The Growth of Diet Culture and Why it’s Bad

Bianca Sanchez

Recently, in the world of social media, a new group of influencers have grown to be extremely popular due to their platforms in which they encourage a healthy lifestyle. 

This new community provides a safe space that promotes happiness and wellness. Contrary to the typical fitness accounts, these encourage a balanced lifestyle in which they share how they stay healthy while also prioritizing well-being. As this group of people brought up a new way of living, they’ve also discouraged and debunked what is now referred to as “diet culture.” Diet culture was what people initially referred to as a “healthy lifestyle”. Though the obsession to be  “fit” and “healthy” originated in the 1900s, it was highly promoted after social media was introduced. 

 

The rise of social media in the early 2000s opened up a world of opportunities. As social media became more common, the uses for it grew exponentially. It became a place in which people could advertise businesses, entertain themselves, portray their art, and even show off their dance moves. Quite frankly, the possibilities are endless. The growth of social media also enabled less publicized industries to grow. More specifically, the fitness industry. Platforms like Instagram were commonly used to access fitness advice, nutrition advice, and workout videos. 

People who were highly passionate about fitness and nutrition created platforms for themselves, enabling them to share their advice with their viewers. Even influencers of categories other than fitness began to share their tips and tricks. While the trend was initiated solely for the convenience and enjoyment of the viewers, people began to depend on these influencers. Rather than seeking a professional, people followed the habits and diets of influencers who find the “next big thing”. They advertised habits such as drinking fat loss teas, counting calories, and even completely restricting themselves from specific macronutrients such as carbohydrates. Social media became the prime site to obtain information about fitness and nutrition. 

A vast amount of information circulated through social media, whether it was true or not didn’t matter. People continued, and continue, to believe in all the information that was presented to them. One common thread of information that was heavily popularized was the restrictions to follow to maintain lower body weight. This is now referred to as “diet culture”. Diet culture, according to edrdpro.com, is described as “a belief system that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over well-being. Variations of diet culture also include rigid eating patterns that on the surface are in the name of health, but in reality are about weight shape or size.” Being “skinny” was idolized and prioritized rather than ensuring overall health. Diet culture is especially known for encouraging a restrictive lifestyle. Despite the many ways in which diet culture promotes this type of lifestyle, some common examples include: categorizing foods as “good” or “bad” and promoting exercise to burn calories.

The surface level of the issue with diet culture is the perspective of whether certain foods are safe to eat. Diet culture introduces many other severe issues such as Orthorexia. Orthorexia specifically is a new disorder that is growing rapidly due to more confirmed cases. Diet culture is known to promote more restrictive habits such as counting calories and limiting specific foods. Though the initial intent is not to create a bad relationship with food, it is common that the severity increases as people become more obsessed with these “rules”. According to nationaleatingdisorders.org, these are the most common symptoms:

 

The more obsessed people become with these restrictions, the more likely they will develop other disorders such as Anorexia and Body Dysmorphia. In addition, they view themselves as less valuable due to the constant praise “thinner” people get on social media. They’re perceived as “prettier” as well as another major stereotype that describes these people as “healthier”. These stereotypes circulate the internet but aren’t acknowledged because they are heavily normalized.

Despite the favoritism due to the normalization of these stereotypes, there are many resources that suggest how to counter these issues. An article written by Ragen Chastain on nationaleatingdisorders.org suggests ways to resist diet culture. One of the many ways includes not feeling obligated to work out for any reason other than your health. A change in mindset will help break the connection between exercise, “bad” foods, and body shaming. This will also allow exercising to simply be viewed as getting your body moving. 

Many say that the most effective way to overcome the obstacles is to simply have a change in mindset. Though simple, it is not something that is seen as an overnight change. People can overcome the stereotypes by themselves in order to influence others to do as well. It can benefit the acknowledgment and understanding of the issue. The benefits of the process will allow all communities to be respectful, be respected, and most importantly, grow in unity.