Who do you look to for health advice? Over the last 10 years or so, the answer to this question has changed dramatically. Think about your own behaviors: Are you calling your doctor to get information on what to do for your health or self-care decisions? More than likely, you’re not.
Today, the biggest source of health information comes from what many people now call “Dr. Google.” And that trend of turning to the internet for information has created a new phenomenon in the world: influencers. Whatever it is you’re searching for, there’s probably an influencer talking about it — and the health world is no exception.
But how do you know if the person you’re listening to really knows what they’re talking about? There are a few things to pay attention to when it comes to understanding if an influencer’s information is sound or not. As someone who has been a health influencer before, I can tell you that there are plenty of people with large followings who don’t really know how to spot quality advice.
But just because someone isn’t a doctor doesn’t mean they are wrong, either. So, how can you tell if they’re right or at least on the right track?
This first one comes with a caveat. Just because someone is a certified personal trainer does not mean they know what they’re talking about with just anything health-related.
But if the person you’re following has accreditations like:
Then, at least you know they’ve put in work to be educated in the way the body works.
The major drawback with someone who has any official accreditation is that, sometimes, they don’t dive back into newer research as it comes out once they’ve got their certification.
That is by no means the case with everyone, but it is something to pay attention to. If the person you’re following hasn’t changed their opinion on much over the years, or especially since they’ve been in school, that could be a red flag that they’re not staying up-to-date with all of the newest information that’s coming out.
This might be the most important thing to look for. The number of times you read something without actual scientific sources to back it up might just astonish you.
Next time you’re reading an article — possibly even on a mainstream health resource created by many people — you might notice that the “evidence” links often just point to other blog posts.
And while those other blog posts might hold sound advice, it could take several click-throughs on various websites before you find one that links back to an actual scientific article or data. So, this is where more problems can pop up.
No one who believes themselves to be an authority on health is trying to misinform anyone. But unless the author of the information you’re reading can point directly to peer-reviewed, well-structured studies with strong data to support a claim, your influencer might not be as valid as you’d like.
But you don’t need to have a science degree or any sort of health certification to pull up these studies. So, influencers without an accreditation can still make valid arguments with solid evidence. Katey Yurko (AKA “The Violet Fog”) is a great example of this. She is someone who doesn’t have a science background and she’s not a certified personal trainer or nutritionist. However, everything she posts is backed up by scientific articles with strong evidence to support her claims.
On top of that, she’s dealt with so many of her own health issues that she taught herself how to understand these things and in turn helps her followers do the same. She shares her own blood work, teaches her audience what she’s learned from practitioners like Nurse Doza at MSW Lounge and is very open with her own journey to optimal health. And while “taking charge of your own health” isn’t an official certification, this type of influencer is very powerful because they’ve been there. They know what you’re going through.
But whenever you’re reading something, especially if it’s from an “influencer,” make sure to check their sources. If you’re not seeing at least some claims backed up by NCBI or PubMed studies, you might want to look for other people to turn to.
We all know that “clout” isn’t everything. But when it comes to figuring out who to follow and who to pay attention to, it’s useful to see who some of the more established online practitioners or health influencers are promoting.
It’s fairly common for a younger influencer with fewer years of professional experience to “break into” the circle of influencers that are already established. If you notice that several of your favorite resources are all putting the same new person on their podcasts, videos, websites, social media, whatever — it’s a good sign that they’re sharing solid advice.
And on that note, just because someone is “new” to an influencer circle does not mean they’re new to science. Sometimes it just takes a while for a really good message to break into the mainstream. So if you see someone new on your feed, give them a chance. Especially if some of your other favorite health influencers all have good things to say about them.
At the end of the day, your health is your decision. There are a lot of people out there preaching all ends of the spectrum when it comes to advice, too. You can find someone who says veganism is the only way, while someone else is promoting the carnivore diet at the same time.
What it all boils down to is this: who is accredited? Who is citing valid sources? And who is well-respected for their work by other health practitioners? These three things are great barometers to start with. And after that, you need to take any and all advice through the lens of what works best for YOU.
If you are feeling great and your blood work reflects that, you can begin to decide for yourself which pieces of advice to take and which to leave. Once you start understanding this level of autonomy, you’ll know what it’s really like to experience the best health outcomes of your life.
About the Author
Allison Wojtowecz is the founder of Flabs to Fitness, Inc., a company that provides personal training and nutrition to private clients as well as various digital marketing services for other health professionals. She has worked with MSW Lounge since 2017 and absolutely loves the community and message they have created. Allison is also a stand up comedian, and her podcast, DeTalks with Allison, is shot at the How Do You Health? studio while she and her funny guests get vitamin IVs. Check it out wherever you get your podcasts!