'Fitspo' Instagram posts making women depressed, unmotivated - research

Turning to your Instagram feed for a little extra fitness motivation? It turns out it could be doing you more harm than good. 

Searching the hashtag 'fitspo' or 'fitspiration' (fitness inspiration, get it?) on Instagram reveals hundreds of millions of results, most attached to images of women of ideal body size engaging in exercise like running, F45 or CrossFit. 

But new research out of Australia shows that the science behind the idea is flawed. 

Scientists at Flinders College of Nursing and Health Sciences have studied whether the #fitspiration Instagram movement is having its desired inspirational effect - and found the opposite to be true. 

The study of more than 100 women aged 17-25 found that viewing #fitspiration images increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction among women and that in fact, exposure to the images didn't lead to more exercise at all. 

"When considering actual exercise behaviour, there appears to be no beneficial effect," says Dr Ivanka Prichard, who is co-deputy director of the SHAPE Research Centre at Flinders University.

"Despite their positive intentions and popularity, #fitspiration images are yet another way to make women feel worse about themselves and their bodies." 

Dr Prichard says it's especially harmful with so many young adults on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or Snapchat. 

"Young women's rapidly growing use of image-based platforms such as Instagram is of concern, given what we know about the impact of idealised imagery on body image," she says.

"One of the most consistent and influential forces on young women's body image is the media's depiction of idealised and often unobtainable body types such as a thin and fit ideal."

That will come as little surprise to many women who have stopped following such accounts in recent years, as the harmful effects of orthorexia have come to light. 

Instead, the 'body neutrality' movement has started to make waves - a movement aiming to encourage men and women to accept the body they have, focusing on achievements rather than appearance