Are influencers creating harmful or helpful relationships with food?
OK, do not judge. But sometimes when I need a mental break, I find myself mindlessly scrolling through reels on Facebook to see what the world is talking about (or what song they are dancing to).
Every so often, a video pops up from a health influencer promoting food eliminations, restrictive diets or “healthy swaps” in the name of thinness.
Having struggled with body issues in the past, I usually skip past those videos. However, some make me chuckle. Are there really people out there swapping out chocolate for dates? And they are happy about it?
Plus, anything that suggests eliminating meat and dairy, superior sources of high-quality nutrients and essential vitamins, from my diet are not for me.
I have seen a movement, though, toward more positive relationships with food that encourages eating what you want while adding more healthful foods to your plate.
In my quest to find a balance that works with my lifestyle, I reached out to Nicole Rodriguez, a registered dietitian with Enjoy Food. Enjoy Life. to see what she thought of these social media trends.
Are there bad foods?
First, assigning morality to food—that is, are they “good” or “bad”— is harmful to us and those around us, says Nicole. “As a dietitian, I’m amazed by how much time I spend with clients giving them permission to enjoy their favorite foods again which they have given up because they heard they are ‘bad’.”
The only “bad” foods, she says, are those that are spoiled. Everything else is on the table—literally and figuratively.
Are restrictive diets harmful?
Nicole warns restrictive diets put people at risk for nutrient deficiencies and make life harder to navigate. Does your diet make it difficult to enjoy meals out with friends or eat cake at a family birthday party?
“The truth is, none of us exist in a bubble,” she says. “But relegating yourself to a restrictive diet will force you to feel as though you’re living in one. If you really want the brownie, have the brownie. You will end up consuming more calories without being satisfied when you fill that void with a bunch of other foods.”
Instead, Nicole says she is always thinking in terms of “addition” with her clients by incorporating more fruits and vegetables. It does not have to be complicated, she says, to include more produce in any form throughout the day.
Is eliminating meat healthy?
“A quick tour through diet history over the past 50 years clearly shows one thing,” Nicole says. “The media loves a food-based scapegoat to parade around.”
She points to eggs being good one day, bad the next. Fat being terrible one day, lauded as a solution the next. Unfortunately, what has never been sold as “sexy” is a balanced, flexible approach that includes all foods, she says.
As more people pay attention to what they eat in terms of its impact on the planet, Nicole says the environmental implications of dairy and meat consumption are misunderstood.
“If people knew the positive effects these sectors of ag actually have on the planet and its people and open their minds to the true meaning of sustainability, they might sing a different tune,” she says.
In fact, in her line of work, a simple change she encourages is to assess your protein intake. Inadequate protein leaves us feeling unsatisfied resulting in more snacking. Before looking at snack solutions, she says, take a hard look at your meals to make sure they include protein.
So, to answer the main question: Are influencers creating harmful or helpful relationships with food?
If you are unsure whether to take your favorite influencer’s dietary advice, remember Nicole’s words of wisdom—there is room for all foods (but add a few more fruits and veggies and quality protein).
And my personal rule of thumb? If the message makes me feel bad about myself or the advice would make me miss the things I love—I scroll on.
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