Everywhere you look on social media, you’re going to see health coaches and fitness models raving about the latest program, cleanse, detox, or app that got them “a beach-ready body.
But, can you trust the messages you see from fitness influencers?
Getting in the habit of working out at home during global gym closures throughout the pandemic has created a huge opportunity for just about anyone to become a “fitness influencer” in the rapidly expanding online fitness industry.
However, this opportunity also comes with the downside that not all fitness influencers have reliable, helpful, or even safe advice when it comes to the approaches, programs, and products they recommend.
Before you sign up for your next free challenge or order the latest fad supplement, read our 10 red flags to watch out for in order to make sure you’re staying safe and healthy on the way to your goals.
10 Red Flags To Avoid When Trusting A Fitness Influencer
1. Dubious Credentials
When an influencer’s credentials don’t amount to much more than their number of followers, or their own personal anecdotal experience, it’s worth applying some critical thinking to their messaging.
Do they actually have any education and/or training in their stated field of expertise? Do their credentials come from an established and reputable school/organization?
Some certifying organizations will provide a “credential” after only taking a weekend course or writing a self-guided online test. So it’s important to Google what the letters after a name actually mean.
A lot of fancy letters after a name also don’t make someone trustworthy.
You should also ask what their track record is in helping people get results. Do you see positive testimonials from a range of people with various backgrounds?
2. False Or Exaggerated Transformation Stories
When results seem too good to be true, they usually are.
Sensational claims like “lose 30 lbs in 30 days” are usually designed to sell a product or program.
Even if these results are achieved, they are not achieved in a healthy, sustainable way, and you don’t see the part where weight is regained, often more quickly than it was lost.
Keep in mind that there is a small portion of the population called “hyper-responders”.
These people tend to respond unusually well to ANY training or nutrition program, and these are the people whose results are showcased, but they do not represent the AVERAGE experience.
You’ll certainly never hear about the non-responders – the people who followed the plan or program and didn’t see ANY positive results.
3. Discrediting Other Programs
Many influencers have a “my way or the highway” approach, which means that they think that only their plan or product can work, and any other approach is “stupid” or destined for failure.
When you see that kind of black-and-white thinking, it can be a sign that the influencer is close-minded and unwilling to adjust their thinking, even if the latest research suggests a new or better way.
4. Disregard For Individual Differences
When an influencer suggests that their approach (whether it’s a pill, a program, a product, or a book they’re selling) is guaranteed to work for EVERYONE, that’s a serious red flag.
We all have unique and individual bodies, lifestyles, preferences, and genetics. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach that is going to lead to success for each person.
5. Over-Promotion Of Supplements And Products
Watch out for fitness influencers whose advice is all centered around selling you a specific supplement and/or product, especially if it’s one they’ve developed themselves, or if they get a kickback, commission, or affiliate payment for recommending that one product.
We can certainly vouch for the safety and efficacy of many popular sports supplements, but when an influencer insists that it has to be a particular brand or formulation (using their link or code), then you’ll know it’s more about their ability to make money.
This is not to say that all promotional links and codes are bad.
But you need to recognize when an influencer isn’t taking a balanced approach when speaking about products, i.e. they only talk about the “good things” without talking about the cons, and then promote their link, that’s a red flag.
6. Ignoring Safety Precautions
If an influencer is promoting a product that hasn’t been approved by the FDA or doesn’t mention whether you should check with your doctor or other health care professional before starting a supplement or new exercise program, then they don’t have your best interests at heart.
An even more serious red flag is if they tell you to take more than the recommended/stated dose of a product or take a product for a purpose other than what it was originally intended for.
For example, recently, TikTokers were talking about using Ozempic for weight loss results, which is a drug prescribed to diabetes patients and isn’t meant to be used for the general public.
7. Lack Of Transparency
When fitness influencers use terms like “research shows” or “studies say” without actually providing reputable peer-reviewed sources (the book they wrote doesn’t count), it’s wise to do your own homework by looking up some studies for yourself.
Also watch out when they reference just one small study that supports their claims while ignoring other studies that refute them, or taking study results out of context.
For example, a study might show unfavorable results, but only for a small, specific subgroup of the population, in a specific setting, meaning that results can’t necessarily be extended to larger groups of the population.
No one should be listening to the advice from a single study. What you want to look for is a “body of research” where the majority of researchers come to a general consensus based on years of scientific evidence.
8. Overemphasis On Aesthetics
With all of our social media platforms these days, they are designed to be visually appealing.
Dramatic photos, videos, reels, and “stories” catch our eye, which causes fitness influencers to highlight desirable body parts, like “six-pack” abs, chiseled muscles, and gravity-defying body parts.
The extremely lean physique that is popularized in modern fitness media is actually rarely healthy. Competitors actually actively compromise their health to achieve the “stage look” that is photographed and promoted in magazines and on social media.
Watch out for programs or products that make claims only about aesthetics without describing how they actually improve your health.
9. Ignoring The Importance of Rest And Recovery
Fitness influencers who perpetuate the message “no pain, no gain” and that you have to go hard every day are setting you up for injury and burnout, NOT for long-term sustainability and success.
Learn to respect the signs and signals that your body needs a rest day, like feeling more tired or sore than usual, having trouble sleeping or trouble getting out of bed, and unusual changes in appetite.
10. Promoting Disordered Eating
A fitness influencer who encourages you to cut out entire food groups, types of food, macronutrients, or requires 100% adherence to tracking or to a specific food plan is someone you should steer clear of.
The only exceptions are when you personally have known allergies or food intolerances to certain foods which leads you to avoid them, not because an influencer tells you to.
The Industry Of “Fitness Influencing”
All you have to do is Google the term “fitness influencer” and you’ll be bombarded with articles on “How To Become A Fitness Influencer.”
Trainerize, a popular personal training/coaching software company, gets the definition just right with:
“Fitness influencers are content creators in the fitness space who make their living (or earn supplemental income) by partnering with brands to promote their products and services.”
It’s a relatively new career path, starting just about a decade ago with the explosion of various social media platforms.
The COVID-19 global pandemic skyrocketed interest in the online fitness industry.
Once people realized they could get an effective workout from the privacy of their own homes and invested in home gym equipment, many decided to ditch the gym commute and time commitment of attending a class on a fixed schedule.
Enter the on-demand, “any time, any place” delivery of fitness content on YouTube, Instagram, and Tiktok.
Some influencer statistics:
- YouTube currently has the highest number of fitness influencers, at 326,863
- 1.6% of Instagram’s fitness influencers have more than 1 million followers
- TikTok has a smaller number of influencers right now but has the highest average engagement at 9.3%
The online fitness market has exploded and continues to grow, so you can expect to see more and more fitness influencers.
- Avi Silverberg, Founder at FeastGood.com
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If you’re new here, I’m Lauren Graham. I’m a Certified Nutrition Coach and competitive Crossfit athlete. This article was a collaboration between myself and two colleagues, Avi Silverberg and Amanda Parker. Avi has a Master’s of Science in Exercise Science, previously publishing over 600 articles related to health and fitness, and is the Founder of FeastGood.com. Amanda has a Bachelor’s of Kinesiology and is a Certified Nutrition Coach, Certified Naturopath, and Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach. Collectively, we’ve coached all levels of strength sports, including bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and Crossfit. Some of our clients include World Champions that trust us with their workout and nutrition programming. We share a passion for providing evidence-based nutrition content both on FeastGood.com, as well as our individual social media accounts.
Wrapping Up: Why You Should Be Cautious Of Fitness Influencers
Not all influencers have your best interest in mind. Many of them are making a career out of selling a particular supplement, program, or product, and their focus is on selling as much as possible, regardless of whether it will actually help you.
The biggest risks are that the product or program might not be safe, setting you up for the risk of adverse health effects like illness or injury (or worse), or falling into eating practices that pave the way for an eating disorder.
Even if not outright dangerous or unsafe, you also run the risk of getting into something that simply isn’t effective and ends up being a waste of your time and money – time and money that you could have invested in more sensible strategies.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.
Why Trust Our Content
On Staff at FeastGood.com, we have Registered Dietitians, coaches with PhDs in Human Nutrition, and internationally ranked athletes who contribute to our editorial process. This includes research, writing, editing, fact-checking, and product testing/reviews. At a bare minimum, all authors must be certified nutrition coaches by either the National Academy of Sports Medicine, International Sport Sciences Association, or Precision Nutrition. Learn more about our team here.
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