'I took weight loss advice from social media and landed in hospital.'

Having worked as a model in her teens and early twenties, yo-yo and fad diets were always a part of Merrin Schnabel’s life. She'd often look at social media in search of quick-fix weight loss techniques, at one point turning to diuretics — medicines that help reduce fluid buildup in the body.

"They absolutely lost water weight but were very dangerous," Schnabel tells Mamamia.

Her frequent use of the controversial 'water pills' led to dehydration, ultimately landing her in hospital. So when she fell pregnant at 29, she knew things had to change.

"As I was breastfeeding this rogue approach to my health did not feel right, so I looked for a more healthy approach," Schnabel says. "I just grew and was now nurturing two precious human beings so for me I saw my body with more respect and care."

At 31, Schnabel had her second child, gaining around weight with each pregnancy. Like many new mums confined to their homes, Schnabel killed time by scrolling through her phone, meaning she was constantly faced with images of celebrity mums flaunting their flat stomachs, almost immediately after giving birth.

"I was very triggered by celebrities and influencers looking like they had bounced back instantly. There is huge pressure to lose weight and to do so really quickly," she says.

"Pregnancy is hard. You go from feeling like yourself and having that validation for being attractive to being foreign in your own body. I have always been slim, so I found the weight gain hard. It’s like saying goodbye to a part of yourself for a while."


Watch: Teen Online Safety. Article continues after the video. 

Video via ySafe

So Schnabel turned to social media. 

"It’s where we look to for advice, humour, ideas. It’s just so central to anything in life, particularly during and after pregnancy. It's where I spent my days while breastfeeding," she says.

At the time, juice cleanses were the big thing. Schnabel saw this as a ‘healthy’ option, and a far cry from her diuretics days.

"Organic natural juices packed with nutrients were sold by influencers as a health conscious approach to weight loss and something I felt aligned with. I hadn’t considered it as something that would hurt or harm my body," Schnabel says. "Influencers promoting them looked healthy, active, and it appeared to be a good and kind way to treat your body."

The juice diet was positioned as a healthy and vitamin infused way to drop kilos fast, while also being good for you. 

"This had me sold. I would still have high levels of nutrients for myself and be treating my body with respect," she adds.

Merrin Schnabel. Image: Supplied.


So Schnabel purchased the juices and other components, and at first, it all seemed straightforward, and easy. 

"It went well at first — I felt lighter and noticed the weight falling off. A week or so in, I began to feel lethargic and things went from bad to worse. I was bodily exhausted and things escalated quickly," she explains. "Dehydration, exhaustion, my skin looked terrible and gaunt, severe cramping. I couldn’t believe something promoted as 'healthy' could make me feel so sick."

Ultimately, this so-called ‘healthy’ Instagram trend led to a urinary infection that escalated into a kidney infection.


"I felt the effects for weeks after stopping. It took me at least a month to feel like myself again. It was a horrible time and, when coupled with taking care of two young children, I was absolutely exhausted and drained," she says.

A recent study into the use of social media for advice, conducted by Anni — an online platform of health and wellness experts offering micro-consults — shows Schnabel is not alone. In fact, more than half of Australians have followed advice they found on social media, with a quarter experiencing negative outcomes, the research showed.  

Almost 30 per cent turned to social media because they believe consulting experts would be expensive, while 27 per cent said difficulty finding an expert was the reason. Nearly one in five feel embarrassed attending face-to-face consultations with professionals regarding private health issues.

"Organic natural juices packed with nutrients were sold by influencers as a health conscious approach to weight loss and something I felt aligned with." Image: Supplied. 


According to Danielle Svensson, Clinical Nutritionist, Chronic Health Professional and Anni Ambassador, one of the biggest risks about sourcing advice from social media is that it’s often misleading or completely false.

"Making changes to such core parts of our lifestyle, including diet and supplement and medication regimes, based on general online health advice may bring about greater health risks," Svensson tells Mamamia. "For example, taking a new supplement without understanding any potential interactions with other pharmaceutical or natural medications can pose a significant risk to our health." 

"The risk of adverse reactions or further health complications due to misleading or even dangerous health advice, is something we need to be aware of when entering the online space," she says.

"If something is being positioned in an extreme way – such as highly restrictive food behaviours, or as the ‘quick-fix’ or cure-all, I would steer incredibly clear."


Without regulations across the platforms, social media based health advice also poses serious potential financial risks.

"Financial scams are increasingly common, and the countless health products, services or programs that are being sold may pose as more of a financial loss, than benefit to your health without the appropriate judgement around value for money invested," Svensson says.

Merrin Schnabel with her sons. Image: Supplied. 


"Understandably, there are many personal, societal, environmental and even financial reasons someone might turn to social media for health advice or information. 

"Accessibility, socio-economic factors including income and education, uncertainty and fear surrounding personal health decisions, and limited access to and knowledge of qualified health professionals — suitable to individual needs — may all pose as barriers to professional support and advice."

The new platform aims to remove some of these barriers by enabling people to engage with health professionals that can best answer their health and wellbeing-related questions, and provide qualified guidance and advice.

"It’s designed to be affordable and convenient, allowing people to access trusted advice anywhere at any time through micro-consults," says Ms Svensson. 

For Schnabel, now 42, while the experience was frightening, she also found it enlightening.

"To know that even if a diet or cleanse is touted as healthy that does not mean it is. Now, I will only follow professional advice on these things. Even if it looks and sounds good, consult a qualified professional before doing anything," she says.

If this story has raised concerns for you, please consult a healthcare professional.

Featured Image: Supplied.

Do you enjoy a weekend away? Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.