An important reminder that the number of followers someone has doesn't make them an expert who's qualified to give advice.

By By Gabrielle Kassel
March 21, 2019

PSA: Fit-fluencer and registered dietitian are not synonymous.

Duh, you know this, right? Well, that doesn't stop un-credentialed Instagrammers from constantly stepping outside their lane of authority-offering nutrition and fitness advice and coaching to their followers-turning Instagram into a hotbed of misinformation that you may subconsciously take as fact, or at least take into consideration. (Related: What to Know Before Working with a Trainer or Fitness Coach from Instagram)

Sure, as a user you might see the six-pack, skim the caption, double-tap-or not- and then continue scrolling. But take a closer look at some of these captions and you'll see that sometimes the messaging is downright irresponsible. (Related: Instagram Has Been Linked to Increased Feelings of Depression, Anxiety, and Body Image Issues)

Which brings up a recent post from Sheila Barden, a two-time CrossFit Games competitor with 127K followers. The athlete put up a zoomed-in, faceless photo of her cut core (complete with an ab vein which she generously points out), using it as an opportunity to encourage her followers to "EAT LESS FOOD!" No, this is not a joke.

"I go to bed hungry 5 out of 7 nights a week," she writes. "I eat less food than I'm burning on a daily basis. I force my body to use my stored fat from the winter as fuel," she writes in the caption. "Put down the cookie, the glass of wine and the second serving of chicken."

She goes on to say, "'Healthy Foods' will still make you fat if you're eating more calories than you're burning in a day - #Fact" (Yes, she really used that hashtag).

While "health" and "nutrition" coaching are not new to the IG world, Barden's eating- and body-shaming comments are actually quite ironic considering that her sport, CrossFit, has played an important role in the body-positivity movement-encouraging women to take up space, grunt, and flex like the badasses they are. As CrossFit athlete Elisabeth Akinwale said recently in an interview, "CrossFit has created one of the strongest platforms so that girls and women are proud of not simply what their body looks like, but what their body can do." (Related: What Really Happens When Women Lift Heavy Weights)

Regardless of her CrossFit affiliation, though, Barden's comments are potentially damaging to anyone. Not only does her advice have questionable validity due to ignored nuances of losing weight, but her emphasis on aesthetics is shamey and potentially triggering to folks with eating disorders. Not to mention, there are So. Many. other benefits to exercise.

Luckily, commenters and other CrossFit athletes took to the post and their own platforms to call Barden out for her toxic #fakenews. "This is very disappointing, you have a very strong influence on young women, use it to impact positive change!!! Please," one commenter wrote. "What a dangerous post," said another. "This post has ED trigger written all over it," added a third.

Notably, CrossFit Games athlete Meredith Root got in on this with a clapback of her own. "You are negating a few very important factors when it comes to energy balance," she wrote in the post's comments. "Calories in/out are only one variable of many that determine if and when someone loses body fat." (Related: Eating More Might Actually Be the Secret to Weight Loss)

Root goes on to say that "recommending that [the women who follow you] cut more calories is foolish and dangerous." She suggests in her comment that instead of listening to Barden, people work with a professional to decide if cutting calories is the right path for them, based on their health and fitness goals. (ICYWW, here's what it's really like to go to a nutritionist.)

Badass athlete Laurie Christine King comments "@meredith_root co-sign on this so hard." Later, King posted a rebuttal on her personal Instagram: "Are you an athlete/influencer who's really lean or shredded? Please keep your mouth shut on social media when it comes to nutrition if [you're] not equipped to actually HELP people & give good advice.⁣"

Long-time competitive CrossFit Games Athlete Lindy Barber, also posted a counter-statement, reminding folks that having blocky abs and being healthy aren't the same thing. "Having ab veins will not make you healthier or FEEL better," she wrote to her followers. "Eating LESS and starving yourself only to lose weight or because you think that being leaner will enhance your life will not work. Just eating less is not the solution to any health problem."

Ultimately, Barden's post-which has yet to be deleted or edited-makes it glaringly obvious what kind of influence a large social media following can have and the responsibility that should come with that. Let this controversy also remind you that follower-count isn't correlated with knowledge or expertise.

In the end, only you can control (to a certain extent) who and what you allow on your Instagram feed. That's why I, for one, am *here* for clicking "unfollow" on any account that makes me feel down on myself or my body-no matter how many other followers they have.

What can I say? Life's too short, and there are too many body-positive accounts, for my IG feed to be toxic.