Thanks to social media, you don't have to join a CrossFit gym or subscribe to Weight Watchers to be part of a fitness or weight-loss community. Getting inspired is as easy as following a few fitness stars on Instagram. 

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Their accounts will fill your feed with kick-ass workouts, great meal ideas, and tons of before-and-after photos. While they can be extremely motivating, some pros are worried that posting these photos could send the wrong message about their programs. 

"The community you find online can be motivating and keep you accountable—but you now have a world of people to whom you can compare yourself, and what you see isn't always real life," says Melissa Hartwig, cofounder of the popular Whole30 diet.

While Instagram can be a great resource for people doing Whole30 (and similar programs), the social platform's visual nature often places an emphasis on physical changes. "A photo doesn't always show better energy, deeper sleep, a happier mood, more self-confidence, improved digestion, fewer cravings, less anxiety, the elimination of migraines or asthma, or an improvement in blood sugar or cholesterol," Hartwig says.

What can we say about this #MenOfWhole30 story from @jordanschiller? (Note, there were approximately 70 days between photos.) His #NSVs are wonderful, and we love the reflection on his relationship with food: "I started the Whole30 with the desire to be more disciplined. Denying my desires of food I 'thought' I wanted was literately killing me. I knew Whole30 could help, but I didn't think I would learn this much along the way. After getting married, I let myself go and became the typical 'after-college-married-dude. My beautiful wife warned me and I dismissed the warnings thinking, 'why can't she accept me for me?' # Two weeks into my Whole30, I could literately feel my brain processing things faster, my decision making was clearer, my energy levels were consistent throughout the day, and I wasn't tired when I came home from work. My top number of my blood pressure also dropped 15 points, and has stayed around 120/78, consistently! # It was life-changing, and all I did was change my diet. The Whole30 encouraged me to change my outlook and begin to live life to my highest potential. I no longer want to complacently accept the things that I have the power to control. We have too many healthy resources, like Whole30, available to us to be weighed down by brain fog, weight gain, and lethargy on a daily basis. Thank you, #Whole30!" #IAmWhole30 #ChangeYourLife #ItStartsWithFood #Whole30

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On the other hand, using social media can help people remember that getting in shape and losing weight isn't as scary as it seems. "It shows people that change is possible and that you can do it at home by yourself," says Cassey Ho, founder of the popular YouTube fitness channel Blogilates.

A photo doesn't always show better energy, deeper sleep, a happier mood, more self-confidence, improved digestion, fewer cravings, less anxiety, the elimination of migraines or asthma, or an improvement in blood sugar or cholesterol.

Some programs, like Instagram star Kayla Itsines's popular Bikini Body Guides, encourage users to take regular photos of themselves to track their progress. Just search the BBG hashtags and you'll find thousands of photos. Many followers show their support—but keep scrolling and you'll also see comments like, "You look good tho...better than me." 

Ho is aware that making comparisons can be dangerous. "The only person you should compare yourself to is who you were yesterday," she says. Recently, she warned her fans in a post not to worry if their transformations don't look as intense as the ones they see in their feeds because everyone has a different body. Itsines also brought up another problem with before-and-afters in this Instagram: People can fake or exaggerate them. So if you're going to follow along, it's important to put them into perspective. 

Uhhhhh what!?!? 😱😱😱 I literally cannot believe my eyes right now! #PIITPrincess @brynny_md did this in 42 days! This is incredible and shocking! Listen up - don't be sad if your transformation is not as intense. Everyone has a different body and we all take different amounts of time to see changes. But what I do guarantee is that you will FEEL CHANGES - strength, power, endurance, confidence - within the first week. It's been so inspiring reading your #piit28 posts about how you've embraced this journey. And I feel like many of you are reaching what I call "exercise enlightenment." ✨ You do it because it makes you feel good, not just because you're focused on weight loss. Your body WILL CHANGE. But you've got to do it with the RIGHT INTENTIONS. Treat your body with respect and it will listen to you. 🙏 Congrats Brynn! I'm excited to meet her, Abbie, and Connie tomorrow because they won the POPster Princess Contest!! If you wanna join #piit28 just go to 💥💥 (link in bio)

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Maybe progress photos on social media pump you up to crush your next workout. Or maybe they leave you feeling insecure and stressed. The key is to figure out what level of interaction works best for you. 

"If you find that your social media feed is making you feel less confident, less stoked about your progress, or is provoking unhealthy behavior like deliberate calorie cutting or overexercising, it's time to implement my #unfollowfriday campaign and get rid of those who aren't lifting you up," Hartwig says. 

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