CW: eating disorders

“I’m 10 pounds heavier than when I was at the gym and embarrassed of my stomach. I couldn’t tell what was angles or curves. Bones were all I wanted and skin was in the way […] But how do you see it when your glasses are foggy and Taylor Swift’s scale says fat?” 

Justine Doiron (source)

A few months ago, Justine Doiron, known as @justine_snacks on TikTok, released a poetic video that explored her love for food. She suggested that it had conquered her relationship with her body, eventually bringing her peace from disordered eating and bodily discomfort. Although not a dietician, rather a recipe developer, Doiron uses her knowledge of food and ingredients to create balanced and comforting recipes to share online. Having a safe online food space, that doesn’t focus on calories, pseudo-scientific health trends and body goals, has become increasingly available (thank goodness). However, with more dieticians now also entering the online stage, does their presence bring a welcome balance to online knowledge? Or is it more problematic than it first might seem?  

Abbey Sharp (@abbeyskitchen), a registered dietician, has become one of the most popular dieticians on the internet. With over 600K subscribers on YouTube and over 700K followers on TikTok, her bio line defines her as a “Wellness culture BS busting dietitian”. Whilst she does share some recipes, her main pursuit is in unsettling the wellness culture space. She reacts to “What I eat in a day” videos and calls out the online habits of body-checking, undereating, and falsified claims about various wellness trends. Her popularity is, perhaps, coupled with an edge of notoriety. After all, no one can pull apart wellness culture without pushing against the tide of misinformed online trends and their purveyors. While Abbey Sharp is not the enemy, the dietician’s ambition to uproot deeply ingrained dietary beliefs can position them as such. Increasingly, the role of the online registered dietician seems more about overturning the spread of harmful misinformation, than it does about necessarily re-establishing what healthy and balanced eating looks like for the regular person.  

With more people online claiming to have knowledge surrounding nutrition, it becomes important to distinguish the differences between nutritionists and registered dieticians. “Nutritionist” is a looser term that can more often be used by anyone with or without a qualification, especially in the US. In the UK, a qualified nutritionist will hold a degree in the subject, whereas, a “registered dietician” has to undergo professional training and further qualifications.  

One of my favourite accounts is Emily English, @emthenutritionist on TikTok. With nearly 500K followers, her account is an example of attainable recipes that are balanced, and don’t play into food trends. With a BSc in Nutrition, her account has some of my favourite recipes that I’ve ever cooked. However, it’s easy to see how helpful accounts like hers can get lost within the online noise. Since nutritionists are not the same as registered dieticians, it can sometimes feel like personally filtering who you choose to listen to online is one of the only sure ways to tailor your For You Page. Similarly, it is not always obvious when you’re watching a video with a recipe that has been created by a qualified nutritionist or registered dietician, or even if an online account says they’re a registered dietician when they’re not. It’s also important to recognise that individuals who claim either qualification won’t provide a one-size-fits-all approach to building a healthy lifestyle and diet.  

Online, the distinction between qualified and hobbyist is severely blurred. And, even if you are listening to a registered dietician or qualified nutritionist online, their advice might not be tailored to your needs and expectations. More information can be provided in a physical copy of a recipe book or a meeting with someone who is qualified in the field, than in an online video that is only 30 seconds long.  

That being said, isn’t it better to have the information accessible than not at all? With an increase in registered dieticians in the online space, there are more individuals who are policing and calling out the spread of misinformed health practices and scientifically-poor wellness trends. Whilst there is still so much in health and wellness spaces that needs undoing, having qualified individuals making scientific information accessible, applicable and easy-to-digest is one hopeful way of making the online health space more sustainable and less volatile.