Online Wellness Communities: What’s In It For You?

Whenever I embark on a personal transformation—be it trying to eat better, get more sleep, or be more intentional in my everyday life—I find it hard to motivate without having anyone pushing me to be accountable. Sure, I myself am reason enough to motivate, but let’s be honest: Changing your life, changing your body, and changing the way you think isn’t exactly a cinch.

Throughout our lives we are conditioned to self-soothe (think: snacking, napping, daydreaming). We grow to believe these indulgences are good for us, when maybe they don’t actually serve us well at all.

I thrive when other people inspire me. The people I do spend the most time with (my boyfriend and close friends) are all so busy working, hustling, grinding, and rushing; we don’t spend what little spare time we have together at the gym or talking about fitness and life transformations. So I turn to digital communities for support in reaching my goals.

At first, I created an email thread with several friends of mine from all over the country—we’d email one another pictures of our workouts and recipes and fitness ideas, usually joking or complaining about how hard it was. Sometimes we’d go deep and express annoyance at our limitations and frustrations around finding workout pants that actually fit well (this is surprisingly difficult). It felt good to talk to people about real things: being too tired to work out after work, being too busy to make food, being too lazy to wake up early for a class.

Related: Peer Pressure Has Always Been My Best Fitness Motivator

In time, we moved our group over to Facebook groups so we could all talk and relate in an easier way. Instead of responding to dozens of emails, we now create threads. We have a file for pictures, a file for local gym classes and class prices, and a file for silly stuff, like fitness horoscopes. (Yes, this is very much a real thing.)

Best of all? We self-moderate the group so that it is inclusive (we invite friends and friends of friends), respectful, and body-positive. If I can’t sync up my schedule to work out with friends in real life, this is the next best thing.

I love sharing pre- and post-workout selfies, instead of flooding my personal Instagram with them (my whole social network doesn’t need to endure my vanity) and I really depend on others’ motivational ideas.

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Perhaps the biggest benefit of a group like this is knowing I’m not in a tunnel, working toward wellness with preconceived notions of what that means or looks like. I have all these people telling me what their versions of wellness are, and what body positivity looks like. I don’t have to sit alone with my thoughts, fears, limitations, and self-expectations.

Also, it’s nice to see that other members who’ve been invited over time have auto-immune conditions, like me. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a spinal condition—so working out isn’t exactly easy (I have to be careful what I do and how I do it). Meeting others with arthritis and joint diseases helped me find better workouts for myself. For example, I realized by talking to others that running actually negatively impacted my spine—and that swimming was by far the best for my body, both in terms of its low-impact and high calorie-torching benefits.

I’m now also in a few groups for people with AS. The thousands of members share diet tips, recipes, fitness routines, and personal experiences that I can relate to and use in a real way. Honestly, this has changed my life, giving me back a sense of control of my body.

Over the past few months, I have put this inspiration to use for The Vitamin Shoppe, helping to create two digital communities: Staying Fit with The Vitamin Shoppe and Eating Healthy with The Vitamin Shoppe. They are spaces where members can discuss everything from stories of personal transformation to healthy snack recipes, and we have ongoing Q&A sessions with The Vitamin Shoppe’s nutritionists.

Although the groups are brand new, they are growing and blooming. These spaces are so important and necessary; they cultivate a sense of community, while providing a safe space to ask questions, share concerns, and offer up ideas. We might all be at different stages of our wellness journeys, but there’s one thing we can 100 percent agree on: We want to be our best selves.

Like what you’ve heard here? Join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!