by Lorna Breeze, Dietitian.
I am lucky (or unlucky some may say) to have grown up in an era of social media; Myspace, Facebook, Bebo, Instagram, Twitter – I’ve used them all! Having said that, it did take me a while to get used to the concept of using social media as a professional. As a teenager I used social media to connect with friends and family and upload pictures. In that respect, not much has changed as I still use it to keep in touch with family and friends, particularly those who have moved overseas, and I still upload pictures; however these days my pictures just happen to be of food (mostly)!
An astounding amount of people use social media; 52 million people in the UK use at least one form of social media. I envisage captivated audiences scrolling through newsfeeds around the UK, and I would say almost all of these newsfeeds are bound to be filled with the latest nutrition myths!
Take the example in the image below. A huge newspaper headline about an instagram post from Kim Kardashian in which she was seen sucking on an “appetite suppressant” lollipop. This was no doubt an advert she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for. Does this promote a healthy attitude towards food? No. Does Kim Kardashian even use these herself? Probably not. Will fans of the Kardashians feel like they should do this in order to look like them? Probably. With mental health conditions such as eating disorders and body dysmorphia on the rise, it’s not surprising that people want to find a quick fix to their dream body. However this is not the way and it is important for people to adopt an attitude towards food and their body which brings health and happiness. I believe that by promoting positive, attainable nutrition messages through social media we can combat the negative nutrition myths that are available across these platforms, and help to change people’s attitudes towards nutrition whilst pointing them to trusted and reliable sources of information.
I first became familiar with using social media as a professional through my voluntary role as PR Officer for the British Dietetic Association (BDA) Glasgow & West of Scotland Branch. At that time information was communicated to members through targeted emails and newsletters. However we now have a Facebook and Twitter account which enables us to communicate with a wider audience quickly and easily.
You may well think, what use is it that to me? However, I believe that having other health care professionals and members of the public familiar with the term ‘Dietitian’, and by giving them insight into the wide scope of our role, we can positively promote and our profession and encourage trust. I also think it helps us to connect with others, understand what information people are being exposed to and identify new opportunities.
I previously touched briefly upon uploading images to social media… some of you may be familiar with Instagram which is arguably the newest of the main social media platforms. For those of you who have never used Instagram it is a platform for image uploading (inspirational captions not mandatory!). A few years ago and after much deliberation I chose to create a professional Instagram platform (@makinghealthabreeze – pun intended!). Before starting out I internally argued the pros and cons of a professional account and eventually came to the conclusion; what harm can it do to upload accurate, evidence based nutritional information and share it with the public?
Now I upload images of food (both homemade and restaurant bought), with captions which include evidence based information; including recipes and hints and tips on how to achieve a healthy balanced diet. Although some of my followers are my very supportive friends and family (who were not in any way bribed to follow me….), I know some of my followers who comment on my posts genuinely do try out my recipes and are interested in the information that I publish.
On occasion I have been known to upload other images! (Shock, horror…. a Dietitian has a life outside of food!!) These tend to be ‘every so often’ and give a snippet into my life. I do this as when I think of the people I follow (not all of whom are Dietitians), I realise that I enjoy reading their posts and I am actually interested in the diversity of their life/personality/hobbies and I think it is important to keep social media real! Not many Dietitians live on kale and grains, avoid alcohol and exercise for 4 hours everyday. I’m sure there are some out there and that is fine, but for Joe Blogg’s this is not always realistic nor required for a healthy life! We have jobs, lives, families and other stuff going on and it’s important to share these with followers to keep some normality/sanity! I share the odd picture of a walk in the park, a wedding, meals out, hen dos, a rare selfie or two… but in the main, the majority of my images are of food/hints and tips that are relevant to Dietetics.
If you are thinking of starting a professional social media account, whatever platform that may be, I think it is good to write about current trends, nutrition myths, and topics that audiences will be interested in, in order to entice people to your feed and to reading what you have to say. Ask yourself, what do you want to achieve from social media?
You want to network with other Dietitians/ health care professionals? – I suggest Twitter
Spread public health messages? – I suggest Instagram
I have both!
Despite Instagram being my go to choice for social media these days I actually started with my own professional Twitter account (You can check this out for some inspiration at @LornaEBreezeRD). I like Twitter as I can follow hashtags that I am interested in, for example; #TrustaDietitian or #DietitiansWeek. There are also hashtags for specific meetings or events e.g. #BDAAGM and you can join Twitter chats with Dietitians around the UK; take a look at @RDUKChat for information on upcoming Twitter chats and use the hashtag #RDUK when joining in. Twitter and social media in general is a great way to learn from other like minded multi disciplinary professionals.
Are you interested in promoting the profession and evidence based information, connecting with others, or keeping up to date with the latest trends, research or nutrition news? Then why not try out a social media platform. Take a look at each to see what you’re comfortable with and read the BDA’s social media guidance prior to starting; it’s a complex world out there and it is important to make sure you act professionally and within your code of conduct when posting online.
The BDA’s 14 day Instagram challenge info is also great for those who opt to use that platform:
You might also want to sign up for Google Alerts for “Nutrition. This was one of the most interesting and thought provoking outlets I found when I was getting into social media as a professional; it definitely sparked my enthusiasm to ensure we Dietitians have a presence and encouraged me to get evidence based nutrition messages out there as it because very obvious that the myths are way more prevalent than the truth!