Fitness or Fad? Analyzing the Appearance of Health as a Digital Trend

Fitness or Fad? Analyzing the Appearance of Health as a Digital Trend

*Guest author Anu Hasan reflects on health and fitness digital trends  on social media. Is there really a health movement online or is it the same old, same old?

We are what we eat. This is something that we have heard often enough. But of late what we eat seems to be governed by what we are being told. Remember when we were told eating fat was bad for us? And then we were told it was good for you. And just when people started having tablespoons of fat, even more novel theories emerged.

Cultural Theories

Regardless of theories, I can’t recall a time when losing weight wasn’t a popular topic. Perhaps culture plays a role in losing weight’s popularity. In India, it is not uncommon for people to comment on your weight — either that you have put on weight or that you have lost it. They think nothing about making these statements within seconds of meeting you and I think it has something to do with the way we culturally deal with appearances.

And maybe because of that, my belief has been that many people around me go on a diet because they are more conscious of their appearance than their health. And it does seem to be true. I was born in 1970. When you look at google trends, as recent as the period between 2004 to 2006, the term “Lose weight look good” was still trending higher than “lose weight be healthy”

Interest over time weightlossSo while I was growing up as well as when I was a young adult, it seems to me that the focus on the impact of weight on appearance was much higher. This belief was probably reinforced by my time spent in the entertainment industry where appearance ranks rather high on priorities.

The Entertainment Industry

As an actress, I get to hear about all the diets other actresses are going on. Of these diets, the most bizarre was perhaps the baby food diet where all food intake was through a pipe through the nose. An actress I knew went on this diet and lost a tremendous amount of weight, although I have no idea how it affected her health. I once saw an actress eat only boiled vegetables and nothing else (and I must admit that her waistline was half mine). There was also someone I know who goes on a total liquid diet a week before filming so she can lose weight just in the nick of time. I have seen another actress have nothing but energy drinks and I shudder at the thought of what her kidney must goes through.

A recent conversation with a family member proved rather interesting. He had gone on a diet to improve his health. It was a high fat diet and I gulped when he told me what made up his daily breakfast. To my mind, it was literally a heart attack on a plate. But surprise, surprise! His subsequent tests showed that his triglyceride levels had dropped as had his weight.

Testing the Hypothesis

General research did seem to indicate that there is a connection between the zero-carb diet and losing weight. But when I used Scraawl to see how many on social media were posting about the low-carb diet and losing weight, that is when something really odd emerged. Of the 8850  tweets about losing weight, do you want to guess how many mentioned diet? Only 779. And of these – hold your breath – only 66 mentioned the zero-carb or low-carb diet.

(Report name: weight loss · Search terms: (weight loss OR weightloss OR slim OR reduce weight OR lose weight))

I was getting excited now. Were things really changing? Were people becoming more focused on losing weight for health reasons and by working out rather than dieting?

A Change in Attitudes? 

But there was no indication of that either. For of the 8850 tweets, not a single person had mentioned the words “fitness” or “health”. And stranger still, only 4 mentioned working out or exercise.

So that gave some kind of an indication as to the “what” – but not about the “why”.

All I could establish via my Scraawl report  is that a majority were just talking about losing weight. So how do I test my hypothesis regarding their motive?

Google tells me that there are 63,50,00,000 results that match “lose weight look good” compared to 48,70,00,000 results that match lose “lose weight be healthy ”. So there does seem to be some catching up to do when you look at historical date.

Yet, when you look at the trend in the last five years, the focus on health is clearly higher

So, maybe I am right. We could have been focusing more on appearance than on health until as recently as five years ago. And maybe we did this because when we met someone the only thing we saw is their appearance and not their ECG or HBA1C. And maybe the focus is now shifting to health. Regardless of the motive the one thing that we can clearly see is that there is still considerable interest in “Losing weight”.

A More Nuanced Perception

Now I resort to a very simple logic. As far as i can see , when people lose weight, they don’t post pictures of their HBA1C or cholesterol reports. They still post pictures of themselves. Makes me wonder that despite the focus on health, if appearance after all is a very core motivator.

And if you, like me, want to have both, then maybe our path has to be one where we eat in moderation and work out regularly. (I say this as I dig into a bag of crisps – but it is chicken flavoured and I am kidding myself that it therefore has more protein).

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