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The Fitness News #2: Toxic TikTok Diet Culture, Setting Goals, Training to Failure & Counting Reps

Updated: Feb 4, 2023


Toxic TikTok Diet Culture

TikTok suffers the same problems as most social media, that information can spread like wildfire, regardless if it is good or bad.

We found a study that looked at a 1000 TikTok videos and under the 10 most popular health, fitness and nutrition hashtags they chose the 100 most watch in each hashtag. [1]

Here were some key findings

  • Majority of the content was by females of high school/college age groups

  • There was a glorification of weight loss - and something they spoke about was the hashtag 'whatieatinaday' 'we believed at the beginning of the study may be weight-neutral and portray a variety of eating styles and meal preparations were quite weight normative with users showing how they meal prepped for a certain diet, or what they ate in a day to lose weight. In fact, the whatieatinaday hashtag has become so weight normative and triggering that videos using it now carry a trigger warning for eating disorders including a link to the National Eating Disorder Association’s help line because so many people were using the hashtag to show how little they ate in a day'

  • Following on - there's a reoccurring suggestion that if you too try hard enough you can lose weight 'Several sounds were found to occur frequently as part of the weight loss trends and included language that poses weight loss as paramount. Dialogue, sounding like a pep talk from a coach or a trainer, containing phrases such as “no excuses,” “get up” and “if you want it bad enough, you’ll do it,” implies that deciding not to pursue weight loss or being unable to lose weight is a personal motivation failure.'

  • Although some may argue that viewing weight transformation videos is motivating, Jebeile et. al found that adolescents in larger bodies reported that viewing successful weight loss videos felt demotivating and discouraging when weight loss was portrayed as very easy, as it often is on social media.

  • Among food content was instructional videos of users showing how to make “healthy” versions of “junk” foods. Assigning good or bad labels to food brings emotion and morality to eating. These emotions are internalized as we eat, and eating a food deemed “bad” by diet culture’s standards may lead to negative perceptions of self after consumption. Moralizing food can cause hyper-awareness about food choices, and foster beliefs that certain foods should be avoided because they will cause weight gain or poor health. This can lead to development of eating disorders such as Orthorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder defined as the obsession with “correct” eating and a fixation on foods’ role in our physical health

  • Of all videos coded under the hashtag “nutrition,” 47% provided some sort of nutrition advice. However, only 1.4% of this content was made by a registered dietician and even then we know that does not necessarily mean it's legit content.

  • They go on to say Health professionals should recognize that their young adult clients may be gathering nutrition information on TikTok, and that much of it is not evidence-based

We break down these points in more detail on the full podcast but these points should mean you proceed with caution when getting health information from any for of social media.

TikTok Diet Culture
TikTok Diet Culture

Setting Goals

We have a new 2022 paper on this The performance and psychological effects of goal setting in sport: A systematic review and meta-analysis [2]

This review suggests that setting a variety of short-term and long-term goals that are process-oriented, approach-oriented, and self-referenced is conducive to optimizing performance and psychological outcomes.

A thoughtfully constructed, interconnected goal hierarchy involving superordinate, intermediate, and subordinate goals can be a valuable tool for goal organization and optimization.

  • Process goals appeared to outperform all other goal types (performance, outcome, mastery, and ego) in terms of sport task performance outcomes.

  • Short-term goals outperformed long-term goals, while a combination of short-term and long-term goals led to a similar (but just slightly larger) effect size than short-term goals alone.

  • Positive effects were observed for both specific and non-specific goals, although the effect size for non-specific goals was bigger.

  • Goal setting led to relatively larger effect sizes for novice (inexperienced) subjects compared to more experienced subjects

In life we have many goals, professional, romantic, physical, mental and to navigate all these, a simple 'smart goal' might not suffice.

As described by Höchli et al , a goal hierarchy is essentially a web of multiple goals, with three different levels

Setting Goals, Goal Hierarchy
Setting Goals, Goal Hierarchy

Great thing is we can a connection between - IE the subordinate goal of exercise once a week also supports the rest of the intermediate goals in some way. For example, exercising can help with sleep quality.

When filling out this hierarchy the paper suggests and we agree that we focus on approach goals vs avoidance goals.

An approach goal would be 'I'm going to add fruit or veg to every meal this week'. An avoidance goal would be 'I'm going to cut out sugar all this week'

By avoiding something you are essentially creating a hypothetical big red button that makes it significantly harder to complete the goal.

Important to note that everyone will have different requirements when it comes to setting goals and a different approach may be needed.

Setting Goals
Setting Goals

Do You Need To Train To Failure In The Gym To Get The Best Gains?

We've got some brand new science on this. Influence of Resistance Training Proximity-to-Failure on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis [3]

The common argument here is that progressive muscle growth - hypertrophy is you have to take your sets to failure. This new paper sheds light on that and it's not quite the case. You don't have to go to complete failure, but it's probably a good idea to go close to failure. The problem with this wording is that what do we mean by failure? Because it's quite subjective. To some people, failure might be actual momentary failure, which is where you're doing your exercise and you cannot complete a single rep. Or you might find that actually you fail your very last rep.

Basically, if you perform 10-20 sets per muscle group per week and take each set 1-3 reps away from failure then you'll be doing enough to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. That is, if you are recovering adequately. Food, sleep, rest days etc.

Bill breaks it down further in this video


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