Can you trust online weight loss advice if you stumbled upon it in a thread on Reddit or under someone's Instagram post? It is not that simple.
There is a dizzying array of diet recommendations online just a click away. For example, a quick search on the hashtag #fitspiration on Instagram finds millions of images: close-ups of steel "cubes" of abdominal muscles, huge biceps, pictures "before" and "after" the transformation, or just people in gyms, notes Air force.
Behind all this diversity lies a big question: can social media help or hinder your diet? Keep one thing in mind: if you want to lose weight, especially a lot, see a professional first - there is no one diet for everyone.
A researcher at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Tim Squirrell, compared two popular social networks and came to the conclusion that Reddit, with its text-based advice, has a clear advantage over the endless Instagram feed.
According to him, Reddit is based on communities of interests, and they, as a rule, contribute to more productive communication of people united by a common goal.
“People decide what content is most relevant to them, they vote for it, others see it, and they comment again,” he notes. The community model means people give advice and share personal experiences.
Squirrell cites the example of the r / paleo thread in Reddit: it is dedicated to the so-called paleodete, and it has more than 120 thousands of subscribers.
The "Cave Diet" consists of foods that can theoretically be harvested from nature or obtained by hunting - as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did before the agricultural revolution, so the emphasis is on meat, fish and eggs; bread, pasta, snacks and microwaved foods are said to be a resounding no.
Squirrell says that Reddit users often cheer each other up on diet choices. “They share both failures and successes,” he adds. On Instagram, on the contrary, advice is often given by popular microbloggers - influencers who often sell or advertise certain products or diets.
“They often offer you sponsored content or advertisements - so the information on this social network may be less objective than on Reddit,” says a researcher from Edinburgh.
But some professionals warn about the dangers of following any tips from social networks for body shaping.
“Full-Time Myth Fighter”
The host of the popular Instagram account, Chicago nutritionist Christie Brissette, believes that blindly following influencers may not be good for your health.
But she's also not enthusiastic about Reddit. She says that some of her patients were harassed on this site from anonymous accounts. “There is also a dark side to anonymity: people allow themselves to write things on Reddit to others that they will never say in person,” she says.
Brissett also points to the large number of useless or even dangerous tips available on online platforms.
For example, a 200-member Reddit thread claims that drastically reducing calories is a good way to lose weight. This is unhealthy and potentially dangerous advice for the vast majority of adults: Experts agree that women need about 2 calories a day, men an average of 2,5 calories.
“I feel like a full-time dietetics myth fighter,” says Brissette. "I think most of the information comes from people who have no experience with diet development."
She also had clients who fell ill following bad advice from the Internet, she told BBC. Brissett also points out that while some influenza and beauty bloggers have relevant training, the vast majority do not. Personal trainers should have an understanding of anatomy and physiology, a certificate of ability to render first aid and an appropriate diploma.
Plus, many people are greatly influenced by photos of positive and beautiful thin people on social networks. Excessive demands on themselves and expectations from the diet can lead to low self-esteem, says Brissett.
“If you find yourself losing motivation from watching social media feeds or feeling overwhelmed, then you should definitely take a break from them,” concludes the nutritionist.
The path of one man
For many dieters, the goal justifies any means.
“It was hard for me even to walk, not to do basic things for other twenty-year-olds,” says Joey Morganelli.
Once this young man from Michigan weighed 180 kg. Now he 23, and on a diet, he sat down, trying to find the first job.
“I starved myself because I was very afraid to eat. Every time I ate, I panicked. It's silly that a cheeseburger can make anyone panic, but the fatty foods pissed me off, ”he says. It wasn’t a good idea, so afterwards he read a lot of discussions on Reddit and went on a new, more stable diet.
“It's so great when so many strangers support you, sometimes it is more important than the opinion of your loved ones, because strangers have no preconceived notions about you,” says the man.
He has made progress, but still gaining and losing weight. For a long time he managed to lose weight continuously, but the communities in Reddit did not help him to maintain a sharply reduced body weight.
In May, a new job caused Joey to return to "jamming" problems.
“In June, I started myself again due to stress, and food helps me to relieve stress,” admits Morganelli.
This is a cautionary example: the Michigan's weight has increased again - now it is 140 kg.