Public Deceptions: Diet Lies From Social Media

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The advertising industry isn’t exactly known for its honesty, yet many rely on ads for vital information. Think about the numerous direct-to-consumer medication ads urging viewers to ask their doctors about a medication based solely on selective, optimistic outcomes and a quickly read list of side effects. This isn’t how medical treatment should work.

Lies and misinformation are rampant in the advertising industry, but one especially guilty corner is the diet industry. Just look at social media–while elsewhere diet ads nearly always feature fine print noting that the results shown aren’t typical, on social media brands often skip the fine print. Instead, all you’ll see are the atypical results and bad advice. It’s time to tell the truth; here are some of the lies you’ll find when you log on to social media.

Artificial On Atkins

The traditional food pyramid has stuck around so long for a reason—moderation and balance, the foundation of the pyramid—work. That’s why any ad that vilifies an entire category of foods should set off alarm bells.

That’s exactly what you’ll find, however, when you head over to the Atkins Insider Instagram page. As one post reads, “I’ve got 99 problems and they all involve carbs.” Atkins prides itself on being a high protein diet that cuts out carbohydrates, but this isn’t a diet strategy that’s likely to lead to long-term change. Rather, fully balancing all of the different food groups—and carbohydrates form the base of the food pyramid—is necessary for truly healthy eating.

Atkins, however, doesn’t seem especially concerned with standard metrics for health. Right next to its condemnation of carbs you’ll find an Atkins approved recipe for chocolate cake. While the recipe fits into the Atkins framework by boasting only 2.5 net carbs, the recipe is stuffed with artificial sweeteners—specifically sucralose (branded as Splenda)—hardly a recipe for a healthy diet. You could likely do the same thing with Sweet `N Low, a popular sugar replacement, but it won’t be any better for you. From no carbs to yes cake, Atkins’ social media presence pushes a diet with little real nutritional grounding. Even if you lose weight, you won’t be on the road to health.

Hormonal Fixes

One diet solution that has been making the rounds for decades is the human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, diet. Starting in the 1950s, a small group of doctors began recommending a combination of dietary changes and hormone injections or drops for sustained weight gain and added muscle mass. A starvation diet by nature, the HCG diet relies on a very low calorie regimen, claiming the hormone will stave off hunger pangs and mood changes. Sure, you’ll lose weight, but it’s certainly not clear that the HCG has anything to do with it.

The HCG diet has been around a long time, but even this brand has gotten social media savvy, with a range of different faces representing the product. One prominent channel is the HCG Diet Info Twitter stream. Here you’ll find links to information and forums about the use of this hormone for diet purposes and how you can purchase it. A general guide to eating while taking HCG, for example, sends you to advice about the very low calorie diet–500 calories a day–that the diet is structured around. The science here is easy; since you’re starving yourself, you’ll lose weight, but it’s very unsafe and can actually cause you to reset your metabolism and pack on the pounds when this diet is over.

The HCG diet is fundamentally unproven, and today is considered to be an exclusively homeopathic remedy for weight loss (it does have some valid medical uses). Though you may still see it advertised, the FDA has labeled presenting HCG as a weight loss solution as a form of fraud. It also comes with a list of side effects. Avoid this non-remedy at all costs when looking for diet plans.

Seventeen Days Won’t Do It

The 17 Day Diet by Dr. Mike Moreno is not the hallmark of a doctor well-informed about nutrition. To begin with, diets require a lifelong change in how you eat–you can’t diet in the short term, for seventeen days, and then expect to keep the weight off. Head over to Dr. Mike’s Facebook page, and you’ll find he sometimes runs longer challenges, such as a recent 28 day weight loss challenge. Still, a month won’t cut it, and the advice he markets alongside this challenge is questionable.

On day 23 of the 28 day challenge, Dr. Mike’s Facebook recommends not eating carbs after 2 PM. The reason? Lower energy expenditures late in the day make it harder for your body to burn off those evil, evil carbs. What anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of how the body works knows, however, is that the body stores any excess calories taken in during the day as fat, whether they come from carbs or any other source. Ultimately, the key to weight loss is taking in fewer calories than you expend, so if you’re ahead on calories–carbs or not—they’ll be stored up.

Scads Of Diet Scams

Ultimately, the most important things that you can do to achieve weight loss are changing your diet by monitoring calories and increasing exercise. Adding a supplement, taking hormones or eating exclusively grapefruit or soup aren’t sustainable solutions. They won’t create fitness changes that last.

Always approach diet advertising with a skeptical eye, especially on social media where they tend to come with fewer warnings. These companies want to sell you something. Whether it works or not, and even whether it’s safe, are of little interest to diet companies.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.