Dieting was once boring and rigorous. With the rise of Instagram, a broader information accessibility and a better understanding of nutrition, has our approach changed?
Opening a random Instagram account is enough to notice that our relationship with food has undergone a substantial change over the years. Artfully composed acai bowls with frozen berries and creamy, colourful textures; roses gently cut out of soft avocados; milky leaves drawn on fuming matcha lattes; food is, unsurprisingly, something we love sharing. Social media plumped the visual appeal of nutrition and food porn is, evidently, a thing. The way we relate to food is often conflicting. It represents one of the key elements of our existence, yet, at the same time, it partly measures our self-worth and confidence.
The latest food and drink reports by Waitrose reveal how the general approach towards dieting has changed: the 2016 survey discovered that 60% of us tend to eat fresher and lighter food than five years ago. According to the report, 71% of the interviewees said that eating healthily and looking after themselves can be considered as ‘‘part of who they are’’.
In this year’s report, three quarters of the people interviewed said they follow a “common sense approach” instead of strict dieting involving the elimination of entire food groups. People nowadays seem to prefer eating healthy on a regular basis.
Ross Anderson, Head Chef at Waitrose Cookery School, Salisbury said: ‘’Faddy diets are definitely going out of fashion – people are more aware of how to eat more healthily and in a way that’s easier for them to maintain.’’
The dieting crisis
The diet industry is facing a curious time. In an article on Fortune, John Kell notes that, in spite of the high rates of obesity and overweight population in the US, 77% of the Americans consulted in a poll by SurveyMonkey were said to be actively trying to eat healthier. However, only 19% of them were known to be on a diet. Fortune reports the number of women claiming to be on a diet decreased by 13% in the last 20 years, according to a NPD Group research.
Laura Clark, Dietitian and Blogger, is the founder of LEC Nutrition- a project that aims to motivate people lead healthy lives. In a blog post she noted: ‘‘Forget diet and exercise, let’s talk about eating and training. We need to focus on changes to body shape and the corresponding change to muscle mass and strength that can be achieved through a combination of activity and eating right. Gone are the days of dieting and exercise: hello eating and training.’’
In fact, the UK Fitness industry keeps expanding: a report by The Leisure Data Base Company discovered that in 2017 UK gym members reached over 9.7 million; one in seven people in the UK has a gym membership.
Research by Mintel GNPD (Global New Products Database) highlights the increasing demand from consumers for a complete and total transparency from food and drink companies. The report reveals that between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of food and drink labels containing the keyword ‘Super’ (superfood, superfruit, supergrain) rose by 202%.
“The popularity of ‘super’ products is clear as food and drink manufacturers globally are tapping into a demand for these nutritionally dense ingredients,” says Stephanie Mattucci, Mintel’s Global Food Science Analyst, “but superfoods are not only limited to food and drink, they are regularly springing up in the beauty, health and hygiene and pet food aisles as a result of today’s consumers becoming much more aware of what they are putting into and onto their bodies.”
Social media: enemy or ally?
Stephanie Elswood, a 21-year-old fitness and food Influencer with over 150.000 followers on Instagram, shared with us how her social media journey began. She started her Instagram account to recover from an eating disorder, using it as a sort of online diary. She would post breakfast, lunch and dinner every day: “At that time in my life I gave myself no self validation. It is an extremely big confidence booster for me that people like what I do and support me!”
Elswood strongly believes that our approach to dieting has evolved over the last few years: “I think people are educating themselves more to realise that they shouldn’t ‘diet’; they should make a ‘lifestyle choice’ that is sustainable for them. There is an increase, certainly in London, of healthy food restaurants and a healthier choice. It’s all education and I think people are beginning to learn. We still have a long way to go, but I do believe there have been vast improvements.”
However, social media can be vicious, as Elswood clarifies: “I think there are some negative connotations that come with social media. It can be a very dark place to get lost in. You can scroll for hours looking and comparing yourself to other body images, lifestyles, faces, etc. I think people just need to remember that you can choose who you follow and how you think or view something.”
The bright side of social media is endorsed by Karolina Ortmann, Nutritionist and Personal Trainer, who noticed the change in the fitness and nutrition industry over the last years. She believes that social media is an amazing tool that helps keep track of results and get motivated. For example, many of her colleagues nutritionists and personal trainers post before and after pictures as part of the journey with their clients, who can then concretely visualise the change and, also, get encouragement by the fitness community online.
Dietitian and Blogger Laura Clark, instead, shared with us her concerns related to social media. She said nutrition is a relatively young science in constant update. As it depends on many different factors, it is easy to misinterpret.
Clark warns about the potential harm of the information shared on social media: “Social media has given everyone a vehicle to share opinion, and when opinion is shared enough times, it starts to become fact. Properly qualified professionals are not as good at shouting about things on social media as the younger generation is, although we have got a lot better. For all the food and nutrition tweets out there, only 4% of them come from dietitians, which is rather depressing.”
She believes that people are now generally more aware of the nutrition potential to boost performance, enhance well-being and protect health. However, it is rather challenging to understand what’s right for you in the sheer volume of information available; a lot of it is not bespoke enough to the individual: “Knowledge alone does not lead to behaviour change. We need to understand the complexities of psychological and physiological interactions to truly be able to help people, and you will not get that from a glossy Instagram account.”
Words: Giulia Trinci | Subbing: Kate Kulniece