wellness

From nutrition advice to 'wellness coaching': The dangerous rise of the Insta-expert.

Hello, my name is Jessica, and I'm a nutrition expert. 

I don't have a degree in nutrition, or work in the field. But, according to social media, if I make a profile, call myself a 'nutrition expert' and start giving diet tips and advice on Instagram, this is completely legal and acceptable.

But should it be? 

Watch: Sarah Wilson gets real about dieting. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

The rise of uneducated advice on Instagram.

Last week, former Bachelorette Elly Miles caused a stir when she shared details on Instagram of her so-called 'Carnivore' diet challenge, in a post which labelled certain vegetables and fruits from 'most toxic' to 'least toxic'.

Despite not publicly declaring herself to be a dietician, she endorsed the diet to her 207 thousand followers alongside a bikini photo.

The assumption one could presumably make, intended or not, is that Miles got her figure from her diet, and therefore, we could follow her challenge if we chose to.

When the post resulted in backlash, Miles backtracked, telling WHO magazine her message was misconstrued and she was 'devastated' about the response.

“It sucks it's been taken this way and I'm sad I've upset people by it as well,” she told the publication.

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To be fair, Miles is far from the only person sharing opinions that appear as advice to her followers online. 

Who hasn't browsed to find images and videos of fitness 'tips' from people whose bodies we aspire to, or wellness 'guidance' from Gwyneth Paltrow? 

The trouble is in separating the fact from fiction, and uneducated opinions versus actual science and truth.

Listen to our deep dive about diets on this episode of The Quicky. Post continues below.


The good.

That said, not all social media is bad. It can be a great way to connect with the world, help others, broaden your horizons and open you up to new people, ideas, philosophies and possibilities. 

Anything that motivates you to see things more positively, activate change for good, or inspires you in areas that don't affect you medically, can be useful and fun. 

It can also just be a really good distraction.

The bad.

But when it's bad, it's really bad. Belle Gibson, anyone? 

As a refresher, Gibson was the Australian 'wellness guru' who shared stories and recipes about curing herself from cancer by eating 'well.' 

Not only was this completely unsolicited, uneducated advice from someone with zero educational background in health, it was a complete and utter fabrication. 

Despite this, her app had over 300K downloads, she was revered at the time of her deceipt by news publications, and many followers have spoken about going off chemo and cancer drugs to take her uneducated advice. 

This is the problem with titles such as 'expert', 'coach', 'guru', and 'master'. 

They imply a sense of authority in a position that was not earned the same way terms like 'doctor' or 'dietician' are. And yet, they're popping up everywhere. 

Kim Kardashian, a celebrity with zero background in health but one of the most influential people on Instagram, encouraged her followers to eat diet lollipops. 

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Cardi B posted to her 100 million followers about diet tea, and Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy Bunny with over 1.5 million followers, has pretty much become the face of the anti-vaxx movement in the United States. 

A study by the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab cited in Business Insider found that 21 per cent of teens "felt down about themselves" after looking at social media. 

Additionally, more than half said those feels were related to their bodies. 

They found the groups particularly vulnerable to this were "women, those with large online peer networks, those who checked their social media frequently, and those who followed celebrities".

The one good thing about celebrities posting reckless information is that generally, they get called out. 

But for your medium 'influencer' with no educational or vocational background, promoting their diet regimen, or giving misleading 'facts' about Covid-19 'pseudoscience' and vaccines, much of this goes unchecked.

To be clear, no one is saying these individuals do not have a right to an opinion. We live in a democracy after all, and just because we may not agree does not mean either of us does not have a right to an opinion. 

But if 'opinions' that can be dangerous are presented as 'facts' to vulnerable people, where do we draw the line? 

What should be done about it? 

Of course, many of us know that a celebrity didn’t get new lips from sipping tea. 

But when confronted with images of people who make it look easy if you follow them, buy their products or download their guides - it can be increasingly hard to determine what's fact and what's fiction.

Anyone can start a page calling themselves a coach on social media, and there are zero repercussions, when there should be. 

Perhaps in the same way influencers need to preface anything they are being paid to promote with a branded partnership tag, there should be something similar, like a stipulation to #seekmedicaladvice, #opinion or #notadoctor.

Because while some of us can take it with a grain of salt, teenagers and young adults can be incredibly impressionable to fad diets promoted by ‘experts,’ or ‘coaches’ who say they have machines you can purchase that cure Covid. 

Just like there are now disclaimers for any stories or posts around fact-checking for Covid-19, so there should be for any type of information best left to health professionals.

You can follow more of Jessica Taylor Yates’ work on Instagram

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia