While toxic diet culture has arguably always been present in our society, social media has given it a new platform to spread insecurity among users, especially teenagers and young adults.
Diet Culture in Social Media
Social media feeds are constantly filled with fit and toned celebrities and ‘influencers’ who often promote diets, workout advice, nutrition and food advice. This often unintentionally sends a message to their followers that they could look like them too if they just mirror their lifestyle.
Public figures are often seen promoting advertisements for different misleading ‘health’ products such as skinny teas and waist trainers that promote a ‘quick fix’ when it comes to obtaining an ideal body. Fitness influencers are also seen promoting their own workout fitness plans and diet plans, and sometimes these plans come with a price tag for users to obtain. Many, if not most, of them, are not registered dietitians or certified in any way, making it even more dangerous.
“What I Eat in a Day’ videos have also become increasingly popular on platforms such as TikTok and YouTube, and often promote under-eating and an obsession with healthy eating. Body transformation videos are another popular segment that encourages fad diets and rapid weight loss and has a competitive nature to them.
This is why when it comes to health content the line between helpful and harmful has become increasingly thin. While most of the time this information and advice are supposed to be helpful to users, it often promotes thinness rather than overall health and moderation.
Promoting one type of body as the ideal image of ‘health’ can be damaging because in reality, health has no one shape or size. To top it off, most of the time this advice is coming from people, mostly young girls themselves, with no degree or background in nutrition.
Diet Culture Vocabulary
Diet culture comes with some distant words that are often seen on health posts and videos that are misleading and harmful, as well as having no credible meaning.
The word “clean” when it comes to food, as well as “clean eating” are words often heard in promoting diets. Clean eating refers to unprocessed foods and has lead to an increase in the popularity of dairy-free products, low carb, gluten-free products and foods labeled as ‘natural’ and ‘organic’. Clean eating is harmful because it promotes an extreme message that some foods are ‘clean’, while others are ‘dirty’ or unhealthy.
Another word often used is ‘detox’ when referring to foods or subelements, such as teas or juices, that are supposed to eliminate toxins from your body. The word detox is misleading because no food can ‘detox’ your body and emirate toxins, and it promotes a need to fast or restrict yourself. This type of vocabulary and the message behind it has lead to a brand new eating disorder: orthorexia.
Orthorexia is an eating disorder centered around an unhealthy obsession with health, clean eating and wellness, and usually involves fad diets and restrictive eating.
How to Combat Toxic Diet Culture in Social Media
While it is easy to get caught up in diet culture promoted on social media, the best thing to do is take a step back and take a break from social media. Unfollowing and removing accounts that promote this message can also be helpful, and instead fill your feed with those who promote body positivity, overall health and inclusivity. Connecting with positive groups on social media that promote positive body image and deal with eating disorder recovery can also be helpful.
It is also important to check in with yourself and remind yourself that a healthy lifestyle is one filled with moderation and regular meals with a variety of food groups and nutrients. Most importantly, remember that there is no one ‘ideal’ image of health and that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.