Once upon a time, before the rise of the internet, a person would get passionate about something. They would then go to university or college, get educated in their field and go off and make a difference in the world. Over time they would build experience and credibility in their field, which would lead to them becoming well known through their work, and perhaps then become a speaker or an author.
These days what we’re seeing is the rise of the health “Influencer”, someone who is usually unqualified and often with no clinical experience. They have a large following on social media, giving you the ‘latest’ health advice like it’s the gospel (I use health advice here in the broadest and loosest of terms).
The internet has provided a space where we can get access to information at the tip of our fingers wherever we need it, unfortunately, a downside is that someone can appear to be the right person to get advice from but really isn’t. Let’s explore some of the issues of health “Influencers” and why they may not be the healthiest thing for you.
The unqualified expert
First of all, I want to say that I commend people who are trying to make a difference in the world – I don’t believe you have to have a bachelor degree to do that. What I do believe is there is a big difference between the knowledge higher levels of education and experience gives you vs. a certificate in health coaching or a personal health journey. This level of training or experience provides you with a limited understanding of the complexities that can affect the human body which means the level of advice you can provide is also limited. I don’t doubt that health Influencers are genuine in their goals to help people achieve a healthy life, but this is not the same as being an expert.
Here is what an unqualified expert may look like…
- They have a large social media following
- They are passionate about their topic, whether it be gut health, endometriosis or weight loss
- They have no formal education in health, besides perhaps being a ‘health coach’ – a certificate you obtain with 6-12 months of online study, with no education about how human physiology works and the disease process
- They give specific advice to the general public, often without the knowledge of consequences.
Now let me clarify, giving general dietary advice like eat less sugar, remove wheat, eat more vegetables is COMPLETELY FINE. We need more people like this to spread the word. What becomes problematic is when you get an unqualified expert giving the wrong advice because they just don’t have the education to understand the full picture.
I’ll give you an example. There’s a certain influencer out there, I won’t name here but let’s just say she has a significant following and considers herself a bit of an expert on health. She is also a doterra advocate and seller and is constantly telling people to ingest neat essential oils for various health complaints. Now, if you’ve read my article on doterra you’d understand why I’m not a huge fan, essential oils are very effective antibiotics and ingesting them will affect the microbiome of the mouth, stomach and upper intestine. It would take knowledge in the physiology of the gut and microbiome to know this. Ingesting essential oils is NEVER something that a well-educated expert would recommend for gut health.
The Instragram version of health
If you have spent even a small amount of time looking through Instagram at the typical posts around health you’ll be familiar with the type of imagery that is promoted. This is something that has worried me for years, some of the biggest influencers in the health space aren’t the ones with qualifications or experience but the ones that post the hottest bikini bods – which are usually photoshopped or filtered images.
So is this healthy? Do you need to be able to do a backbend in a bikini on a rock on the beach in order to be healthy? Do you need to have perfect hair? Or posing perfectly with a salad? You know what I mean here, you’ve seen it. Influencers with perfect profiles. How do you feel when you see these images? Does it make you feel healthy? Stong? Empowered?
Perfect profiles like this feed into the ‘you’re not good enough’ messages we have been told through the media on TV, advertising, magazines – and now the internet – since we were kids. Having your feed full of women or men with bodies like models, specifically posed to give the best angle and then filtered to look shiny and amazing, will not help you to feel good in your own skin. Because it isn’t REAL. This Instagram veneer is only a tiny portion of this person’s lives, however, it can easily make you feel like yours isn’t good enough. If you really knew yoga, you’d know that doing a pose to get a social media shot actually completely goes against what yoga is really about, which is going internal and working on YOURSELF.
Don’t get me wrong I love a pretty Instagram feed and I’m sure you do too, but ask yourself. Is this authentic, or just pretty?
There are very few qualified experts with large followings
Why are there so few actual experts, that are absolute guns at what they do, with big followings on social media?
My theory on this is that building a following takes time, and a lot of effort, so kudos to the influencers for that. I can imagine if I had spent every week of the 5 years I was studying full time on social media making connections, posting content, writing blogs and growing my following, then my following would be astronomical. True health experts are focused on research, consulting with clients, contributing to medical journals, lecturing at Universities and working hard to ensure that information is given to people the world over. And in a world of beauty saturation we find ourselves in, these experts don’t always fit into the ‘right’ mould to get their followers to the same levels to compete.
If you’re one of these influencers and you’re reading this, you might see this come across as jealousy. I have a solid tribe of my own, certainly not at a level into the hundreds of thousands, I applaud the work you do to spread the message on living a healthy lifestyle. As I said before, the world needs as many voices as possible to highlight making good choices. However, the truth is I hate seeing the wrong info being taken up by people that don’t know any better. Information that can have long-lasting negative effects on their bodies.
What I’m really passionate about is shining a light on some of the best brains in health in the world, and helping them get their message out. This is why I have made the audio docu-series The Shift, where I have brought together 24 of the worlds qualified experts on gut health to help to cut through the misinformation out there and also to highlight these amazing humans that you all should be following. They may not look like supermodels, but I assure you they will knock your socks off nonetheless.