Trying to lose weight can be a lonely experience. While pretty much everyone says they could lose a few pounds, but anyone wanting to eat healthier knows how isolating it can be to eat clean at a work lunch or skip drinks with the girls to workout. Especially if you don’t know anyone else who needs to lose more than 100 pounds in order to be a healthy weight.
Bailey Ryan knows that feeling all too well. She struggled with obesity for most of her life. But it was 2015 when the nurse decided that a healthier lifestyle was worth it. To find support and inspiration Ryan turned to Instagram.
Inspired by clean eaters on Instagram (using the hashtag #whole30approved), Ryan tried The Whole-30 diet, a month-long nutrition program that excludes dairy, sugar, grains, legumes and alcohol. Ryan later adapted to a paleo diet. In addition to clean eating, Ryan also works out regularly.
Now, two years into her fitness journey, Ryan credits part of her 120-pound weight loss success to her Instagram account @paleobailey.
When Ryan started her account in December 2015, she was 240 pounds. Having already lost around 50 pounds, her goal for the account was to track her progression and save her favourite recipes. As she began to post more, she realized that she was growing a supportive community of like-minded people who wanted to reach their health and fitness goals.
“People thank me for articulating how they’re feeling [about losing weight],” she says. “They remind me that I’m not alone in this and to keep going when it gets tough.”
How sharing your fitness journey on Instagram can help
Weight loss Instagram accounts aren’t like the typical accounts you see on Instagram. There are no expectations to post carefully crafted, witty captions to photos that look like they belong in the glossy magazines.
In fact, weight loss Instagram accounts are the exact opposite. Most people with these accounts expose the vulnerable thoughts of body image and self-esteem that we all have, but wouldn’t even admit to our best friends.
People with weight loss and fitness Instagram accounts post progress pictures, recipe ideas and their non-scale victories. The posts are intimate, diary-entry confessions.
More than anything, more than healthy eating & moving my body- the thing I had to learn was the art of allowing for the loss of control in the things I ~can't~ control & learn the ability to control the things I ~can~. It started by realizing my body wouldn't always cooperate. There would be gains and stalls when I was doing everything "right" and there'd be losses when it didn't make sense to me. Giving up control of those things and focusing on what I CAN do meant that I had to control my reactions to these things instead. Would I binge when I got frustrated or would I react differently this time? THAT is what was up to me. Losing weight has changed my entire life. But what ALLOWED for the changes was the shift in my perspective & my reactions to life. If those wouldn't have changed I'd still be mentally where I was @ 300 pounds. I'd still be eating to cope with life when it's beyond my control & I'd still have negative thoughts about my body. I've learned my actions & reactions are my OWN. I can't control that my body doesn't lose weight as fast as I want it to or when when people push food on me or the way my body looks in a specific cut of fabric. I can't control the hurtful things my mom says to me or when I've had a stressful night at work. If I kept letting those things dictate my reactions, I'd be a pretty miserable person & I'd feel pretty shitty about every aspect of who I am. Instead I've learned to be in charge MY reactions to these – therefore freeing me from the things that are done "to" me. I can choose to continue to make healthy choices despite what the scale says & make healthy choices despite the food that's around me. I can choose to focus on what I love about my body instead of pick out the things I don't & I can choose to NOT react to people in my life who don't serve me. I can get off work and release that stress in a healthy way. I can choose to remind myself I'm a good friend, I'm passionate, I'm strong when something makes me feel like I'm not. All of these choices and reactions are up to me. And they're up to you too. And that's where the real growth happens.
The new way to get healthy
With Instagram following her weight-loss journey, Ryan felt motivated knowing that people were invested in her weight loss.
“My followers hold me accountable and push me through the hard stuff,” she says. “My Instagram account is a place where I can share everything about my struggles with weight loss.”
Instagram also helped Ryan track her progress. “Since I also wrote about how I was feeling in the photo captions, it’s been really cool to see how much I’ve changed. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too,” she explains. You’ll notice that her cutlines are long and she doesn’t hold back.
Reading her old posts and looking at her weight loss pictures have been Ryan’s favourite parts about journaling on social media about her weight loss.
I was the maid of honor in my best friend's wedding. And I only teared up, like, 3 times during my speech 😂 But on a serious note, I always internally dreaded the day she'd get married when I was 120 pounds heavier. Not because I wasn't happy for her but because of the way I felt about myself. I was always worried that I'd ruin her day with my own insecurities making me not want to be there. That I'd ruin her pictures with my size or not want to be in them or look at them after because I was so embarrassed to be the biggest person there. I especially dreaded having to stand up and make a speech. When you spend years trying to do everything in your power to NOT be the center of attention, thinking about having to WILLINGLY put yourself there was anxiety inducing, to say the least. Anyway, it's a day that I always wanted to be special for my best friend of a gazillion years but it was one I knew I would have to put on a brave face for. Well, that day came and none of that was the case. None of my pervious fears or body issues were present that day. Just my pure happiness and overwhelming joy to be there, be present and support and celebrate with her. Because I felt good in my skin, I was able to make that day about her (besides her having to wash my hair, sorry al 🙃). I was still nervous to make my speech, but for entirely different reasons than what my body looked like to those watching. It was freeing and rewarding and a really special moment for me. A first, too. I swear after this I'll be done with the purple dress pics 😉 Anyway, it's just an incredible experience to do things that you once used to shy away from, refuse to do, avoid all together. I've had a lot of those experiences since losing so much weight and seeing what it's like to not feel trapped inside of myself and I appreciate every single one of them. Shoutout to better eyebrows and @go_glow for making me look like I'm in Mexico #facetofacefriday
Being vulnerable on social media
Unfortunately, with cyber bullying and Internet trolls, anyone active on social media is at risk for online harassment. And when you have a big social media following like Ryan, you’re more likely to receive unwanted comments. Although Ryan knows a lot of people who have experienced online harassment on their weight loss Instagram accounts, remarkably, she seems to be an exception to the rule.
“I’m super grateful that I don’t have to deal with any of it or read any of it,” she says.
So far, the only negative comment she received was from a pro-vegan account that criticized her for eating meat.
“People are scared of posting about their weight loss because of harassment, but even though it makes me feel vulnerable, I still do it. And I’m happy that I did it.” Ryan also started a blog, paleobailey.com so that she could share more of her fitness journey.
A lot of people say I'm "brave" for posting these before and after photos. While it's not always easy or comfortable to do on social media where everyone is watching, if you remove the "social media" aspect of it – I know that what's brave about it was the work that I put in between the two photos. Because regardless of what any comment on social media says – good or bad – that can't be taken away from me. It was brave to start. It was brave to keep going when it would have been easier on a bad day, safer and more in my comfort zone to stay where I was was. It was brave to confront my eating habits head-on instead of slowly drowning in my own emotional issues that were tied to them. It was brave to try the hard new things that pushed me beyond what I thought I could do to learn, to reflect and ultimately, to grow. According to analytics, these photos always do the best. I like to think that they do well not because of MY bravery, but because of yours. I know that's why you're all here, showing up to your life everyday like I am. On a pursuit to grow and be better at being human – whatever that looks like for you. We're all in that boat together. That's why I choose to think that instead of seeing MY bravery in these photos, you're choosing to see your own in these pieces of me I share. I hope you see these "inspiring" and "brave" before and after photos on social media and you see YOUR potential from these pictures, not mine. I hope you take what you need from them and choose to be brave too.
The power of online communities
After a significant amount of weight loss, like 50 pounds or more, excess skin is inevitable. And unfortunately, no amount of dieting or working out can make it disappear. So if someone decides to have it removed, plastic surgery is the only way to go.
After consulting with various doctors, she was heartbroken that she wasn’t able to afford the cost of her much-needed surgery. Planning to save for a few more years, Ryan was shocked when one of her friends created a Go Fund Me page for her skin removal surgery.
In just seven months, Ryan’s family, friends and Instagram followers had donated over $10,000 towards her surgery. Thanks to their generosity, Ryan is scheduled to have her skin removal surgery in the summer of 2017.
“It’s kind of bizarre how many people I don’t know in real life were willing to help me. I still can’t wrap my head around it.”
I woke up from my nap before my overnight shift tonight to see THIS. @working_on_my_fitness amazes me again and set this up for anyone interested. I don't know what to say because I feel like there's so many people who deserve stuff like this but I am so humbled by and grateful for it. Not only did I wake up to see Jen's post about the creation of this, I woke up to my Instagram best friends @whole30inga, @lil_bootie_pattie and @kellys.losing.it sharing it already too. YOU PEOPLE ARE ALL MAKING ME CRY AGAIN. My heart is exploding and I can't say thank you enough. After being denied by my insurance appeal and seeing a few surgeons and finding out that care credit would be over 600 bucks a month, I got on here and told you guys how defeated I felt. Instantly, you all poured your positivity and support into my life like usual and made me see hope where I had little. If nothing else, thank you for that. Even if it was just a dollar from half of you, we could do this together. It's crazy how this community lets us support each other from afar and I'm just blown away by this. Seriously. I'll post the link in my bio but I'm super uncomfortable with this but more thankful than anything else! I LOVE YOU
An expert’s opinion on Instagram and weight loss
Should you go to Instagram to share your healthy lifestyle?
“If you’re thinking of pursuing healthier options and positive changes, Instagram can help you make it happen,” says Richard Carpiano, a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia. “Joining groups creates motivation, so as a health promoting and health-changing tool, Instagram can be quite influential. If you do use Instagram as a fitness and weight-loss inspiration tool, just be sure not to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others.”