Some people just love going to the gym for the pure enjoyment of exercise itself. For the rest of us mortals, we have to use a few tricks to stay motivated.
For some people, it’s the needle on the scale slowly creeping toward a lower number. For others, it’s the weight on the bar creeping toward a higher number. But for some, the gym selfie is a little reminder of how far you’ve come to keep you motivated to keep going.
Shape.com reported on a study that looked at motivators for women to stay in a 16-week weight loss program. They included tracking body mass index, hip-to-waist ratio, weight, and before-and-after photos. It would be a bit of a stretch to equate these before-and-after photos with gym selfies. Women were only shown photos of themselves at the start of the program and at the end, four months later.
Gym selfies, on the other hand, may be a daily, weekly, or bi-weekly practice for some. They’re also often shared on social media where they can invite comments, likes, and favorites.
According to the study, published open access in PeerJ, the most powerful motivator for women to stay in the program was keeping track of their shrinking waists. Women who ended the program with the biggest change in their hip-to-waist ratio reported the most satisfaction with their results. But the researchers said the photos helped drive home their satisfaction with their results.
So visually tracking one’s progress may be a good motivator to keep on a weight loss program, but what does that mean for the gym selfie?
There’s not too much research on this specific phenomenon. However, researchers are interested in how people harness social media to affect positive changes in their health. One meta-analysis drew together several other studies on various health interventions, including quitting smoking, exercising, and dieting. Taken together, the studies showed some weak evidence that social media can be helpful. But they were specifically looking at interventions designed by healthcare experts, not how individuals might use social media in their own ways to stay accountable to health goals.
Gym selfies may have some negative consequences, too.
One study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggested that “fitspiration” posts and images, such as gym selfies or photos of #bodygoals, share a lot of worrying traits with “thinspiration” posts often shared by people suffering from eating disorders. These common traits included stigmatizing fat and stoking guilt about being overweight and certain eating behaviors.
Another study in the journal Body Image found that time spent on Facebook interacting with body-focused images reported a more negative opinion of their own bodies. So you might be posting your gym selfie with the best of intentions, but it may be causing some psychological distress in someone else. Of course, that person can always choose to unfollow you.
There just isn’t enough research to definitively show if gym selfies are helpful or hurtful. But they can be a way to keep yourself accountable. And they can also help you keep track of your progress to stay motivated, at least according to the first study. But maybe take fewer of them, and think twice before sharing them on social media.