Artificial intelligence (AI), as a medium for information, is quickly becoming mainstream not just in everyday life, but also, in healthcare. AI for nutrition advice, from calorie targets to meal plans, has gained popularity due to its high degree of accessibility. Also, some feel the advice to be objective— removing the guesswork from mealtime confusion and free from bias (though, we’ll debunk this later on).
While AI has the potential to be a valuable tool, it also comes with major risks and limitations. This article will uncover everything you should be aware of when relying on chatbots, ChatGPT, and other AI-driven tools for nutrition advice.
Is there a benefit to AI-generated advice?
When I worked as a clinical dietitian, I spent a significant amount of time completing the required charting needed for record-keeping. This limited my ability to interact with patients (educational sessions lasted no more than 10 minutes)— heck, it was one of the reasons why I stepped away from the hospital and opened doors to my private practice, ultimately fulfilling my passion for educating others.
So, for healthcare professionals, AI-generated content helps to reduce the time spent on tedious paperwork. Also, a study recently showed that AI-generated patient communication tends to be more empathetic when compared to communication from physicians. Arguably, clinicians could utilize AI-generated content to help structure sessions and discussions in a more efficient and empathetic way.
For dancers, AI-generated advice is accessible, saving dancers the time and money otherwise spent on seeking the right experts. The promise of personalized recommendations is also attractive— meals plans based on algorithms that consider factors such as age, activity level, and dietary preferences are hard to pass up. There is also the benefit of recipe inspiration— new ways to experiment with flavors and seasonings are just some examples for how AI can help to ease mealtime monotony.
In writing this article from the perspectives of both a healthcare professional and a dancer, I decided to give AI-generated nutrition advice a test drive. I asked ChatGPT the most direct question I could think of: “What should I eat to best support my body as a dancer?” Let’s unravel its response.
The harsh realities of AI-generated nutrition advice
#1: Nutrition Insufficiencies
From a caloric perspective, the bot underestimated my needs by nearly 1000 calories (side note: I don’t recommend any dancer count calories, but due to my work as a dietitian, I have a pretty good understanding of where my body’s needs fall). To the bot’s credit, there was a disclaimer recommending that “portion sizes be adjusted based on individual needs and activity levels.” However, without the knowledge I hold from over 7 years of academic and clinical studies as a dietitian, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to know how to make those adjustments. Eating too few calories each day severely risks a dancer’s performance potential— this was a major red flag.
I asked ChatGPT the most direct question I could think of: “what should I eat as a dancer?” The response was concerning.
Now, despite those caloric insufficiencies, multiple snacks were included in the suggested meal plan. Also, balanced options suggested that each meal and snack contain at least one carb-rich food paired with protein. However, fat was scarce with suggestions to choose “fat-free” alternatives. Not only does this contribute to the day’s caloric insufficiencies, but also, perpetuates fatphobia and the myth that fat-restricted diets prevail (spoiler: they don’t).
There was also the overall lack in a few keys vitamins and minerals needed to support bone health. Only one serving of a calcium-rich food (ie. dairy) was suggested for the entire day. Bone health is a major priority for a dancer‘s meal plan— one serving won’t cut it.
#2: Confusing Recommendations
A strongly generated conclusion stated, “This meal plan provides a balance of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals to support a dancer’s energy, muscle recovery, and overall health.” This was not true since, had I followed the meal plan for several days, I’d ultimately experience appetite dysregulation as just an initial response to inadequate caloric intake (and scarce fat intake).
Now, I was happy to see the final suggestion for readers to “consult with a dietitian for a personalized meal plan tailored to specific dietary requirements and goals.” Though the damage had been done and there would be no way my 16-year-old self would have even cared to look further, I appreciate the responsible ode to us nutrition experts.
#3: Perpetuates Restrictive “Clean” Eating
Within the recommendations provided, there was no support to address the psychological aspects of a dancer’s relationship with food. If I were my younger self— that 16-year-old dancer who seriously struggled with disordered eating, then I’d have quickly become obsessed with the meal plan’s overall “clean” and restrictive recommendations (there were also zero “fun” foods included— not even a small taste of dessert).
Dancers are at a higher risk for the development of eating disorders— this alone warrants a serious need to reconsider the use of AI for personal nutritional guidance. AI-generated nutrition advice would be limited in both recognizing the signs of disordered eating and providing the appropriate food-neutral support needed to avoid potentially triggering information.
AI is not credible nutrition advice
Despite a few benefits of AI when it comes to seeking generalized daily structure and recipe inspiration (one of my new ways to experiment in the kitchen!), there are major limitations in utilizing AI-driven nutrition advice. An overemphasis on numbers, such as calorie counting and macronutrient ratios, can lead to dancers becoming fixated and driven towards unsupportive eating habits. Even the National Eating Disorders Association made a swift shift in early 2023 after an AI-drive chatbot was “caught” giving harmful dieting tips. Also, contrary to common belief, most AI-generated answers are extremely generic. This lack of personalization won’t support a dancer’s unique needs for optimizing performance.
Accessible nutrition advice for dancers
Instead of relying on AI for nutritional guidance, dancers should consult a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist— we’re multi-certified to provide personalized guidance tailored to a dancer’s unique needs and goals. In keeping with the benefits of accessibility, nutrition resources are available to dancers at no cost. In fact, this is my goal with this blog and with my program The Healthy Dancer®. Start with a free trial and learn more about how you can integrate this approach into your current training.