I feel inclined to explore another trend that has caught my attention in the past several months, one that has undoubtedly showed up on your feeds, in conversations, and in other day-to-day encounters and is, therefore, worth talking about: the influencer-driven promotion of supplements. Now, “supplements” is a broad term. There are weight loss supplements, dietary supplements, workout supplements. But the marketing for each reads similarly: You *need* this (insert supplement here) in order to achieve *this* (insert goal here). For some of these supplements, the proposed goal is weight loss, for others it’s increased energy, better gut health, more mental clarity, increased immunity to certain illnesses. I recently saw an influencer-driven video for a dietary supplement that claimed to both increase libido and improve digestion. Odd target combination.
This topic is important because, in the midst of a struggle with an eating disorder and even in recovery, I was susceptible to messaging that seemed aligned with my goal to “be small,” be “healthy,” achieve high levels of energy with ingesting calories. So even in recovery, when the latest “how to choose between these four supergreen powders” or “ vitamins you need to start taking right now” in order to improve mental clarity came up, I was vulnerable to all sorts of these messages, subconsciously equating this as a “healthier” and “safer” way to control my body.
The problem is, as is true with many promoted messages in wellness and diet culture, the advice is often misguided, ill-informed, and in some cases, even dangerous. Does your body actually need a supplement of this vitamin? Do you know what is in this “supergreen blend”? Is this concoction of vitamins, minerals, and who knows what else in this pink drink actually doing what it claims it will do?
It’s no secret that influencer-driven product promotion is effective. Lawyer John VillaFranco who does work with lawsuits within the realm of product advertising says, “Influencers’ voices are arguably more powerful in the dietary supplement space than in more traditional arenas where we see influencer advertising.”
With this being the case, let’s pause and consider these 7 things before you take advice about vitamins or supplements from influencers:
1. Check their credentials
First, we need to consider who is promoting this supplement. Are they a registered dietician? A doctor? Do they have training in the field in which they are providing advice? There are certainly experts who provide advice on TikTok and other social media platforms, but many self-proclaimed health and wellness influences recommending vitamins, juices, and supplements do not have any credentials or training in the field in which they’re feigning expertise.
2. The advice (i.e., “Mix this powder into your water to get rid of all of your bloating”) isn’t individualized or inclusive
Even if the person offering the advice has credentials to be doing do, this advice you are seeing is being put out to a general audience; it is not targeted to you specifically, so even if this is a generally safe product, that does not mean it is necessarily safe for you personally.
3. Assess the product goal
It’s important to assess whether the named goal is, first of all, safe and, second of all, realistic.
If the product is claiming to be an aid in weight loss, the entire goal of the product is not to help you. This is likely diet culture touting their fatphobia and preying on the hope that you will buy into it, too. Is the goal non-specific (Like “make you feel energized”), consider if it makes sense for something this broad to be achieved through the means of one dietary supplement. And if so, what is the thing that is providing the energy? Is it safe and optimal for your body?
4. Everyone is different
Expounding on my above pound, our bodies’ needs are different. Maybe your friend claims extra vitamin D supplements help regulate their moods, but without a blood test to check your own vitamin levels, you don’t know if your body needs more of a specific vitamin. Therefore, you may take some extra vitamins, just to have your body say, “nope, don’t need this,” and expel it anyway. So maybe there is a dietary supplement that has been really helpful for one person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is necessary for you.
5. Money is often a factor
Much of the advice you see from influencers is from a for-profit company. It’s important to consider how this may influence the message you’re seeing. Remembering this can help you accept information with caution.
6. Are there (multiple) credible studies to substantiate the claims?
Is the advice based solely on “personal experience” (Which, eh, if this is an influencer being paid to promote a product, this is questionable), or are they citing (reputable) sources where research supports the safety and efficacy of the product?
7. Is this claim dramatic?
- I have seen so many TikToks where the “catch phrase” for a given product is borderline theatrical in its extremity. For instance:
- “Go from *this* – cue picture of someone who is (attempting to appear) bloated and uncomfortable – to *this* – flash to picture of someone with a flat stomach, visible abs, and a huge smile in three days of taking/drinking this
- “Never be bloated again” with . . .
- “Get glowing skin by taking . . . “
- “Have 8x the energy in your workouts when you take. . .”
- And the list goes on . .
These are all dramatic, non-specific, and written to entice us into listening and are not reflective of any real information. These kinds of claims are used to get our attention, and then the hope is that we will believe them. And while some may have some merit, consider the first six items, as well, before deciding whether this supplement is necessary or healthy for you.
Making an Informed Decision About the Supplements You Do (or Don’t) Take
I know all too well that when in recovery from an eating disorder, it can be easy to transfer the desire to control food intake to a desire to control something that seems “safer” – like dietary, vitamin, workout, and other “wellness” supplements. This can be and often is tempting, too, for those who are not recovering from an eating disorder. And even though these things seem “safer,” than restricting, regulating food intake, it’s crucial to remember to closely vet the information you are learning before bouncing from supplement to supplement, vitamin blend to mix-in powder, and before ordering that pre-workout that your favorite fitness influencer just posted about. It is always a good idea to talk to a trusted dietician or medical professional if you have questions about a vitamin or supplement and in order to make decisions that best suit you and your body.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
How Can Eating Disorder Therapy in Philadelphia, PA Help You?
If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you navigate your own eating disorder recovery journey, our therapists in Pennsylvania are honored to help! You can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.
Other Mental Health Services Provided by Wildflower Therapy, Philadelphia, PA
Life is a unique and sometimes messy journey for each of us; we all have our own individual battles to fight. Our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s challenges and because of that, we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services.
We offer services for eating disorder therapy, services for anxiety, and depression, and have practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health , maternal mental health, therapy for college students and athletes. As well as LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapy. As you can see, we have something to offer just about anyone in our Philadelphia, PA office. Reaching out is often the most difficult step you can take to improve your mental health. We look forward to partnering with you on this journey!