I’ve got to hand it to Hadley Freeman who wrote a fantastic article for The Guardian entitled “Green is the new black: the unstoppable rise of the healthy-eating guru.” She nailed it. You must read the entire article. It truly captures the state of affairs in nutrition. The public has become enamored with nutrition and wellness bloggers — the types of bloggers who don’t have scientific credentials, but those who are photogenic, happy and energetic, skilled at Instagram and bold with statements.
“Instead of qualifications in boring things such as nutrition and science, the wellness guru has a blog and an Instagram account. From these, she advises thousands, even millions, of followers in her friendly, informal tone to avoid the likes of tropical fruits (too high in sugar) and stock up instead on cold-pressed green juices. She makes dark references to the many ways in which today’s food industry is making us all sick. She also includes many, many photos of herself to confirm the efficacy of her recommendations.”
The unifying theme is a message of ‘eat like me, look like me.’
“The wellness blogger, is crucially, photogenic and young, which is why ‘wellness’ looks so much more desirable than it did a decade ago…Eat like me, look like me, is the message. Typical photo poses include sitting on a beach lounger in a bikini while drinking from a coconut or reclining in a rustic kitchen in skinny jeans, a cute porcelain bowl of vegetables in one hand. There are differences, however: some bloggers endorse juice fasts, whereas others scorn juice and compare its sugar content to Coca-Cola; some promote fasting, others advise against. Such subjective disagreements are perhaps inevitable among a profession in which no training is required.”
Yes. These folks have no training, but they have huge followings.
“There is no denying that how we eat is important, and the rise of nutritionists is testament to public awareness of that, even if a large part of their appeal is the whispered promise of thinness. And a lot of what these bloggers advocate – less sugar, more vegetables – is perfectly sensible. But it is often served up with a hefty side dish of misinformation and encouragement of food phobias. After all, being obsessive about healthy eating isn’t actually all that healthy.”
The article mentions many of the nutrition bloggers who have gained famed, including (of course) Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, along with the celebrity cross-overs Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba and Blake Lively. Other popular nutrition and wellness bloggers that were mentioned in the article include Madeleine Shaw, Tess Ward and Calgary Avansino in the U.K., and “The Whole Pantry” blogger Belle Gibson in Australia — who has probably done the most damage of the entire bunch. Her claims that she cured herself of cancer by eating fruits and vegetables (and avoiding gluten, dairy and coffee) brought her enormous attention, but it was all a scam. The hoax caught up to her, as you can see in this interview on 60 Minutes.
Some of these bloggers got their training through an online course at the New York-based Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which qualifies students to describe themselves as an “integrative nutrition health coach.” Turns out, people from around the world are gaining these credentials, even Pippa Middleton is said to be taking the course. Much of what’s taught is troubling to me, but what the school does get right is the emphasis it puts on marketing. They’re helping their students promote themselves as an expert and build a business.
In my opinion, we don’t do enough of that in our training as registered dietitians. It’s no longer enough to be qualified to give nutrition advice, we have to be effective messengers of that advice. We have to take the best from these online nutrition and wellness “gurus” and then give the public the accurate, science-based nutrition advice they deserve.
I’ve tried to be an advocate for registered dietitians in social media, helping to create the Nutrition Blog Network to raise the online profile of RD bloggers. We need to understand the many ways the world has changed and then change with it. Yes, I find the glamorization of these celebrity nutrition bloggers infuriating, but it’s also an opportunity for qualified nutritionists to seize. Let’s get busy.
Image: courtesy of Dan Foy on flickr