The #fitspo photos of toned, muscular bodies in your social media feeds may motivate you to get your sweat on. But those pictures could have a negative side too. For some women, posting such images could be a sign of risky eating and exercise habits, according to researchers from the School of Psychology at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.
For their study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the researchers looked at 101 women who regularly posted fitspiration on Instagram—often workout photos, sometimes overlain with a quote (think “Strong beats skinny every time”). A comparison group consisted of 102 women who regularly posted travel pictures, another popular type of inspirational content on Instagram.
What the researchers discovered about the fitspo-posters was alarming: Nearly 18 percent of them were at risk for diagnosis with a clinical eating disorder, compared to just over 4 percent of the women in the travel group. The study participants who posted fitspiration were also more likely to experience feelings of shame and depression when they missed a workout—which is a key indicator of compulsive exercise, according to the study authors.