Social media and eating disorders

As I sit down to write this article, I have another email from a client who is in need of support. I am a nutritionist and I specialise in eating disorders. This can be tough emotionally and mentally, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I genuinely love my job and feel a huge sense of joy in knowing I can really make a difference to someones life. Helping my clients to regain healthy relationships with food again is hugely rewarding.

In the last year however, I have noticed a remarkable difference in my clients and I have a flurry of new clients through social media. Who’d have thought I’d be replying to responses to young girls and women and even sometimes men, who have seen my Instagram account or liked one of my tweets.

It is inevitable I suppose with the next generation growing up with sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter that my Harley Street clinic may soon take bookings this way too. It is now seen as the norm to follow advice sought from the Internet, which is somewhat amazing in itself as we have access to more science than ever before. I on the other hand, think that the abundant information that is now just a click away can also be rather scary.

Let me explain why, I am now seeing lots of clients, particularly young girls, feeling the psychological and emotional pressures from social media. This is manifesting itself in many different forms of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, anxiety and now orthorexia. Whilst each eating disorder or form of eating distress is unique, more and more stem from the wannabe ‘eat clean’ hashtag and a trend that vegan, paleo or gluten free is the only way to truly be healthy and happy (or according to these glowing gurus anyway).

The majority of these health leaders on social media are firstly not qualified to be giving nutritional advice, nor should their lifestyle be viewed as a real reflection of every day life or a balanced one. One course in America or over the internet is simply not going to give you the depth of four years of studying the human body and nutritional requirements.

Having worked with a few of these popular faces myself, I can tell you first hand that they too feel the pressure and a lot of the young girls in their 20’s rely on apps to airbrush their pictures and are truly accomplished at picking the most flattering pose, whitening their teeth and smoothing out their spots. All of this may be contributing to a new trend of perfectionistic, selfie obsessed generations of health bloggers who aspire to make a career out of taking pictures of themselves and their food and competing against one another for the most likes.

This is not healthy but I am not one to comment on this, for me, I am more concerned about the dietary aspect and the health of so many following these unbalanced and unattainable lifestyles.

Firstly, it is really wonderful that healthy eating has become popular, green is now a cool colour and superfoods are here to stay, this is excellent for health professionals such as myself. The danger manifests in what these health coaches are preaching in terms of nutrition and they don’t quite realise the impact their posts have on their followers. Often smoothie bowls for breakfast, vegan salads for lunch, no carbs whatsoever, no meat and perhaps some energy balls as a snack at dinner with a green juice. These may not sound bad and of course they are far from chocolate bars and packets of crisps, but they do not give your body what it needs. As most of the population have to work long hours, travel lots and don’t have the budget to attend regular yoga, fitness or dance classes, once again the pressure to keep up with the latest trends is really quite stressful and for so many quite disheartening.

For example, promoting a vegan or raw diet to young girls is extremely dangerous as they can become deficient of a whole array of nutrients so easily and if not careful, this could lead to bone mineral density problems, increased risk of neurological diseases, fatigue and muscle weakness. This may sound extreme, but I am seeing more and more cases of body image dismorphia, orthorexia and more male clients seeking guidance with their diet as a result of severely restricted or on trend diets.

If you cut a food group without seeking the advice from a registered nutritionist or dietitian then you are putting yourself at risk. I advocate a low unrefined carbohydrate diet, not a zero carb diet (grains). I believe in eating meat in moderation and aiming for organic whole foods and vegetables (eat a rainbow is a hashtag I believe in). Dairy isn’t a necessity if you are still getting enough fortified foods and micronutrients from other food sources. Fat is OK to eat but still within reason, yes get your daily dose of nuts, seeds, oils, avocados etc. but portion control is still important.

Vegans and often vegetarians may be deficient in Vitamin B12. This is a hugely important vitamin and can only be found in animal products, therefore, ensure they supplement the diet and get fortified plant based foods. Omega 3 is another essential fatty acid that as the phrasing suggests, is essential to our health! Vegetarian sources only contain ALA, which takes a long time to convert to EPA and DHA (the source we need) in the body and you need to eat lots of it. So once again I would suggest supplementing and if you happen to eat fish ensure you get two to three oily portions a week.

Choosing the right diet to compliment fitness is tricky and I would highly advise seeking help with this element of any training regime. It is true that results are dependent upon the food you eat with around 80% diet and 20% only with exercise, if you get the diet wrong you can damage your health and you won’t see results.

Protein shakes for example, are often full of chemicals and sugars hidden amongst the long list of ingredients, so make sure you are getting the right brand and measures for your unique goals. Just because someone on instagram is taking them does not mean you need to be using the shakes too.

The long and short of it is that the healthy eating movement is a good thing, but take what you see on the Internet as inspiration with a pinch of salt, aspire to a 80/20 rule of moderation, balance and aim to do what makes you feel good and happy. Seek a nutritionist for dietary advice and embrace yourself.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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