Most of the time when I hear about the latest detox or cleanse diet to rid your body of toxins and achieve optimal health, I cringe. You don’t need one. The liver, lungs, kidneys and digestive system are designed to remove waste effectivelyfrom your body every day. But recently, I learned about a different type of cleanse – a social media detox – that offers benefits.

 

The impact of social media on body acceptance and eating patterns

Media conveys cultural norms and trends, such as what it means to have a healthy lifestyle and what the ideal body looks like. The rise of social media has given everyone the chance to share their opinions with the world. We cannot deny the impact these types of messages and images have on others. For example, in a study of teen girls, spending more time on the internet was linked to believing the thin ideal, comparing their body to others, being unhappy with their weight and wanting to be thin. A more recent studylinked use of social media to eating concerns in young adults; for example, “food dominates my life” and “my weight negatively affects the way I feel about myself.” At this time, we do not know if social media causes body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, or if people already struggling in these areas are drawn to social media. But, research to date should prompt us to assess what we surround ourselves with.

Do healthy living blogs really promote health?

Blogs featuring a person’s lifestyle practices, such as eating and exercise habits, as examples of “healthy living” are common. But, a deep dive into the contents of some of these blogs is cause for concern.A 2014 studylooked at 21 award-winning blogs with numerous page views, written by people with no prior training or expertise in the area of health (excluded were blogs by dietitians or certified personal trainers). These were some of the characteristics of the bloggers:

·       76% were on a diet or using some form of dietary restraint

·       24% were recovering from an eating disorder

·       52% had negative or guilt-inducing messages about food

·       57% made themselves look thinner through pose stances, and used self-objectifying phrases to describe pictures of themselves

·       43% used negative language about being fat/overweight or praised being thin in their entries

 

The blog study showed the focus was on thin appearance ideals and disordered messages about food and nutrition. We know that diets don’t work in the long run, and weight is not necessarily the best measure of health. While reading just one post about diet restriction is not going to destroy your healthy relationship with food, seeing these messages repeatedly over time normalizes the diet mentality and the thin ideal, and can contribute to orthorexia. It’s time to be careful about what you ingest in your social media diet, to reflect on what you see and read and weed out the messages that may be false and/or harmful to your health.

 

How to go on a social media detox in five easy steps

 

1.     Open your most-used social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Instagram).

2.     Find the nutrition, health or fitness people/groups/brands you follow.

3.     Assess the type of content posted and ask these questions:

·       Do I feel inspired or empowered?

·       Are there creative and practical ideas I can follow?

·       Are healthy choices being encouraged over being thin or fit at all costs?

·       Is the information evidence-based or opinion-based?

·       Do I feel insecure or not good enough?

·       Is this fear mongering?

·       Are people being shamed for eating “bad” foods such as sugar or gluten?

·       Are diets being promoted?

·       Do these people live balanced lives that you want to emulate (e.g. enjoying family, friends, work and hobbies) or is all of their time focused on eating right and exercising enough?

4.     Unfollow anything or anyone that brings up negative feelings, or uses fear-mongering or shaming tactics. This type of approach does not lead to behaviour change. Also be wary of people promoting their opinion over scientific evidence.

5.     Seek positive social media sites that inspire you to focus on health and make it seem exciting and enjoyable. Consider liking and sharing those messages to help others find them. Need ideas of where to find some good blogs? Start with theDietitians of Canada member blogs or search using popular hashtags such as #healthateverysize.

 

The goal of this social media detox process is to curate a collection of authentic and encouraging influences that motivate you to develop lasting healthy habits, explore a diverse view of beauty and celebrate your unique qualities. Be choosy; you are worth it.

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Jaclyn Chute, RD

Registered Dietitian

Jaclyn (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and Project Manager at Dairy Farmers of Canada. She believes eating should be both nourishing and satisfying, and is passionate about helping others develop a healthy relationship with food.

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