Browsing Instagram could sabotage your weight loss — and browsing Reddit instead could make you successful


  • A PhD student writes on Quartz that Reddit can be a helpful source of health information and inspiration, while Instagram can potentially be dangerous.
  • That's partly because Redditors are generally open-minded and curious, while Instagram stars may be selling products with minimal health benefits.
  • At the same time, researchers say browsing Reddit can also be counterproductive if you're starting to develop a negative body image or focus too much on your weight.
  • Consult a healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.

Over on Quartz, a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh makes the case for Reddit as a source of knowledge and inspiration for weight loss.

Tim Squirrel, whose specialty is "the construction of authority and expertise in online communities," outlines a number of reasons why browsing Reddit can be helpful — and, conversely, why browsing Instagram can be harmful.

"Searching for diet advice on Instagram has become the nutritional equivalent of self-diagnosing your medical ailments through Google," Squirrel writes.

And yet. Squirrel notes that Instagram stars are often paid to tout the benefits of the "health" products and regimens they're promoting — like tea detoxes — meaning the actual benefits may be nonexistent.

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Shocking celebrity weight-loss transformations
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Mama June in 2013


Mama June in 2017

The "Honey Boo Boo" star documented her weight loss journey on her very own reality show! She is now down to a size 4 -- and she looks incredible!


Khloe Kardashian in 2012


Khloe Kardashian in 2016

Hard work does pay off! The youngest Kardashian sister is obsessed with exercising and documents all her workout sessions on social media.


Lena Dunham in 2015


Lena Dunham in 2017

The "Girls" star lost a significant amount of weight after going on a holistic diet to help alleviate symptoms of endometriosis. 


Wendy Williams in 2012


Wendy Williams in 2017

The TV personality revealed in 2015 that she lost 50 pounds over the course of three years with a healthy diet that doesn't include refined sugars, meat, dairy or "eating after dark." It looks like she's been committed to the strict diet. She looks better than ever in 2017!


Ricki Lake in 2010


Ricki Lake in 2011

The actress lost 20 pounds when she appeared on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2011.


Jordin Sparks in 2008


Jordin Sparks in 2017

Hard work pays off! "American Idol" alum began her weight loss journey by walking around her neighborhood and the rest was history! Her favorite workout? Zumba.


Sara Rue in 2003


Sara Rue in 2016

The "Rules of Engagement" star is a total fan of Jenny Craig for its simplicity. She looks incredible and totally glowing!


Jonah Hill in 2014


Jonah Hill in 2017

Talk about a transformation! Hill has lost weight and gained weight through the years -- depending on the movie he's working on -- but his latest transformation is absolutely jaw-dropping.


Christina Aguilera in 2012


Christina Aguilera in 2013

Smoke show! The songstress dropped 20 pounds over the course of one year. Doesn't she look incredible?!


Miranda Lambert in 2012


Miranda Lambert in 2013

The country crooner slammed critics who accused her of having weight loss surgery. She revealed that she dropped the pounds the old-fashioned way -- eating right and working out with her trainer!



Here's why Squirrel advocates using Reddit instead, using the subreddit r/paleo, which is a forum devoted to discussion of the paleo diet, as a case study. (It's worth noting here that US News & World Report says the paleo diet can be difficult to follow and may be somewhat nutritionally incomplete and unsafe.)

Perhaps most importantly, Redditors (presumably) aren't selling anything. They're simply there to share knowledge. They're also relatively open to new ideas, as long as those ideas are backed by concrete evidence.

It's important to approach both Reddit and Instagram with some amount of skepticism

Technically, you can find helpful health information on Instagram and harmful health information on Reddit, so it's hard to make sweeping generalizations about either resource.

Squirrel doesn't mention that Reddit can potentially be a dangerous source of health information and inspiration. As K. Alicia Fetters at Women's Health reported, some nutritionists say browsing r/loseit, which is a forum dedicated to weight loss, could contribute to negative body image and to placing too much focus on weight at the expense of other health markers.

But Squirrel's observations about r/paleo, and about Reddit more generally, reminded me of something I learned a few months ago, when I spoke to about 20 regular contributors to Quora, Reddit, and Wikipedia.

Many said they'd joined these sites because they enjoyed sharing their knowledge. To them, the sheer exchange of information with similarly curious people was gratifying — though many also reaped unexpected career benefits from their contributions.

Related: Foods that won't make you gain weight

Foods that won't make you gain weight
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Foods that won't make you gain weight


Calories per air-popped cup: 30

If it's not smothered in buttered, doused in seasoning or salt, popcorn makes for a great snack. If air-popped, the light, low-calorie snack can be a good source of fiber, without the cholesterol. Plus, it's considered a whole grain! 


Calories per stalk: 6

Since celery is mostly water, the fibrous plant has been known to offer many health benefits.  

Cottage cheese

Calories per 1 cup: 222
Calories per 1 cup, low-fat: 163

A great source of calcium and vitamins, cottage cheese is a go-to snack for many looking to maintain their weight. High in protein (28 grams in 1 cup of low-fat) it's recommended highly by nutritionists and athletes. The calcium-packed snack will help you feel full as it is "associated with metabolic processes that reduce fat accumulation and accelerate fat loss," according to Authority Nutrition.


Calories per cup: 85

The fruit is low in saturated fat, is a great source of antioxidants and dietary fiber -- and thus, can be a healthy snack for those looking to maintain or even lose weight.


With only 52 calories in half of the fruit, the citrus makes for a refreshing breakfast or snack. Packed with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients, the fruit is known to boost metabolism and lower insulin levels -- thus, actually burning fat! 

Chicken and other lean meats 

Calories in 3 oz of skinless chicken: 142 calories

A healthy source of protein, chicken helps fill you up while giving you energy. Fried chicken doesn't count! 


Calories in 1 cup, cooked: 222

Not only can quinoa help you maintain your weight, but it can help you lose weight as well. Packed with iron and a plethora of amino acids, it can help you say lean and full. 


Calories in a 3 oz serving: 120

Salmon is one of the healthiest foods out there, packed with nutrients and vitamins such as vitamin D. It'll also fill you up, without making you crash. 


Instagram, which isn't a knowledge-sharing site (or at least wasn't designed that way), may be a different story. For example, the Whole30 diet — eating only natural, whole foods for 30 days — is popular on Instagram. (It is pretty, after all.) But this year, US News & World Report ranked Whole30 one of the worst diets, Business Insider's Lydia Ramsey reported.

What's more, as Caroline Praderio reported for INSIDER, Instagram fitness culture can be harmful — not just inspiring — since it may encourage people to evaluate themselves against unattainable standards and engage in unhealthful practices.

The takeaway here is not that you should get all your health and nutrition advice from Reddit. Don't do that. Consult a healthcare professional before making any substantive changes to your diet or overall lifestyle.

That said, if you're interested in learning more about the science behind different diet plans or health products, consider heading over to Reddit to read — or participate in — a healthy debate between curious minds.

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SEE ALSO: 'Quora was the savior': Online communities are supercharging people's careers

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