Fame-envy, trolling and personal insults. All in the name of science right?

Scroll through any nutrition or food-related social media hashtags and you’ll find a veritable feast of dodgy health claims, miracle cures and green juice. Look more closely and you’ll spot something else amongst the #eatclean #fasting and #cleanse wellness gurus of Instagram. They patrol the murky depths of social media comments offering an unrequested public service completely free of charge. They are the #distain #superior #angry #evidence-based celebrity-bashers.

The advent of social media has not only given rise to food faddists but those who vehemently oppose them. The evidence-based crusaders donning their capes and passionately defending the public against the perils of dietary misinformation. The Doctors, Dieticians, Health Editors and Registered Nutritionists are here to save us. An unquestionably noble pursuit of course but how these crusaders go about shielding us from dietary dangers is not only annoying but at times, reckless.


I don’t know you but I hate you because you’re famous

Jamie Oliver has had a stint in the press recently. This time following his appearance before the health and social care committee with partner in crime Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall urging ministers to take a tougher stance on ‘junk food’ advertising aimed directly at children. An important cause worthy of press attention whatever your political leaning.

For some however, taking a pop at a celebrity is of greater importance. Jamie Oliver is not only a Chef, but a celebrity chef and a worthy target to an evidence-based (EB) celebrity basher. On this occasion it was the deputy health editor of major UK tabloid who eagerly declared

“there’s something wrong when privileged celebrity chefs who are m8s with David Cameron are informing public health policy rather than QUALIFIED professionals”

In 140 characters our angry health editor managed to draw attention away from the pressing issues posed by childhood obesity, launch a personal attack on a celebrity and alienate countless Jamie Oliver fans. Way to go!

Sadly this cynical and needlessly personal bashing of celebrities and public figures is not uncommon and is very much alive and well amongst the evidence-based crusaders club; a club of respected, well-educated, professional men and women. And indeed for some, being vexatious has become the cornerstone of their work. Professing you’re evidence-based is the only justification you need for being an obnoxious asshole. Apparently.


Long live the faddist

It’s no secret that the war on wellness is fought at the nutritional frontline by the Dietitians and Registered Nutritionists of this world and in some respects you could at least forgive the Nutritionists for being so pissed off. Studying for 3 to 5 years and getting into enormous debt for a professional title that’s neither respected nor legally protected is a serious slap in the face. When I was a practising Nutritionist I spent an inordinate amount of time simply trying to convince Doctors and Dietitians I had a proper degree and wasn’t about to ‘megadose’ my clients with supplements.

Though things are changing, many of today’s Dietitians and Registered Nutritionists are victims of outdated university curriculums and attitudes that leave them woefully unprepared for the realities of nutrition in the digital age and how nutritional advice is now consumed. Formal language, scientific posters and a few dreary leaflets on healthy eating won’t cut the mustard here. With the advent of social media, the wellness movement has become unrelenting in its championing of the faddist over the qualified professional.

Acclaimed food writer and author Bee Wilson was booed off stage by Madeline Shaw fans at the Cheltenham Literary Festival for questioning the clean eating movement. Image: YouTube

Rules of the game

This is modern nutrition and the rules of the game have changed. Credentials, honesty and accuracy count for very little. A philosophy, a glossy book and an Instagram following count for a lot. Celebrity reigns supreme, the expert does not. Like it or not, and brutal though they are, these are the rules. Criticise them in any way and you forfeit the game.

Celebrity chefs, wellness gurus and advisors are the poster boys and girls of the wellness industry and the temptation to take them down a peg or two is almost overwhelming, especially when they spout dangerous ‘nutribollox’ that makes the blood boil. But to challenge ‘wellness’, its celebrity culture and those who identify with it is a dangerous game. This is something respected food writer Bee Wilson and Dietitian Renee McGregor know all too well when, at the 2016 Cheltenham Literary Festival, they were reduced to tears and booed off stage for daring to question clean eating in front of a crowd of Madeline Shaw disciples. Both were subjected to a torrent of online abuse and body-shaming in the weeks that followed.


Something to believe in

Wellness, like any good cult, is open to everyone. Everyone who toes the line and offers unquestioning devotion to its celebrity ringleaders. Yes, it may seem absurd but what many of the holier-than-thou evidence-based celebrity bashers fail to realise is that not personally believing in the power of celebrity in no way diminishes its hold on those who do. In a world that seems to be spinning faster than anyone can comprehend people need something to escape into, something to believe in. For some that something is religion, spirituality or science but for others it’s celebrity.

Needlessly berating or ridiculing the celebrity culture within the wellness industry is not only done at great personal risk (it’s an easy way to tank your career), but it makes those who do it look jealous, bitter and unprofessional. Worst of all it overshadows important causes and is more likely to push people towards the perils of the wellness industry rather than pull them away.

The game of modern nutrition is being played and evidence-based crusaders have a choice; to push the table over, toss the playing pieces to the floor and lash out at their competitors because they don’t like the rules or take their place at the table and play the game to their advantage.


The supporting cast

Celebrities are rarely the ideal advocates of health and nutrition messages. But celebrities are also the product of those around them; the men and women who advise, plan, brand and market them. It’s well known in the industry for example, that Jamie Oliver is supported by a whole team of Registered Nutritionists, Food Scientists and other experts without whom his food policy campaigning would not have gained traction. To undermine him as our dear health editor did, is to undermine all of these people too.

Jamie Oliver’s supporting cast are an example of a growing number of progressive, savvy evidence-based professionals who, instead of seeking to deride all things celebrity, are using it to their advantage. They’re sitting at the table, they’re playing the game. Jamie Oliver shines the spotlight but it’s the Registered Nutritionists, Dietitians and policy makers who must put on the show.

These people know you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. You don’t complain. You make the most of every opportunity that comes your way even if it less than perfect. It’s hard to make childhood obesity attractive to the media, to make it newsworthy and yet with a bit of give and take Jamie Oliver’s team have achieved just that. Their message may be coming out of the mouth of a dreaded celebrity chef but it’s reaching the ears of those who matter.

New health heroes are emerging. They possess credentials, a sense of humour and they're not afraid to use them! From left to right: Claire Baseley, Dale Pinnock and Charlotte Stirling-Reed.

The savvy ones

Thankfully this savvy attitude is not limited to those who have Jamie Oliver’s ear and a growing number of EB Nutritionists, Dietitians and influencers are tapping into elements of celebrity culture and starting to challenge the status quo. Be it through personal branding, cookbooks or a strong social media presence, the likes of medicinal chef Dale Pinnock  and media Nutritionists Claire Baseley and Charlotte Stirling-Reed are just some of a new breed of health heroes emerging from the shadows and harnessing celebrity tactics to further the evidence-based nutrition message.

This small, but growing number of people are testament to the fact that if you focus the inevitable frustration that comes with the job and keep your cool, great things can happen. No celebrity bashing necessary.