- A PhD student writes on Quartz that Reddit can be a helpful source of health information and inspiration, while Instagram can potentially be dangerous.
- That’s partly because Redditors are generally open-minded and curious, while Instagram stars may be selling products with minimal health benefits.
- At the same time, researchers say browsing Reddit can also be counterproductive if you’re starting to develop a negative body image or focus too much on your weight.
- Consult a healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.
Over on Quartz, a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh makes the case for Reddit as a source of knowledge and inspiration for weight loss.
Tim Squirrel, whose specialty is “the construction of authority and expertise in online communities,” outlines a number of reasons why browsing Reddit can be helpful – and, conversely, why browsing Instagram can be harmful.
“Searching for diet advice on Instagram has become the nutritional equivalent of self-diagnosing your medical ailments through Google,” Squirrel writes.
And yet. Squirrel notes that Instagram stars are often paid to tout the benefits of the “health” products and regimens they’re promoting – like tea detoxes – meaning the actual benefits may be nonexistent.
Here’s why Squirrel advocates using Reddit instead, using the subreddit r/paleo, which is a forum devoted to discussion of the paleo diet, as a case study. (It’s worth noting here that US News & World Report says the paleo diet can be difficult to follow and may be somewhat nutritionally incomplete and unsafe.)
Perhaps most importantly, Redditors (presumably) aren’t selling anything. They’re simply there to share knowledge. They’re also relatively open to new ideas, as long as those ideas are backed by concrete evidence.
It’s important to approach both Reddit and Instagram with some amount of scepticism
Technically, you can find helpful health information on Instagram and harmful health information on Reddit, so it’s hard to make sweeping generalizations about either resource.
Squirrel doesn’t mention that Reddit can potentially be a dangerous source of health information and inspiration. As K. Alicia Fetters at Women’s Health reported, some nutritionists say browsing r/loseit, which is a forum dedicated to weight loss, could contribute to negative body image and to placing too much focus on weight at the expense of other health markers.
But Squirrel’s observations about r/paleo, and about Reddit more generally, reminded me of something I learned a few months ago, when I spoke to about 20 regular contributors to Quora, Reddit, and Wikipedia.
Many said they’d joined these sites because they enjoyed sharing their knowledge. To them, the sheer exchange of information with similarly curious people was gratifying – though many also reaped unexpected career benefits from their contributions.
Instagram, which isn’t a knowledge-sharing site (or at least wasn’t designed that way), may be a different story. For example, the Whole30 diet – eating only natural, whole foods for 30 days – is popular on Instagram. (It is pretty, after all.) But this year, US News & World Report ranked Whole30 one of the worst diets, Business Insider’s Lydia Ramsey reported.
What’s more, as Caroline Praderio reported for INSIDER, Instagram fitness culture can be harmful – not just inspiring – since it may encourage people to evaluate themselves against unattainable standards and engage in unhealthful practices.
The takeaway here is not that you should get all your health and nutrition advice from Reddit. Don’t do that. Consult a healthcare professional before making any substantive changes to your diet or overall lifestyle.
That said, if you’re interested in learning more about the science behind different diet plans or health products, consider heading over to Reddit to read – or participate in – a healthy debate between curious minds.
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