Social media: Helpful or harmful?

With the rise of social media influencers within the fitness and well-being industry, there is a lot of information available to the public. Any user of Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest can search hashtags, follow their favourite bloggers and find the newest, ‘healthiest’ recipes. But how healthy is it really?

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Nowadays, we can find inspiration at the click of a button, and while this can be fantastic – it can also be dangerous. With so many resources available, it can be difficult to know fact from fiction.

While the latest diet trend may be clean-eating and gluten-free, how do you know if that’s really what you should be eating? We want to know more, so we’ve asked Nutritionist Resource member and registered dietitian, Bahee Van De Bor to share her thoughts.

Q: What are your thoughts on social media influencers, in particular for fitness and nutrition? 

Social media marketers are constantly buzzing with talk on the latest excitement on fitness or nutrition. These folks can be very powerful at delivering messages about diet and exercise, but are they truly the experts in the field?

Surely if one has the power to motivate and influence the way you choose to eat and drink, they must know what they are talking about? It’s great when someone shares their success stories on how they dropped a few jean sizes. Their success may be partly due to the regular input that they had received from a dietitian or an accredited personal trainer, but that does not necessarily make the successful individual a specialist in the area.

What’s great about people sharing their success stories is their ability to motivate and inspire others to achieve their own goals around fitness and nutrition. You suddenly connect with a stranger who has shared an incredible experience. This is not a bad thing if the nutrition messages are accurate, reliable and credible.

What’s not great is if this same person with an authoritative presence on social media platforms promotes ways of achieving nutrition goals that are not backed up by science or guidelines. What’s worse, the product or advice that they promote may be harmful and completely unnecessary.

A prime example is the recent promotion of gluten and milk free diets. Fashionable, yes. Healthy and balanced? Not really. Always seek advice from a registered dietitian or nutritionist for evidence based advice specific for you and your child.

Q: Do you believe it to be helpful or harmful for those of us looking to start our wellness journey?

Honestly, the internet can be a confusing place. Some folks who offer advice via personal blogs and lust-worthy Instagram food photos may have the right intention but can be completely oblivious that their special  ‘milk and gluten-free’ breakfast shake is actually low in protein and calcium. It may have attracted a thousand likes, but popular does not always translate to balanced and wholesome nutrition.

This can make surfing for answers on the internet a dangerous place. A special filter may make that low calorie meal look scrumptious, but it may be lacking in major food groups. In effect, social media influencers can send the wrong messages to vulnerable members of the public who are unable to decipher between fact from fiction.

On a positive note, for that mum struggling for inspiration on egg free recipes for her severely allergic child, the internet can offer lots of creative and tasty solutions. In my opinion, dietitians and nutritionists need a stronger presence on the internet. Nowadays people use their smart phones and tablets for quick answers on fitness or nutrition.

When used appropriately, social media can be an effective way for health professionals to spread key messages on healthy eating advice to this audience. The hard bit is making your presence known.

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Written by Ellen Lees
Head of Content.
Written by Ellen Lees
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