Is Social Media Influencing Your Relationship with Food?
Why are we so obsessed as a society with diets, weight loss and obtaining the perfect “bikini body”? Is this healthy or could it be destroying our relationship with food, asks our Accredited Practising Dietitian Courtney?
Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media platforms exist for various reasons – but mainly profit. One outcome of viewing posts throughout the day is that they can influence your worldview of what and how to eat. Posts with delicious looking and healthy dishes can come in handy for new meal ideas and handy tricks in the kitchen. However, being bombarded with unfiltered food related posts can also have a dark side that most are probably subconsciously aware of, but continue to largely ignore. For one thing, the strongly influential nature of social media has led to the normalisation of certain ‘made up’ food rules, restrictive, extreme or “clean eating” practices and promotion of unrealistic body shapes for most people.
Despite the boom in health and wellness trends, there has actually been a steady rise in rates of obesity within Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the rate of Australians considered to be overweight or obese hit 67% in 2017-2018. That’s two thirds of Aussies!
It’s no surprise then that the weight loss industry is worth billions, and social media influencers now play a big role. Their job is essentially to promote brands and “health” products for profit. Yet, the majority of these entrepreneurial and tech savvy individuals are NOT qualified experts sharing evidenced based advice.
Ironically, dieting is also largely not a natural part of our nature as humans. Yet we have carved out an enormous place for it in the modern world. The result? Rigid food rules and restrictions, which quickly give rise to feelings of guilt, ultimately leading to cravings for certain foods labelled as “bad” and a potential lifetime of the diet-binge merry-go-round.
As it turns out, the majority of our weight is genetically determined.Your weight will remain within a healthier range if you eat good food, have regular meal times and avoid snacking on highly processed items and drinking alcohol. If you have to engage in highly restrictive or disordered eating patterns to maintain a low weight, it’s probably not your healthy weight. Genetically determined weight is called the set point and it is normal for your weight to vary by 4-5 kg. When you gain excessive weight and then try to lose too much weight too quickly your brain responds by using measures to push your weight back to ‘normal’ or where it was before.
Social comparisons & misinformation
Before social media, you may have compared yourself with those who surround you, but now there is the ability to compare yourself with millions of people across the globe, every day. Did you know that 88% of people on social media engage in social comparisons?
Then comes the problem of confirmation bias. If you follow a lot of ‘fitspo’, ‘clean eating’ influencers, by virtue of how social media platforms work, this will impact your media feed and the types of ads that pop up, shaping your opinions of your own weight, diet and the universe! Being repeatedly exposed to certain content can also distort your reality and change your mindset. So, it pays to be cautious and check in regularly with a trusted health professional when it comes to your food and health knowledge.
With the rise of social media, it’s now easy to believe that everybody but you is on a juice cleanse, spiralising their zoodles or whipping up perfect smoothie bowls. What you don’t see is the boring cereal bowls or the simple meals some influencers actually eat.
Striving for an unrealistic body type has also coincided with an increase in eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) eating disorder symptoms are on the rise, with weekly binge eating increasing almost six-fold since the late 1990’s and strict dieting almost four-fold!
As clinicians at the Nutrition and Wellbeing Clinic, we are also now seeing an increase in orthorexia, a disordered way of eating categorised by an obsession with healthy eating. Many people with orthorexia have eliminated entire food groups from their diet as a form of ‘detox’ or ‘cleanse’ or their diet lacks much variety, which is important for health. Ultimately, such a lifestyle can lead to nutrient deficiencies, chronic disease, anxiety, and social isolation in some cases.
What you can do
Keep your wits about you when using social media. If needed, take time to do a quick purge of unhelpful pages that you follow. Ask yourself the following:
- Do the influencers or pages I follow promote balance OR do they advise cutting out large food groups?
- Are they trying to sell me something e.g. a product, powders, supplements? It doesn’t mean the product is bad, but this should still be very clear.
- Do they advise unhealthy levels of exercise?
- Are they using transformation pictures suggesting a very thin, toned and tanned body type as the ideal for everyone, despite age, ethnicity and your weight history?
- Do they provide references or links to reputable websites so you can get a better feel if the advice is evidence based?
- Do the influencers or businesses that owns the platform have professional qualifications e.g. Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Exercise Physiologist etc?
- Do they constantly post about counting your macros, detoxes or cleanses?
If you’re fed up with seeing posts that could be negatively affecting your physical or mental health, consider following body liberation activists, anti-diet professionals, evidence based professionals, healthy cooks and other accounts that may help facilitate the process of healing your relationship with food.