As the business of “eat clean” grows on social media, Aoife Loughnane asks if our ideas of healthy nutrition are being influenced by what we see online.
The picture perfect existence that is shown across all variety of social media accounts can be toxic on a number of levels. With a simple click of a button, we’re subjected to a never-ending parade of tanned, toned thigh-gaps sipping shots of kale while running on a treadmill on a beach in Bali. However, when it comes to what we choose to put into our bodies, that’s when it can become dangerous.
There are countless Instagram accounts that “sell” their healthy eating experiences in addition to numerous healthy eating/lifestyle bloggers, vloggers and Snapchatters. Our ideal body standards are constantly changing due to what is “accepted” in society and portrayed within the media. One minute you’re thinking – “should I cut out dairy? *insert reality television star here* does and she looks fabulous! Or, maybe actually I should just go vegan. It seems to be the thing that everyone’s doing so there must be something in it.”
It’s all a little overwhelming, isn’t it? Not to mention confusing and completely unrealistic.
We all know that the life we portray online is far from the real deal. We edit, cut, rearrange, paste and voila! Suddenly it seems that everybody is existing on meagre portions of porridge decorated with aesthetically-pleasing banana slices. More importantly though, diet advice provided on social media is not to be taken casually. Most of these Instagrammers and bloggers are not qualified nutritionist or doctors. They might choose to go vegan or paleo or gluten-free but that does not mean that that’s the “in” thing to do. And this is where the lines get blurred and health risks can arise.
I spoke to two social media presences who both advocate a healthy eating lifestyle in order to delve deeper into this expanding trend. Aoife Carroll is a blogger at Eat Well Travel Far Love Often and an avid Instagrammer of both her travels and picture-perfect dishes.
How did you get into blogging and Instagramming your healthy eating habits?
Aoife Carroll: I have always been an enthusiastic cook, and I noticed that my computer was becoming packed with copious amounts of photographs of all the food I cook and bake. I decided to put the resources I had to use and create Eat Well Travel Far Love Often in 2013. Once I started posting content weekly and was consistent my audience on social media steadily grew.
A lot of people are easily influenced by healthy eating trends online. Do you think that there is danger in advertising/promoting a certain way of eating on social media?
Aoife Carroll: Yes, I think that there is a lot of ‘false advertising’ these days with ‘fat free’ and ‘gluten free’ being stuck on almost every ‘health food’ label. I will always check the ingredients and the nutritional information to see exactly what is in the snack. I feel at this stage even becoming a vegan is a food trend. It is great that people are more socially aware about where their food is coming from and the means by which it was produced, but it can get a bit obsessive. People are cutting out dairy for reasons they don’t even know just because some ‘healthy celeb’ has recommended it. It’s important to read up on what you want to put into your body and to recognise how your body reacts to certain food. There is a bit of trial and error involved but balance is key.
Carroll herself is not a trained nutritionist but rather someone who just enjoys cooking and baking healthy foods. On the other hand, FoodFlicker is one of countless businesses that promotes healthy eating through the intake of nutrients. Co-founder Daniel Davey is a performance nutritionist who works in professional rugby and Gaelic. He has a BSc in Science from University College Dublin and holds an MSc in Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health from the University of Bristol. Also on his impressive CV is a the fact that he is a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
— daveynutrition (@FoodFlicker) February 3, 2017
Daniel Davey: We try to distinguish ourselves through an evidence-based approach on nutrition, by translating the science of food into simple recipes and messages. The central focus is education and inspiration from a credible source. It is not a foodie website nor does not aim to be labelled as any specific type of diet, the focus is on helping people to eat more whole natural foods and avoid processed foods in the context of a specific goal.
In regards to #healthyeating on social media, what are the benefits and what are the risks?
Daniel Davey: Firstly, the ease in which we can reach and engage with a large number of people in an efficient manner is beneficial. You can speak directly to people who are interested in learning about nutrition without the barriers of having to meet them face to face.
Getting supplement questions ❓ Priority ~ Consistent Diet + Exercise = results. Omega 3, Vit D & whey in some cases. https://t.co/L6DDoemCvz
— daveynutrition (@FoodFlicker) January 8, 2017
Daniel Davey: On the other hand, nutrition is highly specific to an individual and their specific goals. When promoting a way of eating online there is always a chance of misinterpretation or for people to persist with something even if it’s not helping them with what they are trying to achieve. There is also the lack of one to one contact which is often a vital part of motivating people and helping them to buy in to the right type of changes.
After speaking to both Carroll and Davey, you can see that both agree nutrition is specific to the individual person and that people should avoid jumping on any healthy eating bandwagon that they come across. The world of social media needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. As we are constantly on it, we are constantly aware of what other people are doing and how we pale in comparison. It’s turned what we eat into an obsessive competition, and less about health.
So try not to get caught in a web of self-criticism when scrolling through Instagram hashtags like #fitspo and #juicingcleanse. Research everything. Make sure that if you’re changing your diet in any way, that you have spoken to your doctor or a health specialist because social media gives a voice to anyone.
Feature Image Credit: Robert Gourley, Flickr