Social Media - Health Gurus All Around Us!
Looking through social media at the start of 2017 it’s only a matter of seconds before you come across nutrition, fitness or clean eating posts in some form. It really couldn’t be easier to find recipe or workout inspiration and nutrition tips. All good stuff, right?! Well, on the whole, of course it’s a positive thing if it encourages and motivates us towards better health; but are there potential downsides too?
It’s been a while since I last wrote anything in the blog, and I thought I’d kick start it again with a bit on an opinion piece, rather than anything overly technical. For those of you who don’t know me or aren’t familiar with my approach, I suppose this is a bit of an introduction.
So back to topic, and let’s start with the positive. I love finding inspiration for food and recipes online – not just for me but to give my clients as much variety as possible in their food plans. Even just a few years back how many of us would have even thought to try cauliflower rice or sweet potato toast without the likes of Pinterest or Instagram and health blogs? When I first entered the world of nutritional therapy, tasty healthy recipes were still on the limited side and didn’t really generate too much excitement.
For many of us the ideas and recipes we find now have motivated and encouraged us to spend more time in the kitchen, moving away from what may have been pre-packaged foods, and boosted our culinary confidence. From my perspective I spend a lot more time in the kitchen now and genuinely enjoy sharing my ideas and recipes on various social media platforms too.
So with all this healthy inspiration, what downsides could there be?
Well, there are certain aspects I would personally encourage you to consider with a little caution...
It’s not a total generalisation to say that many professionals entered the nutrition field following their experiences of their own health conditions, and the same is true for many health bloggers. It’s a powerful motivator and of course, totally commendable.
However, if nutrition and health advice is based only on individual experience (ie. From someone who’s sussed out what works to manage and improve their conditions, without wider professional training) – then it’s not necessarily going to be what’s best for you.
Each of us is individual. We have our own genetic makeup, as well as a unique health history, lifestyle and environment. Yes, we’re all special! And so what might be a great diet for one person, is not necessarily going to be the best for you, no matter how “radiant” that diet makes them feel.
Don’t get me wrong - if you have an allergy, intolerance, coeliac disease, or an enzyme deficiency then you should definitely avoid certain foods, or food groups. However, more and more social media health posts encourage certain foods or food groups to be avoided. That can be beneficial for some of us – but that is a topic into itself, which I will definitely come back to at a later date... The main thing to bear in mind is that if someone encourages you to remove a certain food group from your diet, then you should always question why, especially if they are not a qualified, registered and insured professional...
One of the most important questions in nutrition is if you take something out, what are you replacing it with? If dairy is the main source of calcium in your diet, what other foods can provide it if you take it out? And are you including them in your diet? Any nutritional professional worth their Himilayan rock salt should always address this with you, so it’s worth bearing in mind.
As certain diets become more popular, some people can get really, really into them. Take paleo for example. It’s by far one of the most popular diets on social media (over 8 million tags on Instagram so far). There are some really delicious and creative recipes posted under that banner and a lot of my recipes and meal ideas take on a very modified paleo approach (totally depending on the client’s needs of course). However, some advocates can veer a little towards the fanatical – treating it as a way of life in an almost cult like way!
And some people do get obsessed. Orthorexia is essentially an unhealthy obsession with eating healthily. As with other (formally classified) eating disorders, there are complex underlying factors beyond the scope of this blog entry; but when those factors are lined up right, healthy eating can become a form of control, with food choices becoming more restrictive leading to negative effects on health. Social media posts won’t cause orthorexia, but for some people it can be a trigger, and more importantly, in my view, really restrictive approaches can help to normalise behaviour that might otherwise make someone realise they need help.
Moderation, my old friend...
Unless there are specific reasons, and again I’ll use the allergy and intolerance example, taking on such a black and white approach to food is not something that I see as healthy. Food is there to nourish you and it should be enjoyed too. Once new food habits are formed, I encourage the 80/20 approach with clients, which means following your nutrition guidelines for 80% of the time, and allowing yourself 20% leeway if you need it. It’s realistic, sustainable and takes away the feelings of guilt and judgement that can set many of us up for failure.
Use the healthy recipes and inspiration you find online as much as it can help to motivate you. There are some amazing ideas out there and great talent coming through.
Consider who’s giving you advice and what they’re backing it up with. We all want to shout about it when something works well health wise, but for personalised advice, get yourself a personal consultation with someone qualified and insured.
On a more philosophical note, think about what foods will nourish you and enjoy them. There is enough judgement and guilt in life, without adding food to the list!