Social Media: Spawning Ground for Sketchy Diet Advice

You know, I’ve got nothin’ but love for other health/wellness bloggers out there in the community, fighting the good fight. We’re all united in the same purpose – we love helping people through our blogs. The key though, is help, not harm – or mislead.

It’s absolutely mind-boggling how many varying opinions and viewpoints there are in the nutrition world. Sure, I don’t always agree with everything I come across, but probably 98% of the time, I can certainly agree to disagree. There are some things, though, that totally grind my gears.

If you’re on Instagram, you’ve probably seen just about every nutrition/diet-related meme and infographic known to man on your Explore tab. At this point, I feel like I’ve seen it allllllll. Few things surprise me any more!

However, I recently came across a person’s account, henceforth referred to as Blogger X, who is posting some pretty questionable (and unhealthy) advice about dieting. My M.O. in social media situations is usually “Do Not Engage”, but in this case I couldn’t resist. I had to (politely) comment on her post. I broke my own rule and engaged – not that it did any damn good!

Afterwards, it still bugged me. I know, I know, I need to make like Elsa and let that shit go, but I decided to turn my frustration into a topic of discussion for my blog.

Blogger X’s advice is centered around weight loss – the dreaded “dieting”, if you will. Here at a.healthier.happy, I’m pretty up-front that I condemn “dieting” in the common definition of the word. Healthy eating and living should be a true lifestyle change, not a “diet”, because “being on a diet”: A) contributes to the negative connotation that healthy eating equals self-deprivation and constant hunger/dissatisfaction, and B) inevitably comes with an easy-to-push “Abort Mission” button.

While weight loss is an excellent, desirable side effect of a healthy lifestyle, it shouldn’t be the sole goal. Weight loss is a dangerous goal, because it can be attained all-too-often in very unhealthy ways. You could eat paper and lose 50 pounds, but does that make you healthy? Hell no.

Instead, the goal should be to nourish your body with the needed nutrients (coming from fresh, whole foods), and to hold a higher standard for what you’re willing to put into your body. (Your body isn’t a trash can, so don’t treat it like one!)

That being said, Blogger X’s viewpoint centers completely around weight loss, the total wrong way. When done incorrectly, “dieting” puts an inordinate focus on the amount of calories (and/or fat) consumed. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not denying that calories do affect weight loss/control. However, calories are not the sole end-all, be-all factor controlling your weight.

When “diet advice” puts a disproportionate focus on calories, and has little regard for the quality of the food, that’s where I have to call shenanigans.

One of Blogger X’s memes, the one that started all this, was a post that advocates switching a traditional ham sandwich (made with regular bread, Kraft cheese, mayo, and butter) to a so-called “better” sandwich made with lite bread, fat-free cheese, ham, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray. All in the name of saving calories, mind you. (Don’t ask me why butter is part of this ham sandwich. I didn’t make the meme!)

If ever something defines jumping from the pot into the fire, this is it – everything wrong with the skewed American view of nutrition and dieting, in one meme.

My motto is always to make better choices. Every better choice counts. This, though, is an example where the so-called “better” choice being presented is an unbelievably worse choice.

If you’re new to “count chemicals, not calories” (another motto of mine), you might not understand why I say this. So, I did a little leg work, to show you, side-by-side, why this chemical slew that Blogger X calls a sandwich, is most certainly not a better choice.

(Note: Blogger X didn’t name a “before” butter, so I picked Land ‘O Lakes – for a “regular” butter, it’s pretty darn good compared to fake crap, like Country Crock. The ham was unchanged from “before” to “after”, so I didn’t include that.) 

In the left column, are Blogger X’s “before” sandwich ingredients, and in the right column are Blogger X’s recommended “after” ingredients for a “better” sandwich, due solely to these ingredients being less calories than their counterparts on the left. (Click chart to enlarge!)

Ready to break it down?

In this chart, anything orange is generally undesirable/unnecessary/unhealthy in your food. This includes: added flavoring, thickeners, stabilizers, fillers, preservatives, and added vitamin content. (Regarding vitamin additives, realize that nutrition should come from the ingredients themselves, if they’re quality. Vitamins are often added to compensate for cheap, non-nutritional fillers (like cellulose). Also, the quality/derivation of said vitamins can be very cheap and suspect.)

Anything in red is an absolute no-no ingredient – these are black-listed from our household! This includes “artificial flavor” (which can be composed of any non-disclosed blend of chemicals), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)/corn syrup byproducts, and artificial food coloring.

Notice how full of orange the right side is?! And even a few reds?! The “after”, low-fat products are not a better choice! Calorie-wise, yes, it may be much less, but these sandwich ingredients are barely food and definitely not healthy. (In all fairness, the Nature’s Own Lite Bread isn’t horrific, but it’s still not a better choice than the “before” bread, in my book.)

For brevity’s sake, I won’t discuss each orange/red ingredient, but corn syrup/HFCS is worth calling out, especially in this context. Its negative effect on our bodies is wide-ranging, but suffice to say it’s one of the top food additives that tinker with your brain’s ability to regulate hunger and your body’s ability to regulate weight. If you’re struggling to lose weight, this is one of the absolute first ingredients you should nix!

That being said, the fact that Blogger X recommends using products containing HFCS and corn syrup is, to me, horrifying.

This kind of advice (based in calorie-centric thinking) is problematic because it ignores one of the biggest reasons why Americans fight a continual battle to lose weight. As a country, we’re not eating food; we’re eating food-like products. These food-like products (especially anything marketed as “low-cal” or “low-fat”) are nothing but fake ingredients. Our bodies derive no nutrition from them, can’t recognize them as food, and simply have no use for them. This contributes to continual hunger and over-eating, in attempt to fill the nutritional void. Worse yet, when the “food” being reached for day in and day out is garbage, a perpetual cycle is created.

Likewise, the more chemicals you fill your body with, the greater toxic load you carry. Guess what that means? Less weight loss, plus increased health risks from said chemicals (like endocrine disruption and cancer). Is that worth it for less calories?

While I understand what Blogger X was attempting here, it’s totally the wrong approach. There is absolutely nothing wrong with monitoring calories, but by all means, do it while providing your body with real nutrition! Kick these fake products to the curb, and aim for the highest quality you can! And guess what – the more real and whole (i.e. unprocessed) your food is, the less calories it’ll contain, and the more you can enjoy!

I truly hate that this kind of misinformation floats around out there in social media. It’s super frustrating, especially because I – as a blogger – try my damnedest to spread good information, and take that responsibility seriously.

Nutrition is a rather foreign topic to many people, so therein lies a vulnerability to this kind of flawed “diet advice”, especially when it’s cropping up like wildfire in social feeds. It’s easier now than ever to become a victim of bad advice.

Trust me, I’ve been there – in the late 90’s, I was just as guilty of thinking that calories were the only thing that mattered. I knew zero about nutrition, and fell right into the “eat low-fat everything” trap, thinking it would help me control my weight. I knew how to read a nutrition label, but completely ignored the ingredient list. I lived on junky low-cal/low-fat foods, not knowing any better.

But, because that was me, and I’ve since realized how terribly wrong that thinking was, I try to do everything I can to help people see through the smoke screen of “diet food” and the like. Honestly, that’s probably why I’m so horrified by Blogger X’s advice, because I look at that and see myself (nearly) 20 years ago!

To truly help your readers, you have to tell them hard truths, no matter how upsetting or inconvenient these truths are. You can’t sugar-coat a situation, and accidentally mislead them into being proud of choosing garbage because it has 50 less calories. If you read my blogs, I hope you realize that you will always get the truth, even when I know you hate hearing it. Sorry, not sorry.

While nutrition isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all thing, there are certain irrefutable truths that I will literally defend to the moon and back, because they’re guidelines that absolutely, positively cannot ever steer you wrong.

The biggest one? Anything fake (especially low-cal/low-fat products) should be avoided like the plague, if you want to maintain your weight. Get real with your ingredients, and eat fresh, whole foods as often as possible. I don’t care who you are or what body type you are, those rules will always do you good.

And, last but not least, the moral of this story is to be wary of what advice you take, especially when it comes from social media! Use common sense, and always put nutrition first.

Wishing you healthier, happier days!


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