The ‘Eat Like Me, Look Like Me’ Trend

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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

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22 Comments

  • KS

    I wonder if there will ever be a day when only dietitians will be able to give nutrition advice… Any suggestions on what dietitians can do to compete with this madness?

    • Great insights Janet. We have to learn more marketing skills I think. Restrictions on using testimonials is a huge disadvantage too. The wellness industry is so big because of their marketing prowess, particularly affiliate marketing and the way they leverage one another.

    • Treacle234

      The issue of Dietitians being the gatekeepers on nutrition advice and nutrition therapy is very controversial………. There are persons with phD and doctorates in Nutrition who are not RDs but would have a sound handle of nutrition advice; Compared to an RD who simply has a Bsc and hours of clinical exp.

      • Hey Treacle234, I hear ya. I’m not saying you must be an RD to give nutrition advice. Absolutely PhD nutritionists have qualifications. The problem is with the online influencer with 0 qualifications. Since everyone eats, everyone thinks they’re an expert on eating. It’s fine to inspire someone to cook, but when it comes to nutrition advice or telling people they need to avoid certain foods or saying that other foods have magical healing properties — that’s when I have a problem.

  • Jason Vagner

    And.. so, the photo illustration accompanying this post is meant to differentiate you from the less qualified wellness bloggers, right?

    • Hey Jason, thanks for stopping by. The photo illustration is simply that — a visual to represent the trend. It’s not a picture of me. The differentiation comes from the qualifications. I’m using the visual to bring to life the concept of “eat like me, look like me.”

      • Jason Vagner

        You quote the following, “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” and include exactly the same kind of photo in its raw state, not as a pic of others using that kind of photo illustration to promote that kind of thing. Feels disingenuous given what you say you’re striving for. It’s just.. the same.

        • janethelm

          Guess I’m not understanding your point. My point, I wanted it to be the same. I chose a photo that represented the trend. And the photos are not the bad part. What’s troubling is the advice that goes with it (or at least sometimes). So I’m glad that you thought the photo illustration was the same thing…that’s what I was looking for 🙂

  • I’m in! How do we do it? Enough of defending my credentials and busting their bogus claims. Let’s be on the offensive; Let’s be louder, while taking the fear and sensationalism out of food and nutrition. I’m ready to join my fellow RDs and start to promote our credentials and knowledge so that the general public knows we are the experts.

    • Leah McGrath

      Hi Beth – I started a Facebook group about a year ago called “Build Up Dietitians” on Twitter it’s @BuildupRDNs , expressly for this purpose. I also use hashtags like #stand4science. There are many of us who try and bust myths and fight woo from these “healthy eating gurus”.

      • Thanks Leah. I joined the FB group and I already follow the twitter handle. I will start to use the hashtags. I wish there was a way that we could be on the offensive; where the people go to find out if the information is myth or fact, rather than on the defensive, going around to quack sites and dispelling false information.

  • Beth Rosen, lets get our marketing up! 🙂

  • KonaKathie

    So how are yiu going to do the eat like me, look like me thing?

  • To me, I think what this all means is that people are looking for inspiration along with the facts. Food/nutrition/health info remains the post popular topics online…so the public is seeking out information. There’s a big demand and it will only get bigger. As nutrition professionals, we can learn by what’s “selling” online, it’s not about calories, grams, servings, etc…it’s beautiful, delicious, craveable food.

  • Leah McGrath

    Thanks Janet for this post…more qualified nutrition professionals (and yes, I think that does include those with Master’s , Ph.D’s in Nutrition) need to #stand4science and speak up…there are lots of quacks out there. We are not doing our profession any favors by sitting back silently and watching as these unqualified healthy eating gurus appear on TV and are quoted in the media.

  • Kamran Ahmad

    Excellent article about a nutrition-related subject I have been thinking about for a long time. I just began my dietetic internship this week- even though I have not gained much professional experience yet this is something I think nutrition professionals CAN tackle in the near future. Even though RD’s are excellent at doing the best with what they have at their disposal, I think one of the reasons RD’s struggle with marketing is because they rely on themselves to market themselves, on top of everything else they do! What if more RD’s invested on working with marketing-savvy professionals to approach this? Is this already being done by many RD’s?

    Thank you for a great article Janet!

  • Great article Janet. I totally agree that accredited nutrition programs should be teaching marketing. It’s the number one thing I wish I had learned and didn’t.

  • Kristy Becker Fassio

    I’m a graduate of IIN, and I can promise you we’re not all bad. 🙂 I know my scope of practice well and operate well within it. I got an excellent overciew of many different nutritional theories, but came out knowing full well that I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist. My problem with most RD’s I’ve worked with in my life is that they want me to just go on their latest diet and become their after picture. No thank you. I’m currently working with an extraordinary nutritionist right now and I’m loving every second of it. I’ve looked into becoming an RD myself, but apparently since I graduated with my MA 15 years ago, I now need to pretty much get a BS degree before even attempting the RD. So we shall see. We’re all trying to do the best we can, and unfortunately those that are loud and social media savvy get the attention. Especially if you know how to scare or shame people. It’s sad, but the world needs more people who can come at nutrition from a place of love, not a place of fear. Keep doing what you’re doing!!

  • Danica Pelzel

    Great post, Janet! I actually completed my dietetic internship combined with a master’s in health communications through Fontbonne University in St. Louis, so I had the opportunity to learn more about translating health for the consumer. One thing I thought of as I was reading through other comments on here is that while many dietitians are on social media sites, many tend to interact more with other dietitians, rather than reaching out to the public. Just one thing I’ve noticed. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  • Tammy Lakatos Shames

    Fantastic post Janet! You nailed it! I’m forever impressed by you– and feel so lucky whenever I come across one of your blogs that I had the opportunity to read it. And I agree that we RDs need more marketing skills! Thanks for great insight, as always!

  • Bain

    Exactly this. I’ve seen more sheer stupidity–cleanse this, detox that, drink essential oils–than should be out there, with thousands of people not only taking this nonsense as advice, but clamoring for more. It’s harmless to say maybe we should eat more produce and less packaged food, but doling out fiction instead of science isn’t cool.

  • LC Malachi

    Dear Janet,
    I found your post on “Eat Like Me, Look Like me Trend” so interesting and pretty accurate. So many people who do not possess the right credentials or education are misguiding others through their blogs about what to eat or not to eat. As you mentioned, these people are usually photogenic and appealing to others making their followers believe that their “detox” programs are actually good investments. People are been sold the idea that if they avoid certain foods or only eat certain foods, they will also be “bikini ready” within a couple of days. I find it troublesome the ease in which people can obtain these so called certificates to become “Lifestyle specialist” or “Nutrition Health Coaches” because it is taking away from actual trained registered dietitians. These certificates should be considered a business scam given because it focuses more on marketing the business rather than on providing adequate and appropriate advice. Even celebrities are jumping on the heath bandwagon, again without having any formal education in the field of nutrition and how each person is built different and has different dietary needs. This was a good blog and it shines attention to all the work that still remains for RDs to get the word out there and educate people on what’s scientific base vs a fad. Great post!

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