Ah, online! That wondrous slice of paradise in cyberspace where everyone is true of heart and pure of intention; where everything sparkles in its clarity and veracity; and you can always count on the kindness of strangers, who will definitely not try to steal your identity.
Just kidding. The internet can — to put it delicately — fall short of the high minded aspirations behind its origins. Dangerous misinformation, bad faith rhetoric, and snake oil salesmen lurk around every digital corner. And hell, some operate out in the open with total impunity. To paraphrase a kitschy mug we once saw: “they say the internet is the information superhighway… and we’re looking for the nearest exit!”
We of course recognize that it’s not all bad. Global connectivity and opportunity-creation aside, we’re a subscription-based, e-commerce brand, and our nutrition team conducts its member sessions digitally, after all!
And on the topic of those nutrition consults, there’s probably not a group of people with more to gain or lose from spending time online than those seeking to improve their health through research. Find some actionable advice from a reputable source and it can literally be life-changing. But faux-wisdom from a dubious source can prove equally harmful.
With so much at stake, and so much information (and “information”) at our fingertips, it’s essential to develop a good BS detector. Here are just a handful of things to be wary of.
(Update: we thought of a couple more things to keep an eye out for and added them below – five ways? We've upped the ante to seven!)
Frankly, the influencer economy exists because human beings are more inclined to trust attractive people. When somebody pretty recommends a product or diet plan to you, it’s always a good idea to check whether they also have a relevant qualification that backs their status as a nutrition expert. It’s true that MDs and Registered Dietitians can sometimes give bad advice too, but they’re answerable to their accrediting bodies, which means you can complain about them if they do!
“Toxic” and its annoying buddy “detox;” “boost your immune system;” “at a cellular level;” “superfood;” “quantum healing;” you’ll soon start to recognize these pseudo-scientific buzzwords. When you really dig into them, you’ll also recognize they don’t mean a whole lot, they don’t tend to come with much in the way of scientific backing, and have a tendency to be outright false nutritional claims.
Social media is awash with nutrition scare tactics (“sugar is toxic”) which are really sales tactics (“buy my detox product/program”). A very well-worn technique is to first fill you with fear or shame about your existing food choices — “buying processed foods means I’m poisoning my children”, or “I’m gaining weight because I ate carbs after 6 pm” — then offer you a magical solution. We think a reputable nutrition coach should leave you feeling empowered and confident around food, not avoidant and fearful via nutrition misinformation.
Ask yourself if the product or solution being promoted to you is something that you could see yourself incorporating into your daily life, long-term. If so, maybe it’s worth giving it a shot! If not — if you’re being steered toward a tortuously restrictive diet, or to ingest a noxious-smelling “tonic” every day at 3 am — then keep your distance. Lasting, positive health outcomes tend to be the result of consistent habits and realistic goal setting. And conversely, there are plenty of well-documented negative health consequences associated with unsustainable “yo-yo dieting.”
What it all comes down to is that nutritionally-speaking, there’s no universal magic bullet or “this one hack(!)” that will lead to perfect health. Healthy living and a better relationship with food are both highly individualized processes and not all nutritional claims are universally applicable. Just about any health claim out there might work for somebody on the planet. But it might not work for you. A trustworthy nutrition professional should take the time to learn who you are, then embark on the journey alongside you — not dismissively toss a blanket solution your way.
When on the hunt for reliable sources of nutrition information, it's important to keep your eyes peeled for paid promotions. They aren't necessarily disqualifying but they're deserving of an extra level of scrutiny.
Sponsored posts are part of a thriving influencer economy on social media – you'll see that oft-maligned #ad tag on posts touting anything from dog food to diet pills. But not every influencer who's paid to plug something like a diet product necessarily uses said product. They might not have any first-hand experience, or any other sort of knowledge about its safety or efficacy.
One of the greatest drivers of food fads is anecdotal evidence being given the same weight as evidence that's backed by peer-reviewed studies. Which makes sense! Scientific research can seem faceless and difficult to parse, whereas someone's shared personal experience can feel relatable and more approachable. However, as we've pointed out before, just because something works for someone, doesn't mean it'll work for you. A lifestyle or diet that's seemingly drastically improved your co-worker's life might not have the same impact on your own.
FYI: This is the call-to-action portion of our blog, which doubles as another bonus(!) way to spot bad nutrition advice: Find a trustworthy source and have them gut check what you read. If you ever are in doubt about the validity of an interesting pop science article your uncle sent you via email, having a trusted person to bounce ideas off of can be super helpful. Did we mention that free nutrition coaching with our on-staff, Registered Dietitians is included in your kencko membership?