After dealing with vaccine misinformation across social media during the pandemic, Jonathan Bailor argues we now need to turn our attention to wider health misinformation spread by influencers online.

The pandemic showed us that health misinformation kills. But aside from COVID, there is harmful health misinformation every minute of every day being spread – for profit – around fad diets by wellness influencers. Those influencers are giving medical advice without a licence. That is unacceptable. And it kills.

The number of fad diets is on the rise, fuelled by social media. At the same time, diabetes and obesity in the UK have reached unprecedented levels; obesity now takes more lives each year than smoking.

What is the connection, you may ask? Fad diets may yield short-term weight loss. But nobody's goal is to lose weight temporarily only to gain back even more. Fad diets deepen the cycle of weight gain and obesity, and ultimately shorten lives. We must break this connection. COVID proved the need for social media warnings when 'vaccine experts' spread harmful disinformation. We need the same safety measures when 'diet experts' – whose only qualification is popularity – peddle harmful quick-fix diets.

Diets are, by nature, temporary. Therefore, their results are, by nature, temporary. Relying solely on white-knuckle willpower dieting is a doomed project from the start. Instead of allowing "the popular kids" to peddle the latest damaging diets, we need to promote evidence-based body positivity along with sustainable better habits. To save lives, it's time to bring the fad diet industry, and the influencers who support it, to account.

Let's start with the intermittent fasting fad; a euphemism for time-bound anorexia. Many big names like Jennifer Anniston and Kourtney Kardashian sing the praises of this "just stop eating" trend to their colossal online audiences, but nobody should listen.

If you eat largely processed fake-foods, then of course, eating less of them will help you to lose weight. Similarly, if an alcoholic only drinks during certain periods of the day, then they may marginally delay liver damage. But they hasn't solved their problem.

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More dangerously, intermittent fasting is associated with an unstable, erratic relationship with food. Those especially attracted to intermittent fasting can have pre-existing eating disorders, and fasting could kill them.

Juice detoxing is another example; celebrities like Colin Farrell and Owen Wilson all publicly swear by it. Here you also "just stop eating" but then you drink only fruit juices. Certainly, this may help you to shed pounds short-term, but most people will feel groggy and suffer brain fog as their mind struggles to survive while starving. Juicing also packs your blood with far too much sugar, which can lead to an increased risk of diabetes: In 2013, researchers found that fruit juice consumption was linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Every day, there seems to be a new diet that celebrities and Instagram models promise will make you slimmer, better looking, and altogether 'weller'. But here's the kicker; they are completely unsustainable, and that's why they fail. Perhaps that is part of the business model; as one fad fails, demand is created for the next fad.

The truth is that people don't fail diets, rather, diets fail people. Diets have for too long been associated with simply eating less (or not at all), rather than eating better.

According to Doctors at Harvard Medical School in the US, when the brain detects starvation, fad diets begin to require impossible levels of willpower to maintain. Then, when the diet inevitably fails, the individual is left with a worsened sense of the body shame that caused them to diet in the first place. So of course, when another 'miracle diet' comes around the corner, they will be even more susceptible to deadly fad diet manipulation.

At every step of this process, celebrities and influencers will be growing their following and generating revenue. They will also continue to promote themselves as the gold standard to which the average person should aspire. For those who balance their careers with family, and who don't have the privilege of personal chefs, dieticians and trainers, attempting outlandish fad diets will only exacerbate that depressing and deadly cycle.

I believe the celebrity-based fad diet industry speaks to the deeper shame-based materialistic neuroses in our culture. We get sold useless products and quick-fix lifestyles to treat our deeper unmet psychological needs. If you have any form of physical or mental insecurity, there is always someone who will try to exploit it for profit. Steps must be taken to protect vulnerable people from this exploitation.

Social media sites have spent the last year warning us when unqualified individuals give us medical advice about vaccines. It's time they did the same when unqualified individuals give us medical advice about nutrition and weight loss, and brought beauty influencers and self-appointed diet guru celebrities into line – for the sake of our health, and our lives.

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