Is Everyone A Nutritionist Now? Part 1: The Rise of Social Media Nutritionists

I’m Meghan, Senior Nutritionist at Fresh Fitness Food. Recently, I was interviewed for Elle UK about the rise of social media nutrition experts – what to be wary of, how to know who to trust, and the impact that it all has on us. If you’re muddled by the multitude of misinformation online, keep reading.

I’m noticing so many more people claiming to be nutritionists offering nutrition advice on social media, is this something that worries you? When should we be wary?

It’s certainly a worrying rise – especially in the fitness space. There’s a seemingly growing trend of people calling themselves nutritionists because they have a basic knowledge of nutrition. While that’s great, and they can advise on more broad approaches to nutrition, like general healthy eating, it’s worth noting that their background in nutrition is often not as in-depth as a qualified or accredited nutritionist. 

I’d be cautious of anyone online using clickbaity callouts in their content, making guarantees on results, or taking generalised approaches – our bodies are all incredibly unique, and the way we respond to and react to different food, exercise, sleep, and many other things is also unique.

Even if we ate the same meals and did the same exercise routines, we would still all look very different, so be wary of anyone trying to promote a one-size-fits-all approach to health and nutrition. 

What do you wish people understood more of when it comes to nutrition and nutrition experts?

It’s important to recognise that ‘Nutritionist’ is not a legally protected like ‘Dietitian’ or ‘Doctor’ is. Technically, anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist – and plenty of people do. Aim to source your information from those who have degrees in Nutrition, or are accredited with the Association for Nutrition (AfN). Being accredited means that an individual has studied a course rooted in evidence-based science, with the skills required to analyse new data and research within the field. AfN-accredited degrees also abide by their Standards of Ethics, Conduct and Performance.

When you first register with the AfN, you become a Registered Associate Nutrition (ANutr). After 5 years, if you have completed and kept a record of enough CPD (Continued Professional Development) you’ve done across the years, you can then apply to become a Registered Nutritionist (RNutr).

With the amount of misinformation on nutrition topics on social media, there also seems to be a rise in anxiety around food – what to eat, when to eat, how much of it to eat. Is there a way we can consume food and nutrition content healthily and beneficially?

I couldn’t agree more – we are inundated with scaremongering from all angles with social media. I think it can be a really wonderful tool so long as you’re consuming helpful information, but without having an in-depth knowledge of nutrition/fitness/health in general, it’s hard to know what’s fact versus fiction. I often find myself warning my family and friends away from particular fads and nutrition trends, and on occasion even catch myself questioning my own habits for a split second if there’s enough conviction. 

Some of the trends are harmless – we’ve seen the rise in ‘chopped salads’ recently, which I think is a fun and easy way of creating a balanced meal, and makes eating veg more appealing to those that may normally label salads as unappetising. But other trends have the potential to be more damaging and come from a more toxic place, like continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). 

When consuming food/nutrition content, take note of how you’re feeling while you’re viewing the content. If you’re feeling inspired or excited, and wanting to ‘save’ it for later, great! Carry on following that person. But if you start to notice you’re feeling guilty, stressed, or are replaying snippets of what someone said negatively, unfollow, or mark the post as something you’re ‘Not Interested’ in (click the three dots by the post on any social media platform and then ‘Not Interested/See less’).

Using social media for inspiration is one thing, but if you notice that the content you’re seeing is starting to dictate your thoughts and actions, take a step back and even review who you’re following and why. Following someone for motivation in an inspirational way is very different from following someone who motivates you by making you feel guilty about yourself.

Why is it that all food ‘experts’ I come across seem to look the same? Is this troubling in and of itself in terms of expectations? Is there something to be said about finding experts that look like us?

It’s important to remember that health and fitness influencers tend to look this way because it is essentially their full-time job to do so. If they are full-time content creators whose content is based around fitness, recipes, etc, they are making money or being paid (depending on the content being made), to go to the gym, or a class, or to cook with a new ingredient, which is the fundamental difference between the ‘average’ person who works a 9-5, and has to cook and work out around it, as well as balance their relationships and social lives. 

There’s also something to be said for influencers needing to keep their content new, engaging and interesting. Audiences love a story or journey they can follow along with, which in the fitness space, more recently, seems to manifest as training for marathons, ultras or Ironman’s  – huge fitness challenges that require extensive training over a long period of time. 

While of course non-influencers are doing these challenges too, they are mixed in amongst other, more diverse body types with differing interests, compared to a more condensed space of less diverse body types with more similar interests. I would, however, be cautious of those using their body to promote a recipe – no one recipe will give you washboard abs or magically absolve your bloating, and trying to imply otherwise for engagement is unethical, in my opinion. 

The rhetoric is certainly beginning to change, with the conversation shifting away from exclusively promoting ‘booty burners’ and flat tummy teas to joyful movement and intuitive eating. There is work yet to be done, but ensuring there is diversity in who you follow is a gentle reminder that all bodies look, move, and eat differently, and there is no one way to do any of those things. 

Head over to Part 2 for key tips on how to make sustainable, long-lasting changes to your nutrition and lifestyle.

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