If you haven’t already caught on, the amount of incorrect health information circulating around in our society is something that really, really, REALLY bothers me.
Did I mention how much it bothers me?
More than that, though, it scares me. It scares me because people do, believe it or not (sarcasm), follow the health advice so-called “experts” give them. Consumers usually do have good intentions – they really do want to know what’s “healthy.” Unfortunately, though, it seems like the loudest voices are most often the wrong ones. While that’s not always true, it’s much too common. And while some sources of misinformation might seem devastatingly obvious, others slide quietly under the radar.
Let’s start with the obvious – magazines. To be blunt, the majority of “health” information from magazines is total crap. In terms of food, magazines usually call what is actually a starvation diet plan a “clean eating plan.” These sample meal plans are extremely dangerous, and it boils my blood that magazines get away with telling young girls to eat less than 500 calories a day. I could rant for days about that topic, but I’ll move on. The mags usually promote products full of unnecessary sugars, MSG, inflammatory oils, and other harmful ingredients but still somehow try to pass them off as “healthy.” Ads are money. Magazines promote diet pills, hair growth pills, weight loss teas, weight loss shakes, and everything in between. Those are the obvious lies, but then they also tout the “health” benefits of things that some people think are healthy but really are not, like 100-calorie packs or low-fat salad dressings. That’s where a lot of people run into trouble.
Then we’ve got the fitness routines. Most are unrealistic on both ends of the spectrum. I hate to tell you this, but doing a 3 minute ab workout twice a week without getting any other exercise or adjusting your diet is not going to make you look like a bodybuilder. On the other hand, working out for two hours every day is going to burn you out and destroy your body. And who is giving this workout advice to begin with? Is it from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about? In sum, magazines are not the place to go if you’re looking for quality nutrition or health advice.
Similarly, there are many extremely problematic articles running around on the Internet. Many of these are from online magazines, but others might be from blogs or companies trying to promote their products. Many people stumble across articles on the Internet and blindly take the information as truth. But if you pushed a little further and googled that topic, you’d probably find thousands of other articles that give the opposite advice.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, and that’s for a reason. Many people are simply out to sell a product or service. Anyone can say anything on the Internet, and most do it in a very convincing way. I’ve read extremely well-written articles that cite many scientific studies and use very convincing science to back up their recommendations about food and exercise only to discover that the links to research studies are fakes. Even worse, sometimes I click on the link to the study, read the actual study, and find out that the real results were the complete opposite of what the Internet article claimed them to be. A lot of people don’t bother to actually read the referenced studies, so writers know they can usually get away with saying whatever they want.
Then we have Instagram. I have an entire podcast episode about Instagram lies, and I plan on continuing that discussion in the future. Nobody can say this enough: YOU CANNOT BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU SEE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s easy to just accept whatever your favorite Instagrammers tell you as truth when it comes to health and fitness. A girl looks fit, healthy, and happy, and she has a lot of followers, so what she’s saying about healthy food and effective workouts must be true, right? Not necessarily.
Remember, anybody can say anything on the Internet. Anybody can post anything on Instagram. People are extremely convincing. Maybe they’re skinny and ripped, but maybe it’s genetics. Maybe you don’t know the hidden health problems they’re having. Remember, skinny does not equal healthy. I see so many “health” bloggers promote extremely unhealthy products and claim that the ingredients are amazing. It also seems like the loudest voices on social media are from people who are promoting a particular diet or workout regimen as the be-all-end-all, when that is absolutely not true.
People give advice about meal timing, meal size, meal frequency, and meal content, and their advice is often completely unfounded. I see so many health and fitness bloggers post their workout routines for others to copy, and many of those routines are clear examples of overtraining. Beyond this, influencers are creating full-on fitness plans and food plans for people to buy, and I would encourage you to take all of that information with a grain of salt. Some of those influencers truly do give great advice, in my opinion, but others are selling plans that could truly ruin someone’s health if followed to a T. Just because someone is a health and wellness blogger with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of followers, does not mean that what they are saying about health and fitness is true. You don’t know how they got their followers. You don’t know how they got their information. You don’t know who’s paying them. You don’t know if they genuinely believe what they say or practice what they preach.
I want to take a moment to reiterate – this does not apply to everyone! There are a lot of well-meaning, extremely knowledgeable and helpful bloggers and influencers who offer incredible health advice. We just can’t let that blind us from the others.
Another big problem is that magazines, Internet articles, and Instagram influencers are usually giving advice to a vast variety of people at once. In the context of a blog post, Instagram post, or magazine article, they are giving the same advice to a 65 post-menopausal woman as they are to a 16 year-old high school student as they are to a 32 year-old pregnant woman. Obviously, all of these people need extremely different health advice because they are very different in terms of age, metabolism, health conditions, activity level, body type, and everything else. Although many things regarding health can be applied to everyone (like, you need to stop eating canola oil), there are just as many things that can’t be applied to everyone. It’s crucial to consider individuality. No two people are the same. There is not one workout routine that is going to be perfect for everyone on this planet. There is not one exact way of eating that is going to fix everybody’s problems. Not everyone should be taking the exact same supplements.
This is an issue I discuss with many of my friends, and awareness around this problem is something we are all extremely passionate about. When I mentioned to Jordan that I was writing this post, she wanted to contribute.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that there are so many people that use social media to promote their opinion as the ‘ONE’ correct way of thinking. When it comes to food, fitness, and health in general, that way of thinking is very limiting and can actually perpetuate eating disorders and disordered approaches to health. For example, vegan bloggers and YouTubers can make it seem like veganism is the one way to be healthy – which is not true. We are all so different. And if you are not educated on a specific subject, make it clear!!! Every health-related post of mine is prefaced by saying I’m NOT a doctor or nutritionist, but… you get the picture! Use social media wisely and graciously – that’s my main advice to all bloggers and influencers.” – Jordan Younger, The Balanced Blonde
^^ Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Now comes the part that upsets me the most – the “professionals” themselves. These are the people we are supposed to be able to trust. “My doctor told me I need to do X, Y, and Z.” “My personal trainer gave me this regimen.” “My nutritionist gave me this meal plan.” “My dermatologist told me these are the best products.”
I hate to say this, but just because someone is a “professional” does not mean they’re giving good advice. I’ve had a nutritionist tell me to eat a Kind bar for breakfast and lunch and a small salad with no dressing for dinner. I also discussed this issue in my post about how doctors don’t know everything. Many professionals don’t stay up to date on the newest research and science. Many just stick to what they were taught in school or out of a book. Sometimes they learned what they know from untrustworthy sources without knowing it. Sometimes they were accredited through a program that you could sleep through but still get certified. Sometimes they did study hard and learn a lot from a program, but maybe that program didn’t teach the best curriculum. For example, there is a reason why my plans to become a certified nutrition consultant do not involve me going anywhere near a typical western registered dietician program, if you catch my drift. (That is my personal opinion, and you might feel completely differently. THAT IS OKAY!)
Sometimes, people just want money. Not 100% of the time, but quite often. When someone gives you information, I highly encourage you to ask yourself how that person would benefit from believing the information he or she gives you. Are they making money from you? If so, double check the facts. This does not mean that everything your doctor tries to sell you is a scam! It just means you need to be aware that misinformation can be hiding even in places you assume to be completely trustworthy – like the doctor’s office.
The other thing that really boils my blood is that some people deceive others by claiming to be certified when they are not. For example, I personally know of a few people who charge hundreds of dollars for health services when they are not certified health professionals, and they hide that fact from their “clients.” First of all, that’s illegal. Second of all, it can lead to detrimental health consequences if the person does not truly know what he or she is doing when advising someone to eat a certain way, do a certain type of activity, or take certain supplements. How scary is it that some people claim to be health coaches on their websites when they’re not actually? It gives me the chills.
All of this might seem depressing, and I promise that’s not why I’m writing this. I just really want to warn people, because I personally fell into the trap of trusting health information from magazines, social media, and “health professionals,” and most of that information was incorrect and ended up completely destroying my health. I’m paying the consequences because of it, and it will take me a long time to fix the damage that has been done.
My advice is to be cautious. I’m certainly not a doctor. Question what your friends tell you, what your favorite bloggers tell you, what your television tells you, what Instagram stars tell you, and what health professionals tell you. Look up the information yourself! Form your own opinion. I’m not saying to never listen to or trust anyone ever again. Obviously, there is good information out there. However, don’t listen to one person’s advice and take it as gospel without understanding why that person is saying what he or she is saying.
Where should you turn to get solid, trustworthy health information? I get my information from learning about many different perspectives, not just one. I read a lot of different scientific studies, although I’m wary of who funded them. I read a lot of books. After collecting a lot of information, I look for people in the health community who give health advice that aligns with what I consider to be true. I know whose opinion I respect, and it’s not just because they look happy and fit. It’s because I personally consider what they say to be very legitimate based on what I’ve studied and found through experience. Those are the people I pay attention to and trust. When they say something that seems a little off, I go to a different person I trust and do more of my own research.
Basically, I think it’s helpful to be very selective about whose opinion you trust. Don’t just go off of Internet popularity. I don’t care if someone is a New York Times Bestselling author. I don’t care if someone is a medical doctor. I don’t care if someone has 10 million followers on Instagram. I care about who is putting out solid, trustworthy information because they genuinely want people to live healthier lives.