Tuesday, August 11, 2015

FB and your diet, weight, fitness & happiness: A cautionary post about comparing.

Everyone is so happy. And doing so well, always having a great time. They’re all eating amazing food and managing their weight. They all look so healthy, too. And their kids are always smiling—they have the perfect families. Everyone else is so good at exercising—Map My Ride/Run and other apps prove they’re doing so much better than you running and cycling and walking. Yes, by comparison you hardly rate.
Hardly his happiest or his best mug shot.
Posted with permission.

Or so it seems.

It was quite timely that my patient whom I’ll call Beth, described her frustration having spent too many hours on Facebook. (Imagine that. Spending too much time on social media.)  She saw far too many ‘friends’’ photos displaying beach-bound bodies with a confidence she doesn’t possess. Like those ‘before and afters’ from diet ads from Diet Center and Weight Watchers (where the print too small to read confesses that these images are of rarely occurring weight loss that normal people don’t usually experience nor maintain in the real world) they showed what everyone else was capable of—except for her. These photos of Beth’s friends and acquaintance were beautiful—looking slimmer, happier and more fit than her for sure. 

Or so it seemed.

These pictures of friends struggling
 hardly get seen.
Ok. Raise your hands if you post pictures of yourself that you'd rather destroy. Right. We only post our best shots, the ones that get the ‘likes’, right? And we surely don’t see people throughout the day, at all times, when they may be looking their worst—like we see ourselves. No early morning “I-just-rolled-out-of-bed” shots posted on FB.  And did you know that some ‘friends’ even use apps which photoshop their pictures, like they do in magazines with airbrushing? Yes, it’s even possible that some pictures you’re thinking are real have been touched up. 

Comparison is a tricky business. You only see a small slice of a person’s life, of what’s really going on. The rest, no doubt, is projection. They ‘seem’ happy, or healthy, or content. But maybe it’s just how it appears. Their exercise level may be awesome, or excessive or a rare event advertised to their Facebook friends.

No, these imperfections don't make
it to FB.
Your friend who’s lost all that weight may have cancer, or may be struggling with anxiety and depression, causing her to feel anything but happy. Or fit. Or relaxed. The bikini clad acquaintance may be so preoccupied with what she believes she can and can’t eat that she hardly enjoys herself at the beach, or when she dines out, or even when at home deciding what she could possible have for lunch.

Yet another recent study showed that using social media can have a negative impact on our eating behaviors including binging, purging and using diet-pills. “Both online physical appearance comparison and online fat talk were associated with greater disordered eating” the study by Dr. Bulik and colleagues showed. Without the comparing, however, greater Facebook use was associated with decreased disordered eating behavior. So it’s all how you use it. "Comparison is the thief of joy"--I can't agree more with this quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.

Looking neither happy, nor energized.
I was actually quite miserable here.
Maybe it’s time to challenge your Facebook and social media friends. Are they capable of posting a picture where they don’t look so awesome? Can they post the ride or run where their speed was less than impressive?  I doubt that most can bring themselves to do so—but wouldn’t that change things?

I’d love to hear what you think. So please leave a comment! And thanks for reading.


  1. But, but, it's obvious and probably rooted somewhere very deep that people want other people to see them in the best light possible.

    I do get the point. And that's why I don't flood the internetz with my self-portraits. Apart from being somewhat PITA to make, I don't think I look good on pics. Or, frankly, I think that I look like a heap of dough and while I could photoshop myself into something better-looking, it's not worth the hassle. I guess that the last time I got a pic taken was around a year ago at my cousin's wedding...

  2. I think we get miserable comparing ourselves to others because we tend to think that they look good by "nature", that they are gifted with beauty. So in my opinion the first step to improving oneself is to gain self-confidence and to stop wishing to be in another person's skin.