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Social Media is a Diet Culture Enabler (Madeline Leung)

Social media has influenced almost every aspect of our lives, and how we perceive diets is no different.


A 2019 social media usage survey found that 90 percent of 18-29-year-old Americans use social media daily. With its rise and prevalence, social media has the power to convey images, ideas and thoughts to a vast number of users. Specifically, social media has proved itself to be an enabler of diet culture. 


Diet culture refers to the beliefs and expectations one has about achieving or maintaining a “thin” body. Individuals consumed by diet culture equate thinness to healthiness when, in fact, diet culture’s extreme dieting and toxic behaviors to achieve thinness are far from healthy. If you have ever heard someone say, “I should not eat this, it has so many calories” or “I need to go workout after everything I ate today,” you have been a bystander to diet culture. A culture that has become normalized by society. These thoughts can be warning signs for harmful behaviors and possible eating disorders. 


Social media is notorious for distorting reality. According to a study, 50 percent of 2000 surveyed adults said they edited their social media images to make themselves appear more ideal before posting. As users of social media, we are used to seeing posts about what constitutes a healthy meal, a perfect workout or an ideal body. Perhaps we see things like “How to lose 10 pounds quickly” or “Easy low-calorie meals.” This content leaves the masses to compare themselves to unrealistic appearances and body image standards. These standards encourage users to think that thinner is better, which is associated with increased body dissatisfaction, lowered self-esteem and body image-related anxiety. 


The impact of social media on diet culture was especially obvious at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Entering quarantine, many college students increased their social media use, such as TikTok and Instagram. One study in July 2020 found that there was a wide range of effects on eating disorders, such as food restriction and binge-eating urges, during the start of the pandemic. Increased free time and boredom brought by the pandemic meant increased use of phones and social media, where diet culture content flourishes. One college student at the University of Georgia recalls her social media feeds being full of people in bathing suits, new workout challenges and low-calorie meals that felt “diet-crazed.” 


I believe social media is one of the most toxic enablers of diet culture. For those who are easily influenced by diet culture or struggling with eating disorders, there are various action items to take. For one, deleting social media apps or filtering your feed is a quick solution. Additionally, to combat diet culture, users can seek creators and influencers who encourage body positivity and post empowering content. “Healthy” looks different for everyone, so thinness does not necessarily mean healthy. Once we realize that health is more than just a perfect diet and strict exercise routine, we can truly live and appreciate our natural selves. 

 

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author, whose information can be found below.)


Madeline Leung is a junior studying Public Policy and Medical Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). She plans to pursue a career in the public health field. She is a healthcare policy intern at Our National Conversation (ONC) as of January 2022. 

 

Sources

Daryanani, Anita. “‘Diet Culture’ & Social Media.” UCSD Recreation, 28 Jan. 2021, https://recreation.ucsd.edu/2021/01/diet-culture-social-media/ 


Health & Medical Journalist. “Pandemic Social Media Use Heightens Eating Disorders.” Grady Newsource, 22 June 2021, https://gradynewsource.uga.edu/pandemic-social-media-use-heightens-eating-disorders/ 

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