A couple weeks ago I made a big decision. I decided to unfollow the Tone it Up Instagram account. And my DMs immediately blew up.
If you’re not familiar- Tone it Up is a women’s fitness company started by two amazing women named Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott. They’ve built a fitness empire through free YouTube videos and selling a nutrition plan before launching a protein powder and all sorts of merch. It’s an amazing business and they’ve really built something special in their community of #tiuteam.
I’ve been a TIU poster girl since I first found them in 2014. I’ve used the workouts and the nutrition plan, I love the protein powder and still use it, I went to one of their retreats and got to meet them. I’ve introduced so many friends and family to this way of living, for free. Using their nutrition program taught me a lot about using food as fuel, and it helped me understand what food does to my body.
Most significantly, TIU got me through my first Triathlon. I used their free 8 week training plan and watched their videos on what to wear and how to do transitions. The first tri kit I bought was the Tone it Up kit that Betty Designs created, which lead me to applying for the Betty Squad, which changed my triathlon world. So for all of that, I am forever grateful.
The company has changed a lot in the past 4 years. Recently they released a paid workout app subscription program, which I actually got to Beta test, and brought on several new trainers to help spread the load. They launched protein and fitness equipment in Target. One of them is having a baby. As a TIU “OG,” I’m actually very proud of K&K’s success. I’m happy to support them with my dollars. But I can’t support them with my social media anymore.
Instagram is a huge part of TIU. The brand is primarily marketed through a community of women who use the platform to “check in.” Hashtags are how members connect with each other and how they participate in challenges involving workouts, clean eating, progress checks and prizes. Scrolling back through my own Instagram account (@annieappy) I see photo after photo of meal checkins, before and after bikini shots, and sweaty selfies. My photos are typically dark, the meals not particularly appetizing, the workout photos a bit blurry and completely red faced. I felt brave posting these photos and eagerly waited for the community to give me a virtual high five. We were all in it together, to get healthy and feel better about ourselves.
But then Instagram changed. It has essentially become a place where people are trying to make money or to get free shit from companies. So iPhone snaps of breakfast for a M1 checkin have now become full photo shoots with beautifully constructed smoothie bowls on a well-lit decorative placemat with rose gold spoon placed just so.
You know what I eat every morning? A smoothie that’s baby-puke green from spinach. It’s delicious. And nutritious. And it looks disgusting. I can’t Instagram that shit. I just want to eat it. #health #cleaneats
As more and more TIU women have gotten into upping their Insta-game, less of those quick snapshots are being recognized on TIU’s accounts. If you don’t post a good photo, it’s not getting reposted as TIU inspo. Your workout outfit better be on point, your dinnerware better be cute. You better be all in on that #tiulifestyle.
And I get it- it’s a business, and Instagram is a photo platform. But it’s no secret that TIU marketing has shifted from “live a care-free, feel great in your skin lifestyle” towards “get flat abs and a poppin’ booty!” I’ve got to tell you- our collective pursuit of flat abs and a large butt has left me depressed. When every day I’m seeing photos of girls lifting their shirts to snap a pic of their “morning abs”… well, that’s just not how I want to start my day. I mean, is that your first impulse when you wake up, to check your abs and snap a photo to show everyone on Instagram? Sometimes I wake up and check my abs and I’m like, where did that habit come from? I don’t even know how I feel yet, but I know how I look, and that now affects how I feel.
That’s a shitty way to start your day.
Perhaps worst of all, many of the community members who originally built this business have suffered. I’ve looked up to girls who used TIU nutrition to battle chronic diseases and change their lives. I’ve seen some of those same girls cop to eating disorders, give up completely and gain the weight right back, or drop off when they experience struggles they don’t want others to know about lest they be judged. I’ve seen girls overtrain themselves doing TIU, BBG, LG, AND endurance work at the same time, wondering why they’re always tired and injured, all while staying up well past their bedtimes because they feel guilty they haven’t completed their challenges or checked in. All in on this lifestyle, right?
Too far, my friends. We’ve gone TOO FAR.
I came to my personal boiling point this January. Over the course of three months I gained more weight than I’ve ever gained in my life. There were many cocktails and yummy munchies involved, along with an injury that required me to stay off my foot. I was at a point where my stretchy yoga pants didn’t fit, and the scale was showing 10 pounds more than my highest historical weight. My first instinct was to do a TIU 7 day slim down, which is basically a super low carb week of eating to get “back on track.” So I did, I dropped 3 pounds of bloat, and then proceeded to get back to TIU every-day eating trusting that my weight would go down. But it didn’t. My jeans were super tight on my thighs and calves. My bras didn’t fit. I busted the back seam of my favorite leather jacket twisting to pick something up. The scale didn’t move. What was happening?? I started to swing between “perfect nutrition” in the morning and then eating everything I could find that seemed remotely delicious in the afternoon. I became afraid of certain foods- can’t eat cheese, it’s not approved. Pick non-dairy yogurt instead of Greek. Put half a banana in your smoothie, not the whole thing. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PUT DOWN THAT PIECE OF BREAD YOU’RE POISONING YOURSELF!
Every time I got on the scale I panicked a little bit. I started beating myself up, buying new bikinis and hanging them outside my closet to remind myself of my “goals.” I scrolled past TIU girl after girl posting their bootycall photos and food choices, judging theirs versus mine. I saw the girls with the morning abs and thought really unkind things about them. I took sweaty selfies and immediately deleted them because I looked ridiculous. I stopped posting to Instagram altogether- who would be inspired by me?
Yep. I spiraled pretty good.
So, I took a big step back. I started by tracking the food I was actually eating each day and discovered that I needed to EAT MORE. No joke. I increased my calories, focusing on more protein AND CARBS and I’ve lost two pounds. Next I had blood work done to see where I could improve my nutrition and performance. Spoiler alert- despite me thinking I was “bad” with my nutrition, my bloodwork was pretty stellar according to the registered dietician (aka a Medical Professional) who reviewed it with me. Then I took a subjective look at all the training I had been doing, all the performance gains I’ve made, and I realized that I have put on a TON of muscle. My bras didn’t fit because my lats grew from swimming five days a week, not because I got fat. My calves have no fat on them, they’re just so frickin huge from cycling that they don’t fit in my skinny jeans. I’m swimming faster and cycling stronger than I ever have.
You guys, it wasn’t my health and nutrition that was messed up. It was my head.
So I decided to go on a cleanse. A TIU cleanse. I unfollowed around 100 TIU girls, leaving only the ones whom I truly admired or connected with in a real-person way. I took “TIU girl” out of my profile bio. I quit using the hashtags. And yes, sick of seeing all the Studio Tone it Up advertisements and poppin’ booty shout outs, I unfollowed the TIU account.
I still follow Karena and Katrina because they inspire me to go after my girl boss dreams. I still use my Tone it Up recipes to help plan my healthy eats for the week. And I still recommend TIU to women looking to get started on their fitness journey. Yes really. They make the basic tenants of nutrition easy to follow, and their free workouts are convenient. It’s a great place to begin.
Health and wellness starts with personal responsibility. I don’t blame TIU one bit for my spiral. I high-five them for the incredible business they’ve built, for the lives they have changed. Including mine. Following TIU in my feed and participating in the community just no longer serves my mental wellbeing, so I’m choosing to let that part go.
And in that spirit, I’m happy to continue my journey towards living my favorite life, one where I just buy a bigger bra, sometimes eat bread, and poke my thigh muscle in awe.
You should see it, it’s poppin’.
Post Script: Since I originally published this post in 2018, scores of TIU girls have reached out to me to share their own stories of feeling conflicted, wanting to be healthy and connect with an amazing community but feeling less worthy and exploited by the fitness industry. This post continues to have hundreds of views a month, which tells me that these feelings persist with so many women.
If this subject spoke to you and you’re interested in pursuing a holistic life where health is just one facet of a happy life, I invite you to check out my current passion, Brave and Resilient Life. At BRL I’m helping type-A millennial women get off the goal-setting hamster wheel and make meaningful momentum towards living a life they truly love. For too long women have been distracted from being their most powerful selves by a system that has told them they must be smaller to be happier. If you’re reading this post, chances are something inside you knows that message is bullshit. You deserve to feel confident, strong, and happy every damn day, no matter if you did your workout, posted your selfie, or drank your Meta-D shot.
I look forward to meeting you there ~ Annie