fitness selfitis

Selfitis: Why We Can’t Just Shut The F**k Up And Train

If you don’t post about going to the gym on Facebook, it didn’t happen.


Something like that..

Yes, today I’m writing about our incessant need to post about our fitness regime on social media, and I’ll show you some interesting research you may not have previously been aware of on this subject.

Let’s face it, we all have one friend who goes overboard with their fitness posts.


Outfit for the gym selfie? Got it! Travelling to the gym selfie? Got it! Cardio #gottabedone selfie? Got it! Gym bathroom mirror that makes everyone look shredded selfie? Got it!

And then, of course, there’s the motivational captions. They’re regularly dropping classics like:

“Eat like a nutritionist. Sleep like a baby. Train like a warrior.”

Steady on, you’re only exercising, not fighting lions in the Colosseum. And:

“Don’t stop when you’re tired. Stop when you’re proud.”

My favourite was this golden nugget:

“I don’t eat for taste. I eat for fuel.”

REALLY? It’s almost enough to make you want to remind them they’ve only been going to the gym for six months.

friends who post about the gym all the time

And then there’s the #fitfam

(Seriously, search it up, I’ll wait!)

What I’m sure started as an attempt at fitness motivation has quickly turned into some weird cult-like tribe who serve as a constant reminder that you’re not doing enough, who consider uploading bold pictures of fruit qualifies them as nutritionists who can dish out dieting advice to their followers (cuz magic), in a land where how many ‘likes’ you get ultimately determines whether you’re allowed to be happy inside.

selfie addiction

But if you’ve ever rolled your eyes at your friend’s endless stream of fitness related posts, and wondered, “Why can’t they just go to the gym and workout without telling the whole world about it?!”, I’ve got some news for you.

Turns out, they can’t.

Because researchers from Brunel University, London, have concluded that it’s a genuine addiction for many people. (1)

During a 2015 trial, researchers looked at the reasons why people feel compelled to post every workout to social media. They worked with a core group of over 500 individuals, and measured what they refer to as “the big five” personality traits:

  • Extroversion
  • Neuroticism
  • Openness
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness

They found that people who displayed more narcissistic behavior would post frequently about their achievements in the gym, and that this incessant uploading was fueled by “their need for attention and validation from the Facebook community.”

Those with narcissistic traits were also found to post more often about their diet and which routine they were using, suggesting that they use social media to broadcast the effort they put into their physical appearance.

on phone in gym

Dr. Tara Marshall, who was part of the research team, adds:

“It might come as little surprise to see that Facebook statuses reflect certain personality traits.

However, it’s important to understand why people write about certain topics, because their updates may be differentially rewarded with ‘likes’. People who receive more tend to experience the beneficial feelings of social inclusion.

Although our research does suggest that a narcissist’s bragging pays off (because they often receive more likes and comments), it could of course be that their friends politely offer support by dropping a ‘like’ while secretly disliking their egotistical display.”

Interesting, huh?

Have you ever rolled your eyes at a friend’s upload but then dropped a like on it purely to avoid confrontation? Let me know in the comments section below.

(I won’t tell them. HA!)

fitness selfie addiction

This matches recent research from Nottingham University, England, which coined the phrase ‘selfitis’. (2)

‘Selfitis’ is classed as “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and fill a gap in intimacy.”

It even has three levels: borderline, acute and chronic.

Borderline is classed as taking 3+ selfies per day without posting them to social media. Acute is defined as taking 3+ selfies per day and uploading them. Chronic selfitis is classed as being unable to resist the urge to to take selfies “around the clock” and post at least 6 photos per day.

Alarmingly, most people I’ve spoken to in the gym can already see themselves in one of these levels.

When looking at the reasons why we feel so compelled to take selfies, researchers indicated it often comes down to one (or a combination) of the following:

  • To boost self-confidence
  • To seek attention
  • To boost mood
  • To be socially competitive

Those with chronic selfitis had lower self-confidence, higher attention seeking and higher social competition scores.

selfie addiction

Erin Vogel, P.h.D., Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF who studies the impact of social media on the behaviors and self-perceptions of teenagers, says this merely confirms something we’ve known for years – we’ve always been bothered by how others are perceiving us.

Social media merely magnifies this issue.

She also has some interesting insights regarding the psychology of a ‘like’:

“Most people post selfies for ‘likes’. It’s an easy way to get attention, and clicking ‘like’ is a very simple way to make someone else feel good.

The caveat here is that people tend to click ‘like’ on things when they’re not even paying too much attention, but it bears a significant amount of social weight for the person receiving it.”

Crazy, right?

She also believes that posting selfies is more associated with body issues for women, and narcissism for men.

Interestingly, this does tie in with earlier research showing that young girls who fell into the chronic selfities diagnosis displayed considerably more body image issues than those who did not, and a 2015 Polish trial which concluded that selfie-posting behaviors are heavily associated with narcissism among men. (3, 4)

Either way, it’s not healthy.

“Posting flattering images might be an attempt for some social media users to manage anxiety about their appearance, though it may or may not be successful.”

So there you have it!

The next time you see your annoying friend pop up on your social media feed with a picture of a bowl of cold chicken and rice followed by so many hashtags when one would be enough (#urgh), try your best to un-roll your eyes from the back of your head and be nice.

It seems, to many people, a ‘like’ can count for a lot more than just a mere click of a button.

Now go lift something heavy!

Found this post on selfitis interesting? Share it, because if you enjoyed it others will too. Jump on my email list below, I send out new fitness tips each week.

instagram fitness addiction


  1. Marshall, T. C., et al. The Big Five, self-esteem, and narcissism as predictors of the topics people write about in Facebook status updates. Personality and Individual Differences. (2015)
  2. Balakrishnan, J., et al. An Exploratory Study of “Selfitis” and the Development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale. Int J Mental Health Issues. (2018)
  3. McLean, S. A., et al. Photoshopping the selfie: Self photo editing and photo investment are associated with body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. Int J Eat Disord. (2015)
  4. Sorokowski, P., et al. Selfie posting behaviors are associated with narcissism among men. Personality and Individual Differences. (2015)

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