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Navigating the World of “Health Experts” on Social Media

We’ve all been there. While casually scrolling through our social media feed, we suddenly see someone’s colorful plate of food with an explanation as to why we should be eating just like them. Everyone has an opinion about food and how we eat it, whether they are our peers, celebrities or social media influencers.

Though food should be a source of nourishment and pleasure, the opinions shared on social media often end up labeling food as either “good” or “bad,” when it’s neither. Receiving emotionally charged messages about food can add layers of guilt and shame to our most natural human requirement for fuel. 

The advice given through social media is often the result of a paid advertisement, not out of a true desire to help individuals eat healthier. Many people offering health advice on Instagram may not have the necessary background or expertise in nutrition. 

The best way to tell if someone is a reliable source for health advice is to look for the title Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), also known as an RD. Government regulations ensure these professionals have undergone adequate educational and professional training in nutrition and dietetics before receiving their RD licensure. 

Using an image-based platform, such as Instagram, to educate the public about healthy eating is not necessarily a bad thing. There are a number of qualified health professionals, such as registered dietitians, who are effectively educating their audience on evidence-based nutrition practices. 

However, more often than not, the images social media influencers are using to drive product sales have more to do with body image than health status. A 2016 systematic review by the School of Psychology at Flinders University found that people who post media messages regarding fitness inspiration and healthy eating align with 17.5% of the criteria for an eating disorder. 

Fitness models, carefully crafted lighting and edited pictures can create a hazy view of what’s real and what’s not. While most of us are aware that social media is merely a “highlight reel” that doesn’t show the full story of someone’s life, it’s hard to remove our emotions from these kinds of images and messages. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you see health advice on social media: Who is posting this?  Are they a reliable source? Are they selling or promoting a product? Is this person citing evidence-based nutrition sources or are they only appealing to emotions? 

When navigating the world of health on Instagram, it is also important to go with your gut. If someone you follow on social media is making you feel bad or guilty about your body and food choices, unfollow them. 

If you are interested in one-on-one nutrition counseling with a qualified professional, contact the Wellness Center to make an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist or to meet with a counselor. 

Written By: Ashley Reed

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The Point Staff

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