How to know what health and fitness information to follow

My friends, you can’t believe everything you see on social media or read on the Internet. It’s a sad truth. And this is a post that’s a combination of a reader request and something I’ve been wanting to address for a long time. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I’ve got some opinions to share on the matter. Here we go …

These days, if you scroll Instagram or Facebook or basically anywhere on the Internet, you will see so many people pushing various diets, ways of living, 6-week get-in-shape programs, supplements, apps, accountability groups, you name it. And the people pushing all of these various things all have varying opinions on how to best work out and to eat. And they have varying degrees of education and practical applications. Some people are amazing. Some people are not.

How to know what health and fitness information to follow

So, if you’re just a friendly, happy gal with basic-to-average knowledge about health and fitness, how should you know who to trust? And what advice should you follow?

I’ve got you covered today …

How to know what health and fitness information to follow by A Lady Goes West

Who should you trust?

For fitness

First and foremost, you shouldn’t take fitness advice from a fit-looking Instagrammer, just because they have a hot bod. You should only take fitness advice from a CURRENTLY certified personal trainer who has worked with clients in the past or is currently working with clients, and who stays up to date on research and is providing information tailored to YOUR needs.

A male personal trainer focused on elite male athletes may not be the best trainer for you, if you’re a postpartum mom who’s never worked out before. Why? Because he is male? No. Because he doesn’t specialize in pre- and post-natal and the intricacies of repairing a healing body, he specializes in sports performance. 

And believe it or not, there are TOTALLY legit and credentialed and skilled personal trainers who may not have perfect photos on Instagram, and they also may not have perfect bodies. That doesn’t mean they can’t create an awesome program to help you, or provide you with fitness tips. Being fit and looking fit can actually be two different things.

  • For fitness, you want to rely on a personal trainer. Group fitness instructors have some knowledge and can direct you in a class, but personal trainers have much more education on creating individualized workout programs.
  • Blanket advice is also not always the best, so try to look for tailored advice to your body type, gender, abilities and goals. If you’re purchasing an online program, there should be a place to discuss goals and current abilities with the trainer, perhaps even a video assessment, etc.
  • Never buy a workout plan from someone who doesn’t hold a CURRENT personal trainer certification from an accredited agency, like NASM, ACE, etc. Go to that person’s bio page on his or her website and read about their experience, as they should have some listed there. If they don’t, ask them about their experience.
  • If you’re in a gym setting, ask that trainer about clients like you that they’ve worked with before. Ask them about their approach and education and experience.
  • If it’s a popular online program, read the reviews, read the logistics and the FAQs, find out if there is a way to get help with moves and get your form checked. Ask questions. Dig deep. 
  • Everyone can benefit from at least a couple of sessions with a personal trainer, whether that’s in person or online. It’s awesome to have someone assess your movement patterns and tell you whether you are doing things right — in fact, getting a few tweaks from a personal trainer could make the difference for you in the rest of your workouts once you know how to move better.

How to know what fitness info to follow by A Lady Goes West

For nutrition

Secondly, you shouldn’t take nutrition advice from someone who likes to cook or plates a pretty dish for Instagram. Although I tell you what I do for my diet, I don’t tell you what YOU should do for your diet. I’ve actually gotten away from sharing my daily eats as much as I used to, because I didn’t want it to seem like I was pushing any particular way of eating on you. You can try my recipes (and you can totally try the recipes of all of your favorite foodie influencers as well), but you don’t need to eat the way that I eat. I don’t eat perfectly, but it works for me.

You have to try certain foods and combinations to see what feels best on your body. And you may need to cut some of the junk that you already know you don’t need — like fast food and a lot of processed and packaged goods. A registered dietitian or certified nutritionist from an accredited agency can help you come up with a meal plan that best works with your needs. Anyone else without that credential can only tell you why they do what they do and general best practices for healthy eating, and then it’s up to you to decide what you should do. I can’t tell you what to eat, and I don’t want to. And whenever people email me and ask me what they should eat, I unfortunately, have to tell them this.

And here’s something you may not know, certified personal trainers are NOT allowed to give specific meal plans to their clients, unless they have a separate and additional nutrition certification, which a lot do not. If you see someone selling workout programs combined with a prescribed meal plan, and they are not working with an outside registered dietitian to create the meal plan, then technically, they aren’t supposed to be doing that.

  • For meal plans and what food to eat, you want to rely on a registered dietitian or nutritionist, and RDs have much more education than nutritionists. You could also rely on your doctor, although from my experience, doctors have very little insight into diet and how it relates to health (a sad generalization for sure).
  • Once again, nutrition advice needs to be tailored to you and your exact needs, so blanket one-size-fits-all advice is not gospel. You should have a meeting or online session with your RD, be able to ask questions, share about your lifestyle, and perhaps even do some blood-work too to make sure everything lines up.
  • Check the bio page for the person you are working with to make sure they have credentials. Ask about their experience.
  • Remember — really good RDs may not have perfect bodies or perfect pictures on Instagram. That doesn’t mean anything. They can still be great at their jobs.
  • It’s probably helpful for everyone to seek the assistance of an RD at least once in their life for a tailored assessment and plan, as well as just a chance to have an outside party look at what you’re eating and whether it is fueling you properly or not. I’ve actually never met with an RD and would like to one day.
  • Also, websites and articles touting specific diets are always written by someone with a bio and an agenda, so check the writer’s background and do some research on them before believing everything you read. And if there is a study referenced, click on the study and see if it seems legit. A sample size of 12 young males would not necessarily apply to you if you’re a 30-year-old woman.

How to know what health and fitness information to follow by A Lady Goes West

What advice should you follow?

You don’t have to follow anyone’s advice if you don’t want to. Just because you like following some hot young yogi on Instagram and she does intermittent fasting, doesn’t mean you should do intermittent fasting to look like her. In fact, you don’t really know everything that she does behind the scenes to look the way she looks, because it may be way more than you have the appetite for, if you know what I mean. Once again, six-pack abs and flexibility do not equate to REAL health on the inside, and REAL health on the inside should always be your goal.

Here’s how you should know what to follow …

If it’s something that works for your lifestyle.

If you like to eat dinner with your family every night and breakfast with your kids in the morning, then intermittent fasting, in which you have a very small eating window each day wouldn’t work for your lifestyle. Do you want to sit idly with your family and NOT eat while they eat each day? No. 

And now that we’re talking about intermittent fasting, I’d like to be clear that from what I understand, MUCH of the research saying that intermittent fasting is the best way to live has been done on the male body, and the benefits are only in males. When in fact, the women’s body, and the women’s hormonal make-up do NOT thrive on shortening the eating window too much. Same goes for keto. Here’s some research to back up the statement that intermittent fasting works for men and is more dangerous for women, with less benefits.

When it comes to fitness, if you want to purchase a workout program that calls for 1-hour workouts seven days a week (just don’t do this), and you already know your job and commitments won’t allow for it, then don’t do that program. You don’t have to work out every day, and certainly not for an hour. You could get very fit doing just four 30-minute sessions a week if they were the right ones!

And if you’re a huge fan of dairy and have found no problems with consuming it, then don’t follow the Paleo diet just because your favorite influencer does. Life is too short to be on a strict diet if you don’t need to for health reasons.

Ways to know what health and fitness information to follow by A Lady Goes West

If it’s something that works for your body type and hormones.

Once again, I’m not a doctor or registered dietitian, but from what I’ve researched and read, it does seem that a lot of the popular diets out there have been tested mostly on men. Women are different. Although we are equal in importance, intelligence and station in life, we are have slightly more sensitive systems. This is the truth.

If you are a young woman of child-bearing age, then you need to be extra careful not to follow advice of a program that is far too stringent and intense for your body and hormonal system. That means carb cycling with super hard workouts a few times a week may not be for you. If you try it and find that you have NO adverse affects with your energy levels and your menstrual cycle stays completely normal and regular (and you are not on birth control, which would give you a false sense of normalcy), then perhaps you can handle it. But if you see your skin taking a hit, your sleep taking a hit, and your irritability going through the roof — perhaps the program is not right for you right now, even if it’s delivering on the aesthetics goal.

It’s best to do a program that is tailored to your goals, needs, abilities and access to equipment. 

If it’s a realistic goal. And a worthy goal.

Why are we so obsessed with the bikini body? First of all, you may not like bikinis, and wearing a one-piece is pretty fashionable these days. You don’t need to have six-pack abs to have a good life. I don’t have them. I’m happy. In fact, I used to have them, and I wasn’t all that happy then. 

Performance goals, like learning to do a pull-up, or learning how to properly use gym equipment — those are great to work toward. Working toward eating mostly healthy foods, with a healthy balance of un-healthy foods — that’s a good goal. But totally cutting out food groups and aiming for 10 percent body-fat doesn’t really get you anywhere that’s worth going, other than maybe a good before/after picture.

How to know what health and fitness information to follow by A Lady Goes West

What’s a girl to do?

News flash: You don’t have to try all of the things that are becoming popular in the wellness world if you don’t want to. I LOVE to try new things, but there are quite a few trends that I’ve never joined and likely never will. Paleo. Keto. Crossfit. Just not for me. I know it, and I’m fine with it.

Things I may one day do? A Whole30 challenge. Meditating. A wellness retreat. These are things that intrigue me and I’d like to try. 

Would I like to be a bit more lean? Yes, but I’m technically still in a fairly sensitive postpartum period, and much more focused on feeling good, fueling my body, getting stronger and making it through the day.

Yes, there is some good stuff out there

I read a ton of health, wellness and fitness articles each day and follow quite a few wellness influencers who have great information to share. When I see something that interests me that I may want to try in my life, I typically do a bit more research on it on my own. Then I ask myself whether I really want to make the changes that it requires, and if it’s worth it to me.

Things I’ve picked up from various influencers and health professionals with a platform? Taking daily collagen peptides in my morning tea. Drinking room temperature water every morning before anything else. Scraping my tongue with a tongue scraper. Just to name a few … these all work with my lifestyle, make me feel good and have proven benefits.

How to know what fitness info to follow by A Lady Goes West-2

A good rule of thumb for us all to follow

If you just want to find someone to help you with fitness and getting in shape, then I’d recommend signing up for a few personal training sessions at your local gym to get started with fitness, then perhaps joining some regular group fitness classes, so you have the basis of exercise form and can work hard in a supervised environment with a good instructor/coach.

It’s always good to get the help of a professional. And if you’re a group fitness lover, ask for help from your instructor to make sure your form is on point during class, and make sure you are going to a variety of classes and not the same one every single day so you aren’t overdoing it.

As far as what to eat, maybe you don’t need a ton of help. Are you eating veggies a few times a day? Do you cook some of your meals? Do you drink enough water and eat regular meals spaced throughout the day? Those are just super general best practices that most people can benefit from. If you think you have a unique situation or if you don’t feel well, seek the help of a registered dietitian to get an assessment and plan. But make sure you check their credentials first.

It’s totally okay to be inspired by some of your favorite fitness and wellness accounts on social media, but you don’t have to emulate them totally, and you need to ask yourself why you like what you see and whether or not it’s beneficial or realistic for you in your life.

When in doubt, know that health doesn’t have to be all that complicated. And it also doesn’t have to be about bikini bodies or six-pack abs or following the trends on social media. It’s a lot more simple than that … trust your gut and make good choices most of the time!

Thanks for reading, my friends! I’m here for you! I don’t want you to be overwhelmed or feel bad about yourself. I want you to be empowered to make your own decisions, make educated choices and seek the help of good professionals when you need it. But hey, I can’t tell you what to eat. 🙂 

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P.S. Speaking of Instagram, every day I share wellness, fitness and life stuff on there, so it would be awesome if you followed along and said hi sometime! Love ya!

Questions of the day

Where do you get your health and fitness advice?

Who’s your favorite fitness inspo account to follow?

Have you tried any fad diets recently? I haven’t!

How was your weekend?

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30 Comments

  1. I loved this post SO MUCH. Thank you for writing it. Not only did I learn a lot, I feel much better about the way I eat and exercise. It needs to be ok to not hop on so many of the trendy fitness and nutrition bandwagons. As someone who is struggling with health, I always feel like I should be doing more or that I am doing something wrong. But we each have to listen to our own bodies, for sure.

    Thank you so much for this, Ashley.

    1. Courtney! You are doing the best you can right now with the information you have available to you. If you are trusting your gut with the decisions you make, then that’s awesome. I know it’s hard to want to follow every trend, but you don’t have to. Sending you lots of healing and love, my friend. Thank YOU for reading! 🙂

  2. This is a great post! I am a firm believer of doing what you like, what energizes you, and what you makes you feel good. Don’t worry about what someone is doing or what popular fab diet/exercise you see or read about. If it doesn’t make you happy don’t do it. Be your biggest supporter of your
    best self, don’t compare to your old self, or no one else. Live now and enjoy life.

    Thanks again!

  3. Best post ever for this day in Instagram/social media world. I have a degree in Exercise Science and am certifed in group fitness so when I see people selling and making money with no certifications I cringe. I would rather people take free advice from your post here than to pay 100’s for something they won’t stick with but we’re promised a perfect body.

    1. Hi Leianna! Thanks for saying hello! 🙂 It’s pretty tough for the average consumer out there to know what’s right — because these people selling programs are getting more and more popular based on the awesome pictures they post — rather than the sound principles behind what they are selling. I really appreciate you reading and responding! I’m sure you are doing what you can to teach the people in your classes good information at least. 🙂

  4. Great, great post Ashley. As an RD myself, I cringe when I see social media put such emphasis on Keto, paleo, Intermittent Fasting. Some may have great looking bodies, but down the road I see them when they aren’t getting periods, develop food intolerances and poor digestion, brain dog, etc.

    We have to remember we are unique and whole gluten free, dairy free, etc, etc are popular, they are not needed by most and can make our diets less healthy. The more good foods we can tolerate and consume, the healthier and more variety the diet will have.

    Everything you said was great and I agree about the exercise part as well, but it’s not my area of expertise ???

    1. “The more good foods we can tolerate and consume, the healthier and more variety the diet will have.” SPOKEN like a true professional, Mo. Thank YOU for that statement. I’m so glad you agree with this, and I’m so glad you are preaching variety as well. You are so right about effects down the road too — another thing to think about when making drastic changes!

  5. I love this! This is such great advice. I used to think I had to be following some popular “plan” to be successful with weight loss/maintenance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve attempted to make a low carb diet work for me (despite my highly favored 80% vegetarian diet) because everybody just KNOWS that low carb is the way to go. I understand that I should cut back on certain carbs, but I no longer give myself a hard time for eating sweet potatoes or (gasp!) white rice with my beans and/or eggs.

    1. Susie! Ohhhh low carb. I don’t know why we’ve been taught to think carbs are bad. Veggies are carbs. Fruit are carbs. These things are SO good for us! I’m glad to hear you’ve learned to listen to your body and eat the way you feel like you want to eat. Carbs and all! 🙂 YAY!

  6. Great post with lots of great info! It really bothers me that so much is out there. And on top of it, so much of it is conflicting! So hard to make decisions about things for yourself when there’s so many people trying to push things on you.

  7. Great post! I’ve written a lot about this in the past too. Actually, it is NOT within a doctor’s scope of practice to provide nutrition advice unless it is general advice. MD’s have 2 class most in nutrition. It’s very basic.

    And, not all nutritionists are created equal. I have a science based DEGREE. Most nutritionists have certificates and all the RD’s who have looked at my program said it was the exception to the rule.

    Likewise, not all RD’s are created equal. I had an RD reach out to me recently to create a 1000-1200 calorie meal plan as a free download. I told her no because I did my whole capstone around low calorie diets and the damage they do to hormones and metabolism. She never heard of half of the stuff I told her. At the end of the day, a degree is meaningless. Everyone has to be smart and use common sense about who they work with, follow, take advice from, etc.

    1. Hi Megan! There are definitely a lot of people sharing bad information out there, and sounds like you’ve been approached with a lot of that. I know that some nutrition programs are better than others, and I’m glad yours is one of the good ones. As far as education and degrees — they are important — but of course, like you said, that doesn’t mean someone is going to give good advice. Common sense, trust your gut, all of that matters when deciding if you want to work with someone or listen to them. I’m so happy your practice is going so well and you are helping so many!

  8. I just came back to this post because I needed to remind myself that it is ok to NOT be doing IF. Thanks again for all of this information and for sharing this topic and information that seems to be so taboo by most fitness influencers.

    1. Hi Courtney! I don’t think you need to worry about doing IF for sure, based on some of the health issues that you are dealing with. While you can definitely “fast” between dinner and breakfast, I don’t think your window needs to be too big. IF sounds great, but it’s not for everyone, and not people with sensitive systems! You are doing your best, lady, and you DON’T need to follow the trends — listen to your bod and keep taking it easy, my friend.

  9. Truly said, there are so many people saying a lot of things about fitness these days. But nobody is sure of whom to follow for the best tips and advice. Reading this can surely clear the fog and help one reach the right person to understand fitness in a better way.

    Nice read, thanks for sharing!

  10. Hello,
    there are so many people saying a lot of things about fitness these days. But nobody is sure of whom to follow for the best tips and advice. Reading this can surely clear the fog and help one reach the right person to understand fitness in a better way.

  11. Likewise, not all RD’s are created equal. I had an RD reach out to me recently to create a 1000-1200 calorie meal plan as a free download. I told her no because I did my whole capstone around low calorie diets and the damage they do to hormones and metabolism. She never heard of half of the stuff I told her. At the end of the day, a degree is meaningless. Everyone has to be smart and use common sense about who they work with, follow, take advice from, etc.

  12. I read a ton of health, wellness and fitness articles each day and follow quite a few wellness influencers who have great information to share. When I see something that interests me that I may want to try in my life, I typically do a bit more research on it on my own. Then I ask myself whether I really want to make the changes that it requires, and if it’s worth it to me.

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