Jordan Neperud 

Managing Editor 

June 7, 2022

You scroll through social media and see yet  another influencer promoting their diet that  made them lose ten pounds in a week. You turn  on the T.V. and see another commercial for diet  pills. You talk to your friends and the only conversation topic is getting their summer bodies  ready. You are a teenager and this is diet culture  trying to get to you.  

The term “diet culture” is thrown around in  health and eating disorder recovery spaces , but  what does it really mean? Behavioral Nutrition  defined diet culture as “the glorification of losing weight at all costs.” This glorification exists  everywhere: from medical discrimination faced  by plus-sized people, to the lack of clothing  options for plus-sized bodies. A blog post from  Harvard Medical School wrote, “Weight bias is  pervasive in medicine,” describes doctors that telling plus-sized patients to lose weight when  a concern is addressed and the consequences  that stem from this. An article from BBC News  described the clothing industry as “habitually  excluded them [plus-sized people] to promote  a thin and often unattainable ideal.” One of the  consequences of the prevalence of diet culture  is the development of disordered eating.  

The terms “disordered eating” and “eating  disorder” may sound similar, but they describe  two different things. Disordered eating is an  “unhealthy eating pattern that is more subtle  in its behavioral manifestation than an Eating Disorder,” by the Disordered Eating Guardian.  Disordered eating can spiral into a diagnosable  eating disorder. The dictionary definition of  an eating disorder is “any “any of a range of  mental conditions in which there is a persistent  disturbance of eating behavior and impairment  of physical or mental health”. In simpler language, disordered eating is the middle ground  between normal eating patterns and an eating  disorder. Getting help when someone is exhibiting signs of disordered eating before they  develop an eating disorder can save their life.  

Diet culture and disordered eating go hand  in hand. Diets that demand consumers cut out  entire food groups are not promoting health;  they’re promoting thinness. One of diet culture’s favorite punching bags is carbohydrates.  Carbs are necessary for brain and body function, yet many diets encourage cutting them  out completely. According to an article from  Harvard T.H. Chan, carbohydrates “provide  the body with glucose, which is converted to  energy used to support bodily functions and  physical activity.” The only thing cutting out  carbs or any food group will accomplish is  making consumers unhealthy. An article from  the National Library of Medicine linked carbohydrate restriction that lasts for periods of  months to years with “osteoporosis, kidney  damage, increased cancer risk, impairment  of physical activity and lipid abnormalities.”  Even if consumers avoid the health consequences of some of these diets, their relation ship with food will be damaged. Avoiding  “unhealthy” foods, restricting, and monitoring weight easily transition to disordered eating.  Diets like intermittent fasting (an eating pattern  where one cycles through periods of eating and  fasting) that encourage ignoring the body’s hunger cues can become anorexia. Thirty day diets  that make consumers binge after their restriction period can become binge eating disorder or bulimia.  

 “The best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is  the sociocultural idealization of thinness.” The  National Eating Disorders Association claimed.  There is no escape from the message that “thin  equals attractive.” Affordable and cute clothing  options for plus-sized people is a recent development. Celebrities and models are still primarily thin. Finding a fat character that isn’t obsessed  with food or plays second-fiddle to the thin  main character is like playing Where’s Waldo.  The obsession with size and weight starts young  and only gets worse from there. The National  Eating Disorders Association claimed that girls  start to express concerns about their weight at  age six. “40-60% of elementary school girls  (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or  about becoming too fat.” These feelings easily  transition to disordered eating and eating disorders later in life. Diet culture promotes using  unhealthy means to achieve thinness, as shown  by demonizing necessary foods and encouraging under-eating.  

 One of the main ways diet culture promotes it self is through media. Commercials, TV shows,  and social media are the main perpetrators. The  overrepresentation of thin people and the un least one food journal in a health class to pro mote healthier eating, but students agree that  food journals may do more harm than good.

derrepresentation of plus or mid-sized people creates a feeling of isolation and a desire to be thin. Instead of trying to eat a nutritious diet, teenagers are concerned about their weight and body size. It has never been about health; it has always been about being thin. Teenagers agree that the media plays a large role in their insecurities because there isn’t enough representation for bigger bodies. “It’s really bad if you don’t  see yourself in those people in the media,” said Atholton freshman Sitara Canada.  

School, the place where teenagers spend a lot of their time and make most of their friends, can be a contributing factor. Assignments like food journals are the main suspect. A food journal is writing down what a person ate over a period of time. Most students have done at least one food journal in a health class to pro mote healthier eating, but students agree that  food journals may do more harm than good.  Atholton sophomore Mari Bonilla, who was  suffering from an eating disorder when the  food journal was assigned, said “It just made  me feel like I am harming myself so I might  as well not eat at all. Or just not have food.”  While food journals do have good intentions,  they can be detrimental for all teeangers, not  just those who already struggle with disordered  eating. “I started to feel self conscious about  what I’ve eaten and how much I’ve eaten,” said  Mendoza. Students agree that more consideration needs to be put into assignments like food  journals. 

Despite how persuasive diet culture is,  measures are being taken to try to fight back.  Mid-sized and plus-sized models are becoming  more and more popular. Eating disorders and  warning signs are taught about in health classes  across the country. There are social media accounts dedicated to deconstructing diet culture.  While all these actions are a step in the right direction, there is still a long, uphill battle against diet culture, especially for teenagers.  

At the end of the day, diet culture is detrimental and toxic for teenagers. Nobody, especially not the most insecure age range, should  equate a number on a scale with their health.  Eating healthy is important, but that’s not what  diet culture wants. Diet culture promotes dis ordered eating and insecurity. Listening to real  medical professionals instead of people trying  to sell you a product is a great way to start. Lis ten to your body and make the choices that are  right for you.

Posted by ssaunders

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