The good, the bad and the ugly of social media when it comes to your health!
Social media has infiltrated into our lives whether we like it or not. Research has shown young adults (18-25) spend more time on social media daily compared to any other activity #yikes! Essentially, partaking in the ‘digital sharing culture’ is considered a normal part of living. Understandably, media and technology have been credited as one factor that has led to a shift in perceptions, attitudes and beliefs about nutrition during the last 50 years. This influence is caused due to media and technology being a regular part of life and therefore having a direct influence on behaviour.
Social media amongst other things is a platform to share and receive information about food, exercise and health. However, like most things in life, it can be a double-edged sword when it comes to your health and fitness goals.
- Social media expands food choice via increasing access to recipes and food ideas and providing a forum to showcase what foods we eat;
- It allows for healthy comparison: generally people rate their own eating behaviour as healthier on average than that of their peers – an optimistic comparative view of ones own healthy eating boosts subsequent health behaviour #winning!
- Scrolling through feeds can make you feel inspired by certain exercises and encourage you to lace up and hit the pavement
- Apps which allow you to track fitness goals keep you more accountable as you have a target to measure your performance by
An undeniable benefit of social media is its ability to be used as a tool to seek support and share healthy behaviours. I have witnessed this first hand through my Falling in Love With Food Members Facebook group – this page encourages members to share their diet struggles and triumphs, show their healthy accomplishments and is used as a resource to share healthy finds. Through this page, members travel together on their journey to good health – a very motivating and rewarding experience that promotes sustainable change.
- Unfortunately the more time we spend on social media the less physical activity we are engaging in – we can easily get distracted and our date with the gym gets put on the back burner
- Decreased performance: we can also be distracted if our phone goes off whilst running on a treadmill or lifting weights and curiosity gets the better of us
- Social media increases our awareness/following of strict food/diet choices like paleo, vegan and elimination diets – constant exposure to such diets can cause us to believe we should be following them but they may not suit us at all
- Constant exposure to new food posts (at the wrong times) can cause food cravings in the absence of hunger and therefore overeating
- We may hinder our healthy routine by losing track of time and not leaving enough time to prepare a healthy meal so then have to rely on take-away
- Checking FB or Instagram whilst eating detracts from mindful eating, mindful eating is positively correlated with mental well-being
Celebrity Health Gurus – Separating the ‘Experts’ from the ‘Influencers’”
Another aspect of social media to consider is the rise of the celebrity health gurus, often sporting a job title “wellness blogger.” Pseudo professionals, celebrities, and the public generally now can publicise information about health behaviours (whether accurate, inaccurate, oversimplified, or exaggerated) virally through social media. Don’t let your diet become undone and place unrealistic expectations on yourself – the “eat like me and look like me” culture is rife and being aware of it is the first step in protecting yourself from rogue advice. At the end of the day, it’s about tuning into how what you eat makes you feel. Health is not about being obsessive but making conscious changes and decisions for the betterment of your health and not because it works for someone else.
Tips to make sure you don’t follow your way to poor health
- Check for qualifications and experience of gurus in their chosen field – don’t be guided by the number of followers someone has
- Avoid following extremes and enlist common sense, following a blogger who promotes strict dietary regimes cutting out essential macronutrients is not going to benefit your health
- Avoid trialling something which you know deep down won’t work for you but you’re blinded by the promise of body perfection– stay true to yourself and what works for you
- Don’t become overwhelmed and feel like a failure – only the most appealing meals are posted, diet disasters aren’t shown – some gurus blog as a full-time job and have ample resources at their finger tips
- Don’t obsess – we can get so caught up in putting time into what they’re doing and not leaving enough time for what we want to be doing
- Think about the motivation behind posts, is it to help followers or promote themselves?
Like most things, it’s about being aware of your behaviours; are they of benefit or not. Next time you’re scrolling and liking, take a step back and ask yourself – is looking at this doing my emotional and physical health any favours? Remember, comparison is the thief of joy and will not put you in the correct headspace to achieve your health and fitness goals. Stay true to yourself, be realistic and remember to enjoy what you’re doing – if you’re not having fun, what’s the point!?
Vaterlaus, J et al 2015, ‘#Getting healthy: The perceived influence of social media and young adult health behaviours,’ Computers in Human Behaviour, ‘ Vol. 45, pp. 151-157.