Fake Food Science Is Everywhere. These Influencers are Trying to Stop It.

Jennifer Lopez did a “no sugar no carbs challenge.” Kylie Jenner is drinking celery juice for breakfast. Gwyneth Paltrow’s company Goop markets an annual detox of “clean eating.”

But here’s the thing. Most of those diets, nutritionists say, are pseudoscience at best.

Your body doesn’t need to “detox” (your liver does that for you). There’s little science to support celery juice as “healthy.” And extreme low-carb diets aren’t great for you or sustainable.

Even if you don’t follow celebrities on Instagram, there’s a good chance you’ve seen fake or misleading nutrition information on the platform, showing up in ads or peddled by your friends.

“I see a lot of it, and it’s really problematic,” said UK-based registered associate nutritionist Pixie Turner. “They’re not just selling the product, what they’re saying is ‘If you take the product, you can look like me too.’”

Turner is one of a handful of nutritionists who are using Instagram to directly debunk nutrition myths.

She’s anti-diet, and doesn’t believe in food restriction.

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In a world obsessed with weight loss and “superfoods,” that philosophy can sound radical.

“We’ve managed to survive for thousands of years without calorie counters,” she said. “Our bodies are definitely able to know how much food we need.”

Health, not weight

As Turner points out, part of the reason she’s anti-diet is because studies have shown diets don’t work long-term.

Eighty percent of people who diet end up gaining the weight back. And more physicians say weight does not equal health.

That’s something New York-based dietician Alissa Rumsey was seeing with her clients years ago, when she ran programs focusing on their weight loss.

Her clients would lose the weight. But they’d come back a year later, feeling like they had failed for gaining it back again.

Today, Rumsey follows a health-at-every size approach as a nutrition therapist and certified intuitive eating counselor.

“We live in this culture where the diet industry is an over $60 billion industry,” Rumsey said. “And they have a lot riding on people believing that they need to lose weight.”

Her instagram feed pits the problematic idea of “self-control” against self-care: “I have to eat vegetables at every meal” vs. “vegetables provide me with the nutrients my body needs.”

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The term intuitive eating was first coined in the mid-1990s by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s really about tuning into your body rather than looking for external cues about what you should eat.

That means not thinking about whether you should eat something, but thinking about whether you actually want to eat it.

“Really trying to pay more attention to what hunger feels like, and eating more when you’re hungry,” Rumsey said.

Culture of restriction

That can be unnatural when you’re constantly surrounded with images of what food is considered “clean” (an avocado, kale, protein shakes, eggs, grilled chicken) and food that isn’t (pizza, any carb).

The idea of dieting, labeling foods “good” and “bad,” has been around for hundreds of years.

The first fad diet, invented in the 19th century, was called the Banting, which emphasized fat and minimized carbohydrates. In the 1990s, people called that the Atkins diet. Today, many people follow a “Keto” diet, also low carb and high fat.

In between, there have been many others, claiming fat is good, then bad. That we should eat like cavemen. That we shouldn’t even cook food at all.

“There is a lot of fear mongering that is happening around food,” said Anna Sweeney, a registered dietitian and intuitive eating counselor in Boston.

“Because of the fact that Google exists, there are many many people who are unqualified to speak about nutrition who are doing it.”

In other words, nothing makes Kim Kardashian a nutrition expert. But seeing her eating an appetite-suppressing lollipop on Instagram is enough to convince people that’s the only way to get a “perfect” body like hers.

As Sweeney points out, dieting and food restriction can also lead to disordered eating.

“Half of my clients developed eating disorders on the heels of either being put on diets or being told that their bodies are wrong at a young age,” she said.

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I believe that diet and wellness culture has had a hand in glorifying restriction. In glorifying “perfect“ eating, in suggesting that our bodies are not trustworthy, that our bodies must be managed, and that there is one way to do this eating, living, practicing selfcare, but not leaning towards self indulgent thing. What an ENORMOUS lie. I have a deep distain for diet culture. I also have great distain for the reverence of one eating disorder behavior and the shame associated with another. Binge eating disorder is a restrictive eating disorder. Binge eating and binge eating disorder can affect people who live in small bodies and in large bodies. Binge eating is not unique to one age group, one ethnicity, one gender, one socioeconomic class, or one racial group. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder. And its inclusion in the DSM has made the incidence of breast cancer lower than the incidence of eating disorders. This is not about self control. This is not about self control. This is not about self control. This is not about self control. And restricting in an effort to minimize the effect of a binge only leads to further binging. I think it’s very important to recognize the mechanisms that support our utilization of food as a means of navigating the planet. For many of my clients, food has been THE way to cope in times where other skills were unavailable. This is not shameful, this is resourceful. Let’s stop idealizing one eating disorder behavior in lieu of another. Suffering is suffering. #eatingdisorderrecovery #bingeeatingdisorderrecovery #bedrecovery #bingeeatingrecovery #nourishnotpunish #haes #bodyrespect #eatingdisorderdietitian #neda #bodyrespect #dietitiansofinstagram

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Culture around dieting can also be restrictive when it comes to the foods that are considered “allowed” or healthy. That can give people a warped sense of the foods they’re used to eating, especially when it doesn’t fit that mold.

Toronto-based registered dietician Nazima Qureshi tries to dispel that misinformation for her clients and her Instagram followers, many of whom are Muslim women.

“Not everyone is going to want to be eating grilled chicken and salad,” she said. “Even if there’s good nutrition information, it’s not from a cultural lens. So it’s not really giving solutions other people can follow.”

She sees herself as a positive role model who can help her clients incorporate the foods they grew up with into their daily life. And validating that those foods are good choices.

“The thing that’s most important is having a healthy relationship with food,” she said.

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The new Canada's Food guide is out and all in all, I think it's a good guide to get people to start thinking about eating healthy. You can say it provides general nutrition recommendations, for some. Here's the thing though, as a dietitian who is a visible minority with a diverse background, one of my main goals is to help others eat healthy without eliminating their cultural foods. As a Canadian, I love that we celebrate diversity. However, I don’t see the diversity reflected on the new food guide. Being ‘Canada’s’ Food Guide, there was an opportunity to really represent Canada and its values. As a country that is multicultural, I think we missed our mark by not catering to all that want to eat healthy. Click the link in my bio to read my blog on why I think the new Canada's food guide is not for everyone. Would love to hear your thoughts – how do you feel about the cultural representation of the new food guide? Does it speak to how you and your family eat? . . . #healthy #healthyeating #canadasfoodguide #dietitian #nutritionist #nutritionexpert #foodblogger #nutritionblogger

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How to start

If you’re finding you need a change in the way you look at food and dieting, you can start right away by clearing out your social media feed, Rumsey said. Unfollow accounts that peddle fad diets and before-and-after photos.

The intuitive eating and health at every size movements are growing, and there are books and podcasts you can check out to see if they’re a good fit for you.

When Rumsey changed her own way of thinking, she saw a change in her clients, too.

She had three clients return who she had worked with during her prior mindset on weight loss. She was upfront with them: this time around, she would not focus on weight.

“The first session the second time around, stuff came out… just because I was asking different questions, that were really impacting their beliefs about food and themselves and their body,” she said. “So I immediately really saw that change, that shift in their perspective.”

Much of the belief with intuitive eating is something called habituation theory: that getting used to something makes it not as enticing anymore.

Take, for instance, chocolate. If you tell yourself you can have chocolate whenever you want after years of restricting it, you’re probably going to eat a lot of chocolate the first day.

But you’re probably not going to feel very good as a result. You’re also going to get bored with it.

“If that food is available all the time and you have constant access to it, it becomes normal food, and not this thing you have to have control about,” Turner said. “The end result is that you want it less because you’re not thinking about it all the time.”

Getting free from the weight of morality around food is the entire point. Life isn’t about celery juice.

Gretchen Brown

Gretchen has reported on the criminal justice system in rural Minnesota and covered everything from politics to millennial truck drivers for Wisconsin Public Radio. She is passionate about public media as a public service. She’s also into music and really good coffee. Follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.