Many wellness influencers on Instagram who call themselves "nutrition experts" or "nutrition coaches" sell detailed meal plans, cleanses, or nutrition guides to their followers. Often these plans can be downloaded in one click, and they promise to "jump-start," "cleanse," "challenge," or "detox" your body in a certain number of days. When you're already deep into an Instagram blogger's profile, it's only natural to want to buy into whatever they're selling.
But here's the thing: Nutrition is such an individualized area of life, so it's effectively impossible to create one meal plan that will work for everybody, says Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian in Lubbock, TX. That's just one of the many reasons why traditional diets don't work. And a lot of times, these types of "healthy meal plans" are just diets in disguise. (Whole 30, for example, doesn't sound like a traditional diet — but the truth is it's incredibly restrictive.) "It can be dangerous when people make blanket recommendations without understanding the science behind certain diets," she says.
This is especially true when the people giving recommendations aren't actually nutrition professionals, which is unfortunately often the case on social media. On Instagram, anyone can call themselves an "expert" or "nutritionist," when they don't have any education or credentials, McMordie says. If you're looking for nutrition information, you should be consulting a registered dietitian (RDs or RDNs) or anyone with an advanced nutrition degree, she says. When registered dietitians work with clients, they take the person's medical history and lifestyle factors into account before they make any recommendations, she says. "There are so many conditions that are affected by diet, so it's best to consult a doctor or dietitian when making a big change to your diet," she says. And a PDF simply can't do that.
Also, whenever an Instagram influencer (or a friend, or a family member, or a random frenemy on Facebook) posts information about their diet or workout routine, it's so important to remember that it's just one person sharing what works for them — and their philosophy or approach may not "work" for you. It doesn't matter how many people claim a specific diet or cleanse changed their life — at the end of the day, they are not you.
Look, not everyone on Instagram who posts green smoothies and salads is a fraud trying to swindle you by selling a harmful PDF. But Instagram is tricky territory, because photos and videos don't paint the full picture of a person's health — no matter how long the captions are. The reality is that you can't tell how healthy a person is just by looking at them, even if you do follow their stories and lives religiously.
Of course some people are on Instagram because it is a business, not because they want to share helpful advice. Be mindful of the people you follow, and use your judgment when advice or suggestions give you pause. As Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD, an intuitive eating expert and anti-diet dietitian recently wrote, "You know yourself better than anyone and sometimes it has to be your job to advocate for what you know you need. Even if part of you thinks something isn’t the right fit, you’re probably right."
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.