COMMENT

Disclosure: before I sat down to write this, I ate a piece of cake. It was delicious carrot birthday cake. It was not raw, organic, sugar-free or vegan.

Me saying that will probably mean very little, since I'm not an online influencer who is promoting a diet or an image of glowing health. It doesn't matter that I ate the cake, because I'm not telling you the only cake you should eat is a raw vegan one (and here, use my code for a 20 per cent discount to buy it).

But there are plenty of so-called influencers out there happy to do that. Some of them, in my opinion, are not only vacuous and annoying, but also nothing short of dangerous, and we should not be taking any notice of them, especially when they espouse nutrition advice.

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One lifestyle influencer was recently caught out in spectacular fashion. Yovana Mendoza, a YouTube and Instagram star with millions of followers, makes her living as a professional vegan. Or made her living, until recently when she was caught on film – shock, horror – eating fish. Her fans revolted, criticising her choices and her hypocrisy.

Mendoza had been promoting extreme eating for years: raw vegan detox diets; water fasts and other nonsense. But it's nonsense people followed – and paid – her for.

Unfortunately following her own advice was making Mendoza sick. She now claims she has been having health problems – lack of periods, digestive issues - for six years, and had resorted to eating eggs and fish to address these. Cue thousands of betrayed fans and outraged backlash from online vegans.

Whatever we think about that – and it's easy to laugh at what's been dubbed "fishgate" – this highlights something important: influencers are not experts.

Just because someone has lots and lots of followers, or just because someone lost lots of weight, does not make them an expert in anything. They may chug down supplement x and follow workout y and eat diet z. But that doesn't mean you should do that too. In fact, doing so could harm your health.

Instagram and Facebook have bred troops of pretty young things with stories to tell; or sometimes no story – just a pretty face and a bikini-friendly body. It's not hard to see how a steady diet of these in a vulnerable young woman's feed could lead to disordered eating. And the algorithms that run YouTube and social media don't help, leading us to more and more extreme content. Start with a vegetarian recipe search and it's not long before you're at raw vegan fasting. This only encourages more extreme influencer content.

After observing this for a while I'm now doing a lot of unfollowing. I recommend it for immediately reducing grumpiness. (I find myself also losing respect for companies I notice sending product to influencers, who then breathlessly and completely uncritically record every PR delivery in their stories.)

I follow a few celebrity cats now; I reckon their lifestyle advice is as good as any influencer's.

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Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide; www.healthyfood.co.nz