Misinformation is nothing new, but we live in an age where if you have a ring light, a camera phone, and a social media profile, you can film and promote information to the masses that could range from being partially true to downright lies. For an audience that considers an hour scrolling through Instagram Reels as “scientific observation,” it’s easy for influencers to take the wheel of your intelligence and have you believing in their snake oil—all within seconds.
Though social media does have some fantastic educators who relentlessly push back against the propagation of wrong information, sometimes, our emotional connection with a particular myth can stand in our way from hearing and believing counterarguments. We are too emotionally invested in what we believe to be true to listen to the truth.
Today, I’m fighting two battles for those willing to hear. The first is that adding weight loss foods to your diet can help you lose weight, and the second is that detoxes are necessary and integral as part of a wellness or weight loss plan. Before diving in, it’s worth checking and asking yourself—what do you believe to be true about these myths, and what evidence do you have to go on?
Every day, nutrition companies release new products in their weight-loss ranges, spanning multiple snacking categories such as high-protein ‘weight-loss’ bars, cookies, biscuits, and ‘skinny teas.’ Do you need them if you’re trying to shed a few kilos?
Weight gain works like this: if you regularly eat more calories than your body uses throughout the day, your body will store the excess calories as fat over time. As humans, we do this rather well, and, at present, we are living in a global obesity epidemic, with recent figures from 2016 reported by the WHO as 1.9 billion people worldwide living with tremendous excess weight on their bodies.
The simple answer (too simple, if you ask me) is to encourage people to “eat less and move more”—which is a great piece of advice in theory. However, most people don’t know how to cut back on their habitual snacking or portion sizes, and often feel powerless in the face of food. Enter branded foods that you are told you can eat “guilt-free”. The global market size for weight-loss foods is around $192.2 billion, projected to reach $295 billion by 2027, as per 2019 figures from Allied Market Research. Interestingly, this industry is expected to grow in China and India due to improved income and growing fitness industries in both countries.
Now, having extra weight on your body isn’t always a problem for your health, but it can lead to diseases, decrease mobility, increase aches and pain, or affect your view of your body and impact your confidence. Food marketers know this, sometimes creating dramatic or unrealistic claims supporting the aspiration of losing weight. In the social media age, these companies rope in influencers to advertise their products. This feels more realistic than watching a celebrity endorse a brand on television, as we have built enough media literacy over decades to understand that a celeb has been paid to say good things about the product.
The dangerous thing about social media influencers is they are projected as ‘regular people’, and we are more likely to trust them compared to traditional advertising. A 2022 report by YouGov UK found that 62% of social media users trust influencers more than celebrities.
As a consumer, it is your job to sift through this deluge of information while keeping an open mind. Certain things stand out: A false weight-loss promise will promise that consuming their product will help you lose weight without dieting or exercise, that weight loss is permanent, their product works for everyone, or that you can lose “30 pounds in 30 days”.
Sadly, you must understand that no product, pill, powder, or food listed as a weight-loss food can help you lose weight; if weight loss does occur, it will not be permanent. Why’s that? Let’s imagine replacing “weight-loss food” with “broccoli.” Eating more broccoli will not cause you to lose weight if you’re still consuming all the other high-calorie, highly processed food items littering your pantry. And if broccoli can’t achieve that, food marketed for its weight loss properties won’t either.
Dr. John Berardi, the founder of Precision Nutrition, advises, “Don’t mow your lawn when your house is on fire,” which means don’t worry about things like weight-loss foods or fat-burning foods if your overall diet isn’t conducive to positive health outcomes or weight loss. Instead, worry about whether you’re consuming adequate amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean cuts of meats, complex carbohydrates, and essential heart-healthy fats.
Detoxing is another area of wellness that has been aggressively mythologised on social media. Clients who lean towards detoxing have told me they do it to feel lighter, have more energy, and lose weight, all of which sound great, but the results are short-lived. Plenty of companies sell detox products, and people get swept up in juice detoxes, cleanses, enemas, and the like, without stepping back to ask themselves a few fundamental questions.
What are you detoxing for, exactly? What are the toxins that are in your body that need to come out? Is there evidence-based, science-backed research showing that your chosen form of detoxing actually rids you of these toxins? How long does the effect last, what’s the prescribed dose/frequency of detoxing, and do you have any tests or follow-up procedures to tell you if it’s been successful (these are just a handful of questions that I have).
In truth, we have a liver and kidneys that do our detoxing for us; however, if your reason for detoxing is to “give them a break” from processed food, junk food, or alcohol, you have to wonder what you’re doing the other 360 days of the year (remember: don’t mow your lawn when your house is on fire.)
The only real detoxes that are clinically proven are medically supervised ones for drug and alcohol addictions, not for binge-eating nachos on a Saturday night. As Dr. Carola Collins, MD, a doctor who practises family medicine in Toronto, Canada, puts it: “Detoxes and cleanses make absolutely no physiological sense. Those who peddle these products do so with financial gain to themselves and potential serious health consequences to those who fall victim to their claims. Body organs don’t ‘need a break.’ If they ‘take a break’, it’s called organ failure and that’s life-threatening.”