December 10, 2023

Not without your mobile
Not without your mobileAlexandr Spatari (Getty Images)

That Popeye was the first influencers of nutrition with a totally false message has left several generations traumatized. Hordes of full-fledged adults who still have nightmares about the tasteless dish of overcooked spinach, under the emotional blackmail that the sacrifice was worth it because their iron was the panacea for us to grow and become strong. If we now ask the responsible adult, he will persist in his idea and will swear before any court that spinach has enough iron to build the roads of the Mediterranean corridor.

But it’s a lie. Not the part about the nightmares, which I assure you are real, but the part about spinach being extremely rich in iron. The myth was created from an error in the publication of a result in 1890 that, due to a bad score, awarded them a content of this mineral ten times higher than the authentic one. Denied since the 1930s -as the British Medical Journal reported in 1981- this did not prevent consumption from increasing by 33% and it was even used as war propaganda during World War II: when meat was scarce, America he was strong because he ate spinach. There were even cartoons with Popeye and his spinach as a talisman against the Nazis.

It’s a perfect example of how a popular figure can intervene in the diet, and how misinformation persists more than 130 years after it was published. The silver lining is that, barring a certain visceral aversion to spinach, the health consequences of this false belief are limited, and it seems unlikely that the lobbyists for its producers are laughing wickedly, counting their bucks on an armchair. gold while petting a cat. Just the opposite of what happens with influencers that promote products, programs, systems, or simply give dietary-nutritional messages without any scientific evidence. They get rich while you are increasingly confused about what to eat and you end up wasting energy and money on empty promises.

Nobody is spared: influencers of the most colorful

You can find them with a thousand names: “nutritional coach”, “nutritional advisor”, “holistic nutrition”, “nutritional therapist” or “integrative nutrition”. They can continue to strangle the language as much as they want, make the most delusional paraphrases, whatever it takes to appear as a health professional specializing in nutrition, without going so far as to describe any regulated profession. There it goes! Wait wait. Which is that there is already a professional profile that deals with nutrition: that of Dietitians-Nutritionists and Senior Nutrition Technicians, both included in the Health Professions Regulation Law (in this article by Juan Revenga you can find out who is who in the world of nutrition).

Professions that are still not very well known -increasingly, but far from others-, which makes it easy for any bombastic title to seem as solid as the four-year university degree of a health worker. Good marketing and a clever use of vocabulary do the rest: the coaches They accompany you, they advise you, they are with you on the path to your transformation and they even make you “wake up”, as if discovering how to feed yourself was an epiphany.

They use ideas that go hand in hand with a certain mystique and achieve what science cannot: generate illusion with different dietary approaches. For those who have tried a thousand “methods” without success, the idea of ​​a novelty that could be the definitive key is irresistible: taking advantage of vulnerability, therein lies its ethics.

He influencers generic is also targeted

The panorama does not end here. Given the interest aroused by food and nutrition, we cannot leave out of this bazaar of influencers to those who have never had anything to do with science, health or clinical practice and who, unlike those “specialized” in this field, do not intend to make a living from it either, but who do not hesitate to enlighten us, check by , with his life experience: the famous transmuted into nutritional prescribers.

They tell us in detail all that works for them to be radiant, slim, young and happy: their most purifying recipes with specific products from very top brands, their morning juice routines courtesy of a company founded by three restless young people who they bet “everything they had” – what their parents were willing to give them at a loss – on their innovative idea. Also their tantric fasts, sponsored by the corresponding clinic, and as a final climax, the book where they collect all the wisdom that they have been able to accumulate over these years of change. Everything so that you, precarious with aspirations, can dream of looking like them (and their life) and stop going down the street looking like that.

A very original idea

The professional who does not comply with the code

Let’s not be naive, because there are also those who use their medical degree as an argument of authority to send erroneous or outright false messages: when you graduate you are not automatically injected with a dose of deontology. They are exceptions within the profession -just as there are qualified doctors who prescribe homeopathy, who sell “anti-cancer” recipe books or who deny vaccinations-, but they are atrociously harmful because they use their training as an indisputable guarantee of the veracity of what they say and they get the message to be received with much lower defenses, attributing it, at least, a certain degree of validity.

The same thing tells you about the danger of a specific additive (or all of them), that they try to convince you in a sponsored post that a product with a disastrous nutritional profile is much better than any other similar one that you can find on the market, “! I always have it at home for my whims!”. WARNING: if they use these types of concepts as “whims” to relate them to food, it is an unequivocal sign that you have to run away.

Messages ranging from the absurd to the dangerous

Regarding the messages they send, they are as varied in their content as in the consequences they may have. Let’s start from something important: let’s not underestimate the ability to influence with certain messages, however absurd they may be. Not because all his public is credulous without judgment, but because it is not a virgin public that receives the messages from neutrality and with its skepticism intact (none of us do it when our idols speak).

Some influencers they have hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of followers. Followers who admire them for some aspect of their personality, their lifestyle or their career, so it is not surprising that two things happen. First of all, the halo effect: we extrapolate a specific quality of a person to other facets “he’s a crack at dancing, so why can’t he have the same level of nutrition knowledge and speak with the same confidence”.

Second, admiration blinds us: we are victims of cognitive bias and confirmation bias (we are left with information that reinforces our previous beliefs) and authority bias (out of our sheer admiration we have attributed a leadership that does not correspond to it). outside your sector) do the rest. Perhaps the message that our influencers favorite shocks us at first, but we need to avoid that dissonance, we forget our misgivings and deduce that if he is saying them it must be true. Overall, he wouldn’t risk saying something stupid if he wasn’t right. We lowered the defenses. It is foreseeable that it happens at least in a part of the followers, and when you have so many, a small percentage is a lot of people.

That is why it is a mistake to believe that we would never get it. They may not succeed with messages as extreme as water dehydrates, but perhaps you are more willing to try to lose weight with an anti-diabetic drug (even if one of the visible faces of that message is someone as capricious, fickle and abject as Elon Musk) or, going down several steps, to incorporate kombucha into your diet, buy the peanut butter of a certain brand or avoid legumes of a certain brand because they have an additive that is “poisonous”.

If the cream is 100% peanut, there is no one better than another
If the cream is 100% peanut, there is no one better than anotherMARCO VERCH (FLICKR)

In all cases they have interfered in your health decisions and in your food choices with the sole endorsement of their image and a doctorate. cum laude in My Tanned Balls University.

But why do they do these things?

For interest, in the broadest sense of the word: the most obvious factor is money, but it doesn’t even have to come directly. Of course, a product or a “detoxification program” can be advertised because there is a contract with a brand, and the economic performance of the publication is contractually defined and limited.

But they may also be looking for a place as “content creators” in a world that is the jungle, in which the message that will be heard the most is the most hyperbolic or disruptive. Even though it seems crazy that it would take anyone straight to López-Ibor, it can have the opposite effect and launch you like a rocket to the top of views, through a predatory algorithm. If it works, your face is more visible and the contract can come later.

As for toilets that issue false messages, they insist that you have to supplement with this brand’s pills or directly recommend unhealthy products: the basic message in nutrition – “base your diet on fresh and little processed foods, prioritize those of plant origin” -, does not impact followers or move checks in offices. Chard producers are not very willing to pay for campaigns to repeat, once again, “eat chard better than sausages”; nor to wrap their chard in packaging with cartoons and health claims such as “helps iron metabolism” or “contributes to skin maintenance” (although legally they could). The money is in foods where there is more profit margin, where more research and development has been invested, and where there is a whole marketing team out there to bombard their target audience. Not on lettuce and cabbages.

This doesn't sell that much
This doesn’t sell that muchJerzy Gorecki (Pixabay)

Why it is not a good idea to follow them

There are recommendations that cannot be positive in any case, either because they are directly dangerous, such as antidiabetic drugs to lose weight; good because they will worsen the quality of your diet (the wonderful fresh cheese with extra protein that gives you 10 grams of added sugar in each container).

But, why not follow other ideas that, although they do not have scientific evidence, do not seem harmful? Perhaps the message of the influencers It is quite innocuous for you and it can even be fun to try eating only orange foods for a week, or start the day with a chia seed pudding eaten before 7:30 a.m.

The impact on your health of some of the recommendations they make will surely be nil. But they are not about your nutritional education: by trusting these messages you give up a part of your autonomy as a consumer and make food choices that are not free because, for this, they should be based on truthful information without conflicts of interest. In addition, they can complicate your life in a thousand ways: logistically, because they offer exotic food combinations that you cannot find in any supermarket; economically, by highlighting the exclusive qualities of a certain brand of yoghurt that turns out to be twice as expensive as the private label equivalent.

In the most perverse case, also restricting your food choices when they insult perfectly healthy foods that until now you happily ate. I’m looking at you, demonizers of milk and gluten -when they target the healthy population without intolerances, obviously-, and transmission belts of massive food intolerance tests.

In short, they rob you of your freedom of choice: I can’t think of a more compelling reason to do the unfollow definitive.

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