'Toxic' fitness influencer reveals common tactics used to trick followers for engagement: 'You probably don't know about [this]'

Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of eating disorders and disordered eating. Please take care while reading, and note the helpful resources at the end of this story.

A fitness coach took to TikTok to share some of the commonly practiced tactics influencers use to gain followers. “Maybe I should delete,” she captioned the revealing video.

Hannah Barry, who is based in the U.K., has a little over 22,000 followers on TikTok and 94,000 followers on Instagram. In a video she uploaded on Jan. 4, she explained that she used to be a “really toxic fitness influencer” during her early days of building an audience.

“I want to tell you some of the bulls*** that goes on within the fitness industry that you probably don’t know about,” she said.

Her first reveal was about one-on-one coaching sessions, which are advertised as ways for followers to have private, personalized workouts and instructionals with the influencers they like. But Barry alleged that the programs are typically planned out by “shadow coaches.”

“You’re not actually being coached by the person you think you’re being coached by,” she explained.

Barry also said that ab workout videos were always guaranteed hits for views, but she personally never actually did the workouts herself.

“Ab workouts are posted solely for engagement,” she said. “I know that’s so s***ty to say, but it’s also so true. Ab workouts actually don’t even build abs whatsoever. Do your heavy squats, your deadlifts, do your heavy compounds [instead].”

Barry also warned followers about any smoothie, drink, cleanse or detox that promises to balance hormones.

“All bulls*** as well,” she said. “They don’t work. You have a liver because your liver detoxes your body for you.”

Fans clearly loved Barry’s honesty, because she uploaded several follow-up videos within the same day. In one, Barry said that while she’s still in the fitness industry, she no longer feels like “a toxic person,” which is why she decided to start being more open about how the influencer world works.

“I would be asked by very well-known female fitness influencers if they could buy my transformation photos to use — to sell their program,” she claimed. “Basically, they wanted to buy the rights to the pictures so they could sell them as if I had done their workout program.”

In another video, Barry said that any workout that claimed to “spot reduce fat off your body” — like “fat-burning belly workouts” — was also a trick to get people to watch videos and follow accounts.

Commenters thanked Barry for pointing out what to look out for with “toxic” fitness influencers, especially now during January when one of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight.

The idea that social media fitness culture can contribute to viewers’ unhealthy perceptions of themselves and potentially lead them to mental health issues and eating disorders is not new information. “Body checking,” which was a TikTok trend that made headlines in 2022, is a reiteration of what millennials went through with the “thigh gap” Tumblr trend in 2013.

While TikTok banned hashtags like #thinspo — a shorthand for “thinspiration” — users can still work around it to find eating disorder content, typically disguised as fitness and health content.

Barry’s honesty will hopefully open more doors for other influencers to dismantle the toxic fitness culture on social media.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating habits, contact the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237. You can also connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Visit the NEDA website to learn more about the possible warning signs of eating disorders and disordered eating.

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