Interview: Sophia Thiel: “It annoys me that influencers are putting insane pressure”

After a steep career, Sophia Thiel from Munich, one of the most successful fitness bloggers in Germany, gets a breakdown. Now she talks about her eating disorder, therapy and perfectionism.

woman Thiel, in 2019 you disappeared from the stage overnight. Now tell me how you had a breakdown back then and how you are today because of eating disorder Bulimia nervosa is being treated. How was this time for you?

Sophia Thiel: I put a lot of pressure on myself. I was dying to get back in top shape and became obsessed with the thought: “I have to lose weight to get online again and be happy again”. But I failed again and again because of myself, I stopped losing weight and only put on weight. My body no longer functioned the way I wanted it to.

How did you manage to escape from this vicious circle?

Thiel: I met my boyfriend in 2020. When he caught me overeating on fresh deed, I had to tell him the truth. Then I started doing therapy.

And did it help you?

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Thiel: I had many inhibitions and prejudices before. I thought I was strong enough, I do not need it, what will the others think? It felt like the death knell. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder which was obviously very bad. But already in the first sessions, I noticed that I was feeling better. I was finally able to have a more normal relationship with my food, which in previous years would have made me panic.

How are you doing with it now?

Thiel: Of course, I’m still struggling with it today. Sometimes I crave extreme control over my eating plans. It keeps coming back, but not so extreme that I eat myself to death for several days.

What advice do you have for people who might be going through the same thing?

Thiel: Therapy is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. It is good to get help as early as possible, but of course it is never too late. Therapy changed everything for me.

Is mental illness still too stigmatized in our society?

Thiel: I think. My impression is that in Germany people only talk behind closed doors when they are in therapy.

When was the time when you said: I’m happy again and can handle my illness so safely that I can return to social media?

Thiel: In January 2021, I was about to go back – and unlike before, I did not care what I looked like or what people said about me. I finally wanted to talk publicly about the eating disorder and the therapy because I really do not understand why these topics are so silenced in public. It annoys me that everyone only presents the good sides of themselves on the internet and never their weaknesses. It annoys me that influencers prove to be infallible, thereby putting insane pressure on the people who follow them. You compare yourself and become so unhappy because you can never live up to the ideal.

And you do not want to be with more – unlike before?

Thiel: I no longer want to be a fitness explainer, and I no longer want to be the Sophia from that time. I want to talk openly about my problems and not hide. I know many women out there suffer just as much as I do. I would rather help in this area now than just give tips on exercise and nutrition.

Fitness influencer Sophia Thiel, 26, from Munich, is followed by millions of people online and on platforms like YouTube and Instagram.

Photo: Peter Kneffel, dpa

What do you mean?

Thiel: Being in shape naturally gives you a better quality of life. But a six pack has never made me happy in life. Being happy is much more than a good body, diet or exercise. It’s about mental health.

A rather violent turn.

Thiel: I used to live a lifestyle that put incredible pressure on others. But I have learned that if you only orient yourself about what others are doing, then you no longer live your own life in the way that is good and right for you.

So how was it for you when you came back?

Thiel: I notice I’m getting a lot less hate mail now than I used to. At the beginning of my career, I presented myself as infallible, and as soon as this image crumbled, I was immediately attacked from all sides. These people would find my sore spot and tap it. Today I do it differently: I take my sore spot and hold it up against the camera. But one thing is clear: You can not go on social media without hatred.

How do you deal with this hatred?

Thiel: You definitely get tired, and the longer you do that job, the less interested you become. Hatred is part of this job.

Do women get a lot of hate on the internet?

Thiel: In the fitness area, I would definitely sign on to it. When men gain weight, they are celebrated for it, especially in the weightlifting arena. Women, on the other hand, have to measure themselves to a much greater extent with the obsession with slenderness and other beauty ideals. It is violently superficial.

“Influence” means to influence. Isn’t that a huge responsibility as a blogger?

Thiel: In the beginning, there were many who approached me and told me that I was a great role model for them. I have often thought to myself, “Oh God, help!” Over time, I have become more and more aware of what I say and how I behave. Of course, you have a certain responsibility to your followers, just like any person in public, but you must also accept that you can not take care of everyone – simply because in many cases I would lack the expertise here.

Young women in particular feel pressured by influencers. They criticize that bloggers give a completely wrong picture of life, of success, wealth and beauty.

Thiel: Unfortunately, that’s how it is, I can see that too. Perfection is currently still the undisputed leader. But nothing changes, for posts like this generate many likes on the internet. Very slim girls dancing in front of the camera get an incredible amount of approval. It is clear that as a spectator you think: you get so much attention, you just have to be happy.

It’s something of a contradiction in terms.

Thiel: Absolutely. I think a lot of people who are on social media are looking for the perfect one there because they want to distract themselves from their everyday lives and their problems. Because it is more exciting and beautiful on the internet than usual.

Despite this obsession with perfectionism, how do you manage to find a healthy relationship with your own body? What tips do you have?

Thiel: What helps is to spend time with yourself. Go for a walk alone, go out to eat, spend your free time alone. Only then do you come to terms with yourself and manage to be at peace with yourself. Doing something good for yourself, taking care of yourself, is also important. Everyday life is so stressful that new influences are constantly pouring down on you. You can not lose yourself and you can not do things that hurt you.

What do you mean?

Thiel: An important lesson I have learned and would like to pass on is: I have stopped saying yes to everything.

What is your relationship to your own body now?

Thiel: It used to be like a war between me and my body, I always tried to suppress it. Today I can better accept myself. I am grateful for what I have on my body. I have phases where I feel good. But of course there are times when I feel less comfortable and compare myself to how I used to look.

Speaking of the past: How has your relationship with the fitness community changed over the years?

Thiel: I do not know if it was ever a community. There are many lone fighters, and with many fitness influencers, everything becomes more and more perfect, so as a normal athlete you feel bad when eating a Snickers. This is like a religion for many. But I find everything that goes to extremes dangerous. Nothing in the world is perfect.

Do you still identify with this scene at all?

Thiel: Quite a bit. To this day, I really enjoy working out, but there are also more important things than just going to the gym.

Have there been any reactions from other athletes, influencers or coaches to your physical change and how you present yourself on the internet?

Thiel: There was a lot of encouragement, but of course there are also hardcore athletes who only see my failure. But they just do not know what an eating disorder is and that such disorders are only aggravated by extreme diets and exercise regimens. But I do not care, because I do not want my life to be about only exercise and food anymore.

Does the fitness industry need more authenticity, more realistic role models and goals?

Thiel: Yes, I would like that too. Fitness is not just about losing weight and body manipulation, it must first and foremost give you quality of life. If you exercise regularly, you are healthier, more concentrated, you can sleep better, and you are simply fitter in everyday life. These are the really important things in life – and not that your own body should look perfect. I know many women who do not even dare go to the gym to work out there. They are ashamed of their appearance, do not want to be observed and do not feel good enough about it. I really want to tell you: athletics and being in shape have absolutely nothing to do with your appearance.

To person: Sophia Thiel, 26, was born in Rosenheim and currently lives in Munich. In 2012, she started bodybuilding. Today, more than two million people follow the fitness blogger on YouTube and Instagram. Their videos together have nearly 150 million views. In 2019, she withdrew from social networks overnight and has been online again since February 2021. She announced on social media that she had the eating disorder bulimia nervosa. Those affected primarily suffer from sudden and severe overeating.

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