The rise of social media has created one of the largest digital ecosystems where anyone can consume, re-share or publish almost any type of information they stumble across. While many argue this is a step forward in connectivity, innovation and unity, many don’t stop to pause and understand the consequences that can come along with it.
The health, fitness and nutrition industries are incredibly popular on social media, and if you’ve ever searched Instagram for some type of fitness inspiration, YouTube for a workout video, or a blog post to learn about a new diet or recipe, you’ve experienced it firsthand. Recognizing social media is a good tool to help maintain relationships, connect with old friends, and see updates from family, it can also be incredibly distracting and sometimes detrimental. While many believe this type of accessibility is a positive movement in creating awareness, our eagerness to ingest any and all types of information, especially related to fitness and nutrition, can quickly lead us down a path of misinformation, disingenuous advice and products with misleading benefits.
Knowing this, it’s crucial to exercise an extra step of caution when scrolling through our feeds when hunting for advice related to our health. In fact, a recent study found that only 1 out of 9 health influencers on social media shared credible information regarding weight management. While almost all of the health influencers you’ve stumbled across or follow currently have good intentions, that doesn’t mean their advice is necessarily accurate, permissible or beneficial to you. As the number of health influencers is destined to increase, experts have expressed their increasing concerns regarding the ethical issues that will continue to erupt and have negative effects on public health.
Mismanaged product promotion can also lead consumers astray when it comes to their health goals. A great example of this is when health influencers agree to work with certain wellness brands, promising to sell that company’s products in exchange for compensation based on the amount of content they’d be willing to push out across their channels. The line here can quickly become gray as it can become unclear if an influencer is genuinely promoting a product that they believe will be helpful to some of their followers, or if they’re doing it to generate even more brand partners to increase their popularity. While you might be desperately seeking direction on how to move and eat healthier, you may also be “sold” ideas that simply aren’t right for you. As an outcome of opting into a product or service, when we don’t yield the same jaw-dropping results as the person who sold us on it, we can easily become discouraged and hopeless. It comes as no surprise that studies show that the comparison culture of social media has sparked an increase in depression among teens and young adults.
Dissecting different types of health influencers
While it’s important to acknowledge that health influencers do have good intentions and want to spread helpful body-positive information that can help people live better lives, it’s important to get an inside look at the type of influencers who are filling your feed and what their strategies and tactics may be. Whether it’s someone pushing facts for the same of fame, prescribing a one-size fits all solution to the masses or increasing their brand’s visibility, in the fitness and nutrition industry there are three common profiles to watch for:
- The self-made health influencer: Having started their careers in a different field, a self-proclaimed health influencer likely developed a passion for fitness through their day-to-day experiences. As educated as they may seem or appear, be cautious as many who fall under this category haven’t had formal education or hold certification, nor have they worked face-to-face with real-life clients.
- The virtual health influencer: This type of influencer will be formally educated, hold certain certifications, and have a wealth of knowledge. The downside of this type is that while they’ve mastered how to share knowledge through their social media channels, they lack real-life experience working directly and face-to-face with clients.
- The brand-conscious influencer: These will be your household names in fitness and nutrition, the seasoned celebrities whose main motivation for their social channels is to gain visibility in order to sell their products or services to the masses.
The 6-step guide to following a health influencer
Trying to navigate social media and all of the different types of health influencers can be exhausting and overwhelming. The next time you find yourself contemplating following a new health influencer, trying one of their recommendations or using a discount code on one of the products they’re promoting, assess your decision through these 6 guidelines:
1. They have minimal experience in their field – What type of formal education do they have in the areas they’re trying to speak to? Any coach you partner with should provide an overview of their education and certifications.
2. They lack real-life client testimonials – Experience is more than just a text book. Do they have an adequate amount of testimonials from real-life individuals who can speak to their ability? Great coaches often come with a referral and a series of testimonials to back up their skill set.
3. They’re bandwagon-obsessed with “one-size-fits all” trends – One moment they’re firm believers that Keto is the solution to everyone’s needs, but they’re quick to put all their marbles in the next dieting fad that is trending in the headlines.
4. They endorse unrealistic products – Things like detox tea should be a red flag, among many other products that promise minimal effort, but promise a high reward.
5. They’re constantly pushing products – If you see #ad or “paid promotion with…” too often, be weary that this influencer could be acting as a company’s puppet and may be more concerned with making money than promoting a quality product you may actually need.
6. They dabble in photo manipulation – Photoshop is no longer just for magazine covers. Mobile apps now offer tools where you can edit yourself skinny (or curvy). Real illusionists do exist in our modern world, but they’re not magicians, they’re usually just Instagram famous. While you can’t always detect when someone is doing this, be mindful of images where objects surrounding a person seem unusually curved or jaded – it’s usually a sign the photo has been manipulated.
Seasoned Coaches vs. Health Influencers
While some of the 6 check points mentioned above don’t necessarily disqualify someone from providing decent tips, they are all warning signs that an influencer may not be suited nor capable of helping you achieve your health goals. For years, a majority of my clients oversimplified aspects of fitness and nutrition, and by default, believed they could do it on their own with a little support from certain social media personalities or health-conscious celebrities they follow on the web. In an effort to save you some time and frustration as to why you may not be having success in achieving your goals through social media inspiration, I’ll clue you in on a few make-or-break differences between following a health influencer and entrusting your goals to an experienced and seasoned personal trainer.
Diagnostic vs. Oversimplification
You would never buy a car without test driving it first, so when it comes to something as important as your health, why would you blindly follow an eating plan without knowing if it’s right for your body? With a personal trainer, they’ll leverage objective data, such as body fat assessments, lab testing, and metabolic data to ensure they are able to help you, inside and out. Think of it this way, influencers have no line of sight into your individual metabolism, hormone levels or food sensitivities, all of which can significantly impact your progress.
Personalization vs. Mass Distribution
Once you’ve analyzed how your body is operating, the next step will be to put together a personalized action plan (for you and only you) that will net the greatest results in the shortest amount of time. While there are literally thousands of “healthy habits” a person could incorporate into their plan, a seasoned coach will know which of these habits will actually be most beneficial to you. Be mindful to not mistake an influencer’s personable charm or relatability for knowing you personally. The harsh truth is that an influencer who is always speaking to the masses will never be able to know you personally through a screen.
Adaptive vs. Compliant
Once the groundwork has been established and you’re actively following your plan, a seasoned coach knows that at some point your body will go through changes or experience reactions that will require adaptions to your plan. We often see clients who come to us complaining that they’ve hit a plateau, though they’ve been following an influencer’s program flawlessly. Because an influencer is so removed from you personally, they can easily brush off your frustration and justify that you likely weren’t 100% compliant, when in reality, they have no idea what metabolic, hormone or other types of barriers may have flared up that is now impacting your body’s ability to function optimally.
Collaborative vs. Abiding
Knowing a seasoned professional is experienced in knowing how your body is functioning and reacting to certain things, they’re also concerned with your personal preferences, interests and needs. An experienced professional doesn’t want you to feel like you’re a slave to your own plan and will know different substitutions, replacements and work-arounds. If there is something you’d prefer not to eat, an exercise that feels like it’s aggravating an existing injury or maybe it’s a regimen that isn’t working with your schedule, having a go-to person to work with on a daily basis allows you the flexibility to make swiftly make necessary changes to your routine.
Time and time again, our team of experienced Life Time trainers and coaches have worked with numerous individuals who have tried to do it on their own or by way of following advice from health influencers, only to end up disappointed by the lack of results, or because of the change they once experienced but can no longer sustain. Eventually they realize that needing a coach doesn’t mean you’re weak or flawed, it means you have acknowledged that you’re willing to do what it takes to be successful and in order to reach your full potential by working with someone who gives you personal attention, concrete direction and accountability toward achieving your goals. I’m sure you’ve caught on, but for the sake of being direct I’ll say exactly what I’m getting at: choosing the right coach is a big deal and yes, it can mean the difference in getting results or not.
I once had an individual that I coached who came to me virtually paralyzed with confusion. She had followed several diets over the years and was now religiously scrolling through social media for her next diet plan. She was addicted to the excitement of reading about suggested diets and short-term plans that were sure to get the scale to drop by at least 15 pounds. We had an initial consultation and we committed to working on a different strategy to get her lasting results: Nutrition Coaching. By really digging in with a food log, lifestyle inventory, symptoms questionnaire, and a few assessments we quickly realized that she was chronically undereating. She was in desperate need of a refueling her body and was quite hesitant about my recommendation to begin eating more. I asked her to give me two weeks to show her that eating more in the right method wouldn’t lead to her gaining weight. Fast forward to months later and not only had she not gained weight she had lost 20+ pounds by eating more healthy foods and learning to exercise effectively for her body.
It’s examples like these, and many others, that showcase how the coaches at Life Time embody a holistic approach to helping people achieve their goals. Client success is not taken lightly, meaning any coach who works at Life Time must undergo an extensive education and onboarding process, ensuring they’re well-equipped with the knowledge and real-life experience they need in order to be the best in the industry. It’s this mentality that makes us experts at triaging, personalizing, adapting and collaborating with our clients to create the best action plans that net the greatest results in the shortest amount of time.
If you’re interested in finding the right coach for you, get started by visiting our website here.
Julie Brown — MS, RD, CSSD, PN2 Life Time National Nutrition Program Coordinator
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.