Social media and diet culture: The importance of professional help

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Aug 3, 2023

Image shows a persons hand holding a phone, scrolling through social media.

Devastating reports that vegan influencer, Zhanna D’Art has died of ‘starvation and exhaustion’ calls for better regulation of nutritional advice on social media

Vegan influencer, Zhanna D’Art (Zhanna Samsonova) has tragically died at the age of 39, following what is thought to be a cholera-like infection, exacerbated by her ‘extreme’ diet.

The Russian influencer had been travelling Asia for the past 17 years and had followed a strict raw plant-based diet consisting of fruits, smoothies and juices. Zhanna reportedly practised periods of ‘dry fasting’, meaning she did not consume any food or drink for a number of days, and had not drunk water for six years, opting for fruit and vegetable juices instead. “I eat very simply myself. My food is simple, no oil, no salt, no dehydrated food and no protein,” Zhanna wrote in an Instagram post.

Vegan diets are generally considered to be a healthy lifestyle. Zurich Insurance notes that they are typically high in fibre and lower in cholesterol when compared with an omnivorous diet. They may, therefore, lower the risk of health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. When a healthy, balanced diet is followed, vegans are unlikely to lack certain nutrients such as protein and iron.

It’s important to point out that Zhanna’s case is extreme. If you choose to follow a vegan diet, it’s recommended to learn about nutrition, balancing food groups and supplementation, as Dr Phillips, Head of Health Services at Zurich Australia, points out.

Zhanna’s friends and family had warned her about her extreme diet, with those closest to her saying that she looked “increasingly emaciated” and “exhausted”. Whilst her official cause of death has not yet been determined, many worry that her restrictive eating habits may be a contributing factor.

Nutritionist and member of Nutritionist Resource, Sonal Jenkins (@sonal_synergynutrition) who runs Synergy Nutrition®, commented on the story, saying, “Ms Samsonova's diet was restrictive and described by others as extreme. Unfortunately, she became sick with a bacteria which her immune system was unable to fight. I wouldn't advise anybody to dry fast so this was a personal choice she followed.”

“It appears her strict raw food vegan diet, in combination with not consuming any water, wasn't giving her enough nourishment, causing weight loss as a potential risk of running low on minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium and omega 3's – important for healthy cells and immunity. Certain vitamins need to be consumed with fats to be absorbed better into the body.”

Is more regulation needed on social media?

The devastating news has rippled through communities, with many people calling for more regulation on social media platforms to prevent influencers from sharing nutritional advice that is deemed to be extreme. One person commented on a post of Zhanna’s, saying “ This is just pure starvation, not a healthy raw vegan diet. I'm sorry to hear it ended badly.”

Registered Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert (@rhitrition on Instagram) shared a post to raise awareness of the story. “For too long now – and I really hope that somebody’s going to crack down on these social media platforms – but influencers are dishing out nutritional advice that is extreme, like this particular case of just consuming fruits, vegetables, dying of malnutrition.”

Rhiannon then went on to say, “You cannot judge a book by its cover, whether someone’s larger, whether someone’s in a smaller body, how healthy they are, what their diet is should be unique to them. There is no one size fits all approach… Following dangerous trends can be life-threatening.”

Sonal echos Rhiannon’s points saying, “I would highly recommend anyone following a plant-based diet to check over what they are eating and drinking with a credible nutritionist, alongside getting blood tests done to check on the body's current health status and nutrient balance.”

The importance of seeking professional advice

The saddening news has highlighted the importance of steering away from toxic ‘diet culture’ and doing thorough research into understanding the nutritional needs of your body when considering a change in diet and/or lifestyle. This can be achieved with the support of a nutrition professional.

The Association of Nutrition notes that nutritional professionals will provide evidence-based information and guidance about the health and wellbeing of humans and animals. This involves tailored recommendations for individuals, based on their experiences, symptoms, goals, lifestyle factors, etc. Seeking advice from a qualified and experienced practitioner is so important as they apply scientific principles to promote overall health and wellbeing. They also have a code of ethics that they must abide by to ensure that clients receive the appropriate support.

How do I ensure I’m receiving proper nutritional advice?

Dietitians are the only practice that is regulated in the UK. This means that they are governed by law. They are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) which exists to protect the public. Other nutritional practices, including nutritionists, are not regulated in the UK. This means that anyone can call themselves a nutritional professional. To combat this, many qualified practitioners are voluntarily self-regulated with organisations such as:

Rhiannon states in her post, “Please use your detective hat” when it comes to nutritional advice. “Follow registered nutritionists and dietitians. Consult with a health professional before you change your diet.” Rhiannon shares some things to look out for to ensure you’re receiving quality advice:

  • They don’t prescribe a ‘one size fits all approach’.
  • They don’t post ‘what I eat in a day’.
  • They don’t share extreme diets.
  • Check their credentials – they should have a degree in nutrition at a minimum.

Find out more about the types of nutritional professionals on Nutritionist Resource.

If you’d like to reach out to a qualified person, you can connect with a nutrition professional on Happiful.

If you’ve been affected by any of the themes that have been discussed in this article, below are some useful resources that can offer further support.

Emily Whitton

By Emily Whitton

Emily Whitton is a Content Creator and Marketing Coordinator at Happiful

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