The Social Impact Heroes of Social Media: “I wish I’d been told that you can choose what you want to share” with Emma Green and Candice Georgiadis

I also wish I’d been told that you can choose what you want to share. You don’t have to follow the crowd. You can do social media your own way. You can decide what feels important to you and communicate it in a way that feels authentic.

As a part of my series about social media stars who are using their platform to make a significant social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emma Green. Emma has a PhD, MSc and BSc in Psychology and is a certified personal trainer. She is passionate about helping people build a healthy relationship with food, exercise and their bodies. Emma takes a fun and evidence-based approach to health and fitness through her online coaching, freelance writing and social media activities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I developed an eating disorder at the age of 14, which was triggered by being bullied at school. My mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated. I was barely eating and exercising daily. I was tired and miserable but felt unable to stop. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me at the time and subsequently continued to struggle, albeit less severely, until the age of 18 when I went to university. The stress of my studies combined with social pressures resulted in my eating disorder rapidly worsening and finally receiving a diagnosis at the age of 20.

Following graduating from university, I began the journey of recovery. It took six years and four different therapists but I made a full recovery. The process gave me a greater understanding of the way in which an obsession with food and exercise can become all-consuming and what it takes away from you. I spend years of my life just existing, rather than truly living. I became increasingly aware of the detrimental effect of the diet culture in which we live where people punish themselves with endless diets and grueling exercise routines in an attempt to achieve the ‘perfect body.’ I saw that people were postponing their happiness in the hopes that one day, their dieting and exercise would allow them to reach some kind of utopia that just doesn’t exist. I wanted to share the message that people can seek health and fitness without being restrictive. That a ‘perfect body’ is not only unattainable but not the answer to happiness. I wanted to show people that there was another option.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

Whilst studying for my PhD, I began online fitness coaching. I started being approached by friends that knew me in ‘real life’ but had been positively affected by the messages I was sharing on my Instagram page. I realized that the message I was sharing was powerful and had the ability to affect others in a positive way. I began to take things more seriously, thinking more carefully about what I was sharing and ensuring that there was no potential to cause harm, with either the images or the words I was using. I take this responsibility incredibly seriously to this day and never post anything that I think could negatively impact another person. I am sure that I am not perfect with this but I try my absolute best.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started posting on Instagram, I had no idea what I was doing. I would post pictures with no caption and no hashtags. At the time it was just pictures of food, which were not particularly engaging so it’s no surprise that I got little to no engagement! I learned that Instagram is about so much more than pictures. I realized that people do read captions and that as a lifelong writer, I could use words in a meaningful way to positively impact others. My captions became gradually longer and now I regularly reach the maximum character allowance. Fortunately, my editing has also improved and I am much better at removing the fluff from a caption to ensure that only the important stuff remains.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?

I use my platform to help people build a healthy relationship with food, exercise and their bodies. I try to show people that pursuing health and fitness goals (which is by no means is a moral imperative) doesn’t have to mean restriction. It doesn’t have to involve miserable and exhausting workouts. It doesn’t mean having to eat ‘clean’. It doesn’t mean trying to make your body fit some kind of ideal that society has told you is beautiful. I talk a lot about the principles of intuitive eating, which involves tuning into your own bodily cues to decide how, what and when to eat. It involves exercising in a way that is fun, rather than as a way to burn calories. It also means accepting your body will find the size and shape it wants to be and the best thing you can do is get out of its way. I’m aligned with a Health at Every Size (HAES) approach, which supports all individuals to pursue health but adopting health-promoting behaviors, whilst acknowledging the societal and structural barriers that impede health. It’s a radical standpoint, particularly within the fitness industry, but I’m hugely passionate about sharing the message and having engaging discussions with others in this space.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

An individual recently made a post about their recovery from an eating disorder and cited my account as being helpful in this process. As a former sufferer myself I was incredibly touched and honored to have played a small part in what is a very difficult journey. Although I draw on my own experiences of an eating disorder in my content, I don’t claim to be any kind of authority on such conditions, which are complex, nuanced illnesses which frequently take years to recover from. It was incredibly rewarding to have made an impact in an area that can cause such mental anguish as well as resulting in a lot of physical effects for the individual. It showed me the potential of social media to be a force for change in a positive way. It also highlighted the importance of content creators taking responsibility for the message and images they share, realizing the potential for both positive and negative effects on users.

Was there a tipping point the made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?

When I first started my Instagram account, I posted quite generic health and fitness content. It was evidence-based and I sometimes talked about my own experiences in reaching a healthy place with food and exercise but I didn’t feel particularly connected to my content. As I become more involved in the fitness industry, including qualifying as a personal trainer and starting to work with clients, I realized that there was a lot of disordered behavior going on. I saw that people were putting themselves under intense pressure to eat a so-called ‘perfect’ diet, which tended to be extremely restrictive and were punishing themselves with intense exercise routines. People felt anxious about eating food that didn’t meet their standards of being ‘clean’, ‘low calorie’ or ‘macro-friendly’. People felt guilty for taking a rest day from the gym. People felt awful about their bodies, which did not meet continually changing body ideal put on a pedestal by mainstream and social media. Even people who claimed to be adhering to ‘flexible dieting’ seemed to have behaviors that were anything but. People were putting their lives on hold to achieve their health and fitness goals and that made me sad.

I also looked at the scientific literature, I looked at the data on ‘restrained eaters’ (those with rules around food) and saw the negative psychological effects associated with that mindset. I saw the ineffectiveness of interventions aimed at weight loss, particularly over the long term. I looked at the public health approaches to ‘obesity’ (a stigmatized word that should always be used I inverted commas if at all) and saw that they were essentially recommending diets that would be seen as problematic in those with diagnosed eating disorders. I looked at the data on BMI and the complex link to health. I saw that behavior changes could positively impact health in the absence of weight loss. I saw the negative physical and mental health effects of weight stigma, which may partially (or fully) explain the relationship between BMI and health. I looked more closely at the social determinants of health and how little attention they receive in conversations about health. At the same time, I started to look at the literature on intuitive eating, an approach that I’d heard about but never given much consideration. I saw the positive mental and physical health effects of an approach that helped people release their rules around food, move in a way that was enjoyable for them and accept where their body ended up as a result. I realized that this was a framework that could help to liberate individuals from the pressures they put on themselves in terms of diet and exercise. I saw that embracing the principles could allow people to find a healthy and happy place for them, which is in alignment with their needs, preferences and circumstances.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes!

1. Better funding for mental health services. People of all shapes, sizes, genders, sexualities, abilities and ethnicities suffer from eating disorders and all need appropriate care. This has to be long term and it should be person-centered.

2. More diversity: We should be seeing a much wider range of bodies in all settings. There are too many contexts in which there are only thin white women. That is not representative and is not acceptable. However, it is important to approach this whole-heartedly by engaging with marginalized individuals. Tokenism is not okay.

3. More research using intuitive eating and health at every size frameworks: There is already an emerging body of evidence but we need more to convince individuals and institutions that this cannot be ignored. The conventional approach to health is not working and an alternative is sorely needed.

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?

I speak up for what I believe in. This also means calling out what I don’t think is acceptable. I try to share positive messages about having a healthy relationship with food, exercise and your body but I’m not afraid to also discuss ideas that I think are problematic. If you are trying to use a platform for social good, you have to be able to be clear about what you’re for and what you’re against. This might mean having some difficult conversations and perhaps some disagreements but I think that talking about these issues is always valuable, as it positions them as being worthy of discussion. However, discussions are not enough. I think if there is something that you believe in, it is important to take action. This might mean becoming involved with activism, signing petitions, donating to charities or buying from businesses that have similar ideals. Connecting with others can be hugely beneficial, both for the individuals involved and the cause as a whole. Overall, what I would say is that if you want to promote and advance a cause, you cannot stay quiet.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I wish that I’d initially been more thoughtful about what I shared. I wasn’t particularly mindful and although I don’t think I shared messages that would be harmful, I also didn’t share anything that was very valuable. Time and energy are precious so I wish I’d been told to really think through what I wanted to share. This was both in terms of the images themselves but more importantly, the captions behind them.

I wish I had been warned about the negativity more. I don’t receive a lot of criticism but I wish that I had been told that it is inevitable if you have a platform that some people will attack you personally if they disagree with your ideas or dislike you.

I also wish I’d been told that you can choose what you want to share. You don’t have to follow the crowd. You can do social media your own way. You can decide what feels important to you and communicate it in a way that feels authentic.

I wish I’d known the potential to connect with like-minded people, with them often becoming friends in ‘real life.’ I would have come to Instagram a lot earlier if I realized the power of the platform to engage with so many individuals from around the world and have conversations about stuff that really matters.

I wish I’d also known the importance of taking time away from social media. It can become quite all-consuming and whilst I enjoy it, it can become something that every spare moment is spent upon and I don’t think that is healthy. I try to ensure I am not on my phone all the time when with other people. Real life connection is important.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I wish I could encourage people to be their authentic selves. I know it sounds cheesy but I feel like so many people, often unconsciously, be the version of themselves that they think they are meant to be, rather than who they truly are. We all are unique and I would really like to see that embraced and celebrated.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” It’s a quote by astronomer Carl Sagan. When I first heard it, it was a stark reminder of the importance of being critical of the messages we are fed in both mainstream and social media. It emphasized the importance of weighing up the evidence of a claim, rather than taking it at face value. For me, this means reading the scientific studies myself as opposed to going by someone else’s opinion of it. It means thinking carefully about my experiences and questioning what evidence they have provided me. It means being mindful about the statements that I make myself and the evidence (or lack thereof) that I have to support them.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Megan Crabbe (@bodyposipanda). I love the way she shares about body positivity in a way that isn’t watered down. She isn’t afraid to call out BS and is a fantastic example of the happiness that can come from rejecting diet culture and embracing your true self.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me @emmafitnessphd on Instagram. I love connecting with others and having conversations about this stuff!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


The Social Impact Heroes of Social Media: “I wish I’d been told that you can choose what you want… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.