it or not, this is an industry based on appearance. Physiques are judged on looks (even if they win by strength on the platform). And a good before-and-after “transformation” photo can open doors.

Instagram and the fitness industry are a match made in heaven. Or is it hell?

Two things have happened. The fitness industry has exploded in popularity via social media. And the entry-level for coaching has dropped. Anyone can sell meal plans, training plans, and contest prep guidance. Take money out of the equation, and the flow of information is unstoppable. If you have a social media account, you can give advice. And people are hungry for it.

What makes some Insta-famous coaches more popular than others? Branding. Whether they planned it that way, the strength of their brand has a huge impact on their popularity.

Do some online coaches use disordered eating as part of their branding to appeal to more clients?

Yep, we know it’s a controversial topic. But hear us out…

Think back to last time you scrolled through your Instagram or Facebook feed. Recall the selfies, progress pics, and food prep photos. How many had a caption about overcoming a disordered eating background? We see hashtags like #EDsoldier and #recovery paired with apparently unrelated photos… like people’s butts.

Let’s be clear: disordered eating, and eating disorders, absolutely are a thing. Both within and outside of the fitness industry. We’re not denying that. And we’d never dismiss the issue of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors.

What we want to discuss is the social media accounts who seem to exploit disordered eating to appeal to a vulnerable audience.

Controlling your food, logging your macros, and tracking your diet is not the same thing as suffering with an eating disorder. Sure, it can be part of it (although not always). But it doesn’t qualify you to support anyone through an eating disorder.

After all, shouldn’t people seek out the support of a qualified professional? This is serious stuff. Is it really a good idea to buy a meal plan from someone you found on Instagram just because they hashtag their content #EDsoldier and proudly post photos of carbs?

These social media stars often control their diet, to maintain a lean physique. It’s part of their brand, remember. And, by posting photogenic images of healthy food, they appeal to clients struggling with disordered eating habits.

But is it ethical to actually make a big deal about eating disorder history and recovery? After all, these people aren’t offering ED therapy, support, or qualified counselling. They are selling meal plans, training programs, contest prep, or (often) just a dream. That said, why use the hashtags at all?

One thing is for sure. Fabricating, or inflating, a disordered eating past to strengthen a brand is unethical. Anyone who does that is doing themselves, their followers, and the entire industry a disservice.

Are we right about this? We’d love to hear your take.

Eating a healthier diet, sharing your story, and inspiring others is great. It’s one of the plus points of social media. But there is a huge difference between prioritizing a healthy diet and having an eating disorder. Get healthier for your own well-being. Inspire others. But don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Leave the specialist dietary and psychological support to the specialists.