Media Mishaps: Fad Dieting — Plead the Fifth or Full Disclosure?

by Bess on March 21, 2011 · 22 comments

Whether it’s the cabbage soup diet (I cringe to picture what one’s urine smells like from that) or the grapefruit diet or Snooki’s cookies or low carb or the no carbs left behind diet plan, fad diets have always held a prominent spot in the media and, like the Biebs, don’t seem to be disappearing any time soon.

Most recently, media outlets including Glamour (Why Is Everyone Going Vegan?), Us Magazine, and Oprah (Oprah’s Vegan Challenge) have been buzzing with what they are touting as a quick and surefire way to drop the lbs: veganism. While my blog’s tagline may be “because vegetables are the new black,” I will not deign to condone the viewpoint that a plant-based diet should be solely looked at as a fad diet. Rather, for many (myself included), veganism is a lifestyle for a variety of reasons, and health (which is not always tied to weight loss) is just one of many.

As for other fad diets, I just saw a headline in the new issue of Health Magazine that said (get ready for this): “Eat your way slim on fast food!”

However, the attention on veganism and other diets (gluten-free comes to mind) in the media — and on blogs — can’t help but leave many bloggers curious to try these tactics out for themselves. And herein lies a conundrum: When you are publicly posting about a new way of eating that you are embarking on for vanity purposes or out of curiosity because of the buzz…do you feel obliged to explain that to your readers…or do you go out of your way to hide this information (e.g. using other justifications like “food allergies”)?

We talk a lot at Hollaback about blogging responsibly. What do you feel is a blogger’s responsibility to their readers when trying on every new hot “diet” for size? Should they be honest about dangerous side effects or relapses into disordered eating…or should that information be kept private?

Do you think the media has gotten out of hand with promoting both fad diets or lifestyle choices as fad diets? And are bloggers doing the same?

Holler back!

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Becca March 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I think that the key thing with a blog is that every post comes with its own disclaimer – “these are my experiences only; your mileage may vary”. I suppose it’s the difference between a comment piece and an actual article in a newspaper.

Becki March 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm

It also depends on the purpose of your blog, I think. I’m trying to explore sustainable life change and sustainable weight loss (a double entendre there, because I’m also looking at a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle as well), and faddy diets just don’t fit into it. However whenever I try different things, I make my readers aware of what those are and the results. So far good ol’ calorie counting is winning it for me – but as Becca says, one size does not fit all!

MelissaNibbles March 21, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I think a responsible blogger lets their readers know when they’re making any dietary change. Plus, they’re usually looking for feedback and support.
I really don’t understand why people are eating gluten free for no reason all of a sudden. Like, “Oh! I made these gluten free brownies! Here’s the recipe” without any explanation as to why they’re making gluten free food. It just looks like they’re jumping onto a fad diet.

Phoebe March 23, 2011 at 2:28 am

I agree 100% that I find gluten-free cooking by those without celiac disease truly bizarre. Fad veganism is more understandable to me because it seems like everyone at least knows someone vegan (for example – my own brother and his wife are vegan) but going gluten-free when there is no medical reason to do so seems bizarre. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think there’s any health benefit whatsoever to eating gluten-free if you do not have an intolerance to it, which I believe the majority of people do not.

My take on the situation is that food bloggers are always looking for something new to challenge themselves or create new content with, and so adding any kind restriction is a fun new challenge or hoop to jump through. Still it seems weird to me.

Melie March 21, 2011 at 6:51 pm

I just hate it how much every thing that is being published is somehow connected to weight loss. Meatless Mondays and drop 5 pounds. Switch your burger with tofu and drop 130 pounds. It’s just stupid. And misleading! And apart from the health and environmental benefits you can get from a lower-meat diet, which are obscured these people are not warned that it is perfectly possible to be unhealthy on a vegetarian or (much less but still) vegan diet. Chips are vegan. So is coke!

My blog is not really about food and though I have written a couple of posts about my food preferences and the meat industry, I have not changed my lifestyle while I blog and I have not linked my posts to how I feel or how much I weigh so if I want to be honest, I’ll admit that it never really crossed my mind. And the bloggers I do follow are really consistent about the way they eat and why. I am elitist about who and why I follow, what can I say? :-) But I believe that if the blogger makes the change for a reason, even if it is I just want to know if I can do it or I want to see if I can drop those 5 pounds advertized , as long as they say it clearly it’s ok.

Oops! I got carried away again… Sorry for the longest comment again.. :)

D March 21, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I think it depends on the goal of the blogger, although as many of the hollaback posts have pointed out, a lot of bloggers have no idea what their ‘big picture’ is. I think if it’s just a fun fitness/food blog that isn’t built on the principle of giving advice, then they don’t need to tell us the reasons for dietary changes. But if the blog is all about showing their entire life through each bite, or being a weight loss inspiration (or ‘healthy’) inspiration then I think it shows integrity if they are forthcoming about things. And I’d much prefer bloggers just say “I felt fat and my face was broken out so I thought, what the hell, I’ll cut out dairy and wheat” rather than “I felt bloated and my glow was gone and I just didn’t feel as peppy as normal so my holistic counselor/wellness advisor/completely unqualified guru told me to cut out blah blah blah…”. We all know why you’re cutting it out so at least admit it up front. If you want to accept compliments for being an inspiration, you have to tell people what you’re up to!

MelissaNibbles March 22, 2011 at 9:06 am

I love when you comment D. I really wish you had a blog of your own because I know it would be badass. I agree with everything you said here.
MelissaNibbles´s last post ..What Would Mom Do

D March 22, 2011 at 7:57 pm

What a nice thing to say! I’ve wanted to write a blog for SO LONG but I feel kind of hesitant because I’m just not sure I’d want everyone in my ‘real life’ to read it, you know? It feels like blogs are 50% about the content and 50% about the ‘author’ and as much as I would love to write a blog, I’m not sure I would want to be super involved in it in a public way. I wouldn’t want to splash pictures of myself all over a blog or reveal that many details; I’m more interested in discussions and writing, which doesn’t seem to lend itself to a great blog. I feel like so many ‘smaller’ blogs discuss great ideas/topics but don’t get the reader involvement/recognition that they deserve because the author didn’t pimp herself out enough, which I think would make me frustrated/sad if that happened to me (not saying I’d necessarily have an awesome blog, but you know where I’m coming from…). Also, I attend grad school full-time, work as a grad research assistant, work at a second job…etc…I’m not sure I could do a blog justice at this point in my life. Maybe/hopefully one day! Thanks for the nice comment girl.

Phoebe March 23, 2011 at 2:30 am

I totally agree with Melissa. I am always pleased when I see you have left a comment on a post here (and I think on other blogs too – though I can’t know if you’re the same “D” or not).

D March 23, 2011 at 2:53 am

Haha, I’ve never seen another “D”, clearly I spend too much time on blogs! I appreciate your nice comment! I think when summer rolls around and I have a tiny bit more spare time in the evenings instead of class, I will figure out how to have the kind of blog I would want to read, and be able to dedicate some time to it. Until then, I will be an ‘anonymous’ commenter! Hah. By the way, my full name is Daniella…but my friends/boyfriend/family just call me “Dee” anyway, so I’m not being weird just using an initial!

Cynthia March 22, 2011 at 12:04 am

I think bloggers should be responsible and be honest with their readers. They can also be honest about why they are trying it out and what the pros and cons are of trying the diet. I would not appreciate a blogger trying a new diet but attributing it to something else. Just stand behind your reasons for doing something.

Ashley @ Nourishing The Soul March 22, 2011 at 3:34 am

As a psychologist who works with people with eating disorder, I find it very important for transparency in blogging. I see every day the impact that the media can have on those who are vulnerable to such messages. And bloggers are part of “the” media. The internet is one form of media, and a powerful one at that. While in the end it’s a joint responsibility of bloggers and readers, bloggers need to carefully consider how going on “fad diets” can be interpreted by readers.

Becki March 22, 2011 at 10:10 am

Yes, I’ve not thought of it like that, but you are absolutely right. As well as the right to put our voices out there, we have to be careful that our message doesn’t cause unintended effects. We have to balance free speech with the responsibility that comes with that, really. Interesting.

Gavi @ Gavi Gets Going! March 22, 2011 at 7:45 pm

This is a very interesting topic, and I so appreciate reading all of the other comments! This brings to my mind the differences–and overlap–between “a diet” (as in a meal plan/program for losing weight) and one’s diet (the foods and eating behaviors and practices that one enjoys in general on a more permanent basis). When I was losing weight through Weight Watchers, I was encouraged to only make changes to my diet that I could live with for the rest of my life. As a result, my “diet”–my weight-loss program–morphed into my everyday diet, as I eliminated processed and fried foods and focused on eating whole foods (predominantly fruits, veggies, lean protein, fat free dairy, and whole grains). I lost 60 pounds in the process, but more than anything I really learned how and what to eat for longterm health and satisfaction. For me, my “diet”–my temporary weight-loss program–became my diet of everyday foods and eating practices.

I know that this is not the same for everyone, but, like others have said, I would appreciate some transparency on the issue from food bloggers. When I read other people’s food blogs, I want to be able to distinguish between what the blogger eats consistently during his/her everyday life, and what he or she eats as part of a diet plan or fad to lose weight. I want to be reading about other people who are interested in making longterm lifestyle changes rather than finding quick fixes for temporary weight loss because that is how I believe change is best achieved. If someone decides to try a new diet or eating program to lose weight or feel better, that’s great–but I would like to know about it. I really think honesty is the best policy!

I hope this made sense. Thanks for this awesome conversation!
Gavi @ Gavi Gets Going!´s last post ..Pirate’s Cove 30k

Bess March 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Really great commentary on this. Gavi, very good point on bringing up the distinction between “a diet” and “diet” and how sometimes the two are intertwined.

Megan@Dirty Dishes Daily March 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I think that we can get caught up in the obsessive aspect of dieting. Blogging everything we eat and every calorie we burn can easily create a blogger with disordered eating and a reader into a disordered eater. It’s fine line that is hard to find.

marie March 23, 2011 at 1:18 am

I’ve read more bad advice on healthy living blogs than anywhere else in the media. They dodge accountability with that “I’m not an RD…this is just what works for me…” disclaimer, but that’s bullshit. They KNOW many of their readers are young and impressionable, and are new to running, exercising and dieting. They say “I’m not an expert, don’t take my advice;” and then they go and offer up tips on marathon training and meal planning. The disclaimer keeps them from getting sued, but it doesn’t keep impressionable young people from trying to mimic everything they do. While I personally don’t take advice from bloggers, a lot of people do, so I absolutely think they should disclose the risks involved, but it seems like most of them are more interested in making it look effortless.
marie´s last post ..beating deaf- blind- retarded- dead horses

D March 23, 2011 at 3:06 am

Great comment, and I agree. It’s like what a previous commenter said – these blogs are *part* of the media and so they definitely have the potential to be as bad as, or worse, when it comes to doling out advice. Just like how you can find a study to support pretty much any dumbass idea, you can find a blog that will link to it.

I commented on one “big” blog asking her opinion on teen health bloggers, which I find totally weird. This blogger has good enough intentions, but her message is definitely about empowering girls so I wanted to hear her thoughts. I don’t think her blog is a bad example in any way, but a lot of related blogs could definitely be construed to be, and when you have young girls joining the “blog community” as “healthy living bloggers”, I wonder about how the ideas promoted are affecting girls in a way that even traditional media can’t. Girls can access magazines and tv shows and get negative messages, but is it even worse when they are getting subtle, but negative, ideas from women who feel somehow relatable? Women who respond to their comments, tweet them back, and so on. I feel like, while a lot of girls are unfortunately affected by magazine photoshopping and the like, it’s more common knowledge now that models are airbrushed and that images are altered and unattainable. But…if they are interacting in the same ‘community’ as older women who may or may not have disordered pasts or presents and are not admitting to current diets/fads/etc, who is going to tell them that what they see there isn’t ‘normal’ either? We know that having stick thin legs, space between our thighs, jutting bones, etc. is an ‘unhealthy byproduct of the media’. But who is telling girls that it’s not necessarily healthy/necessary to run a race every weekend? To only ever eat 1/2 a banana or to only eat off salad plates? To spend exorbitant amounts of money on tiny portions of speciality foods dolloped on top of hideous looking oatmeal? This behaviour is SO normalized on blogs that it erases that safety buffer of ‘normal women’ between young girls and the media.

MelissaNibbles March 23, 2011 at 8:39 am

When you get a chance, email me. I know of an opportunity with a few other bloggers you might be interested in.
MelissaNibbles´s last post ..What Would Mom Do

Hannah March 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I totally agree with you D!

I am a teen, and I have definitely been adversely affected by the “healthy living” blogworld. While I have learned to put peanut butter in my cereal, I have also misconstrued what advice is put out there, at the expense of my own health. Though now I am a blogger, but it’s mostly my “musings” and DEFINITELY won’t, and will never be, a blog about what I eat at every meal.

Uttoran Sen March 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

any thing that has a possible side effect should never be kept secret. bloggers has a responsibility towards their readers, but keeping a side effect away, and knowingly, is nothing less than a crime.

Also, perhaps it is time enough that the readers to start using their brains, if they still believe on the old philosophy that – “it is on the internet, so it is true” then one of these days, some Ir-responsible blogger will surely mess up their health.
Uttoran Sen´s last post ..Review of TRIA Laser Hair Removal System

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