Diet Culture: Let’s Break The Cycle

By Sophene Avedissian


You look so thin! Have you lost weight?


I’m back on my diet tomorrow. I’ve been bad lately.


Ugh, I’m so fat.



Photo Credit: @juliehang.art


Throughout their adolescence, children of all genders and ages hear these types of comments. When a young girl sees her mom complaining about the extra fat around her midsection, she will stand in front of a mirror and look at her stomach. She will squeeze the excess fat and wish it was all gone. When a little boy hears his father complaining about his flabby arms, the boy will grab his own and hate how soft they are. He wishes they were toned.


Even though these remarks seem innocuous, they are not. When the girl is 40 years old, she will still feel insecure about her chubby stomach. When the boy is 50 years old, he will still desire muscular arms. The toxic ideas ingrained into the minds of children from a young age stay with them forever. The girl will then comment on the fat around her thighs, and her daughter will overhear. The boy will then comment on the thinness of his legs, and his son will overhear. And just like that, the cycle of unrealistic standards is perpetuated.


According to a report by Common Sense Media, children between the ages of 5-8 who believe that their mothers are dissatisfied with their bodies are more likely to be unhappy with their own.


Laura Choate, a professor of counselor education at Louisiana State University, explains that “Any time that we are criticizing ourselves, acting negatively or saying negative things about ourselves or engaging in dieting behaviors or other kinds of unhealthy eating behaviors, our daughters are watching this, and then they internalize that message and feel bad about their own bodies in return. So one of the best predictors of whether a girl will have negative body image is if her own mother has negative body image.”


The Root of Diet Culture


But, this raises an important question: Where do parents cultivate these harmful views? Magazines, movies and television shows, food packaging, and weight loss products––among many others. Diet culture, the belief that values one’s appearance over their health and well-being, has infected society, and its impossible standards are spread across a countless number of people.


However, in today’s world, diet culture ideas are being preserved through social media. Social media, over the past years, has promoted diet culture beliefs and contributes heavily to the low self-esteem and confidence of those with bad body image.


Social Media’s Role


For instance, “clean” eating is a fad diet that reinforces the belief that only consuming whole foods leads to health benefits. More specifically, it labels some foods as “good” and others as “bad.” For instance, carrots are deemed as “good” foods, while a chocolate bar is categorized as “bad” food. Even though some foods are more nutrient-dense, they should not define one’s worth. Eating fatty foods or carbohydrates like bread should not label you as “dirty” Likewise, eating a salad for a meal should not label you as “clean.” Many do not realize that health is not a size and it is not what you eat. Instead, health is a feeling.


Clean eating has resulted in a new eating disorder known as orthorexia. Orthorexia is an obsessive focus on eating in a healthy way. The term was coined by Steven Bratman, a California doctor, in 1996. Orthorexia begins with sensible intentions, but those with this disorder will eliminate entire food groups from their diet. For instance, one might decide to cut out foods that contain dairy. However, this will spiral into them removing more food from their diets such as gluten and sugar.


A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine explains the relationship between social media and orthorexia: “Higher Instagram use was associated with a greater tendency towards orthorexia nervosa, with no other social media channel having this effect. In exploratory analyses Twitter showed a small positive association with orthorexia symptoms. BMI and age had no association with orthorexia nervosa. The prevalence of orthorexia nervosa among the study population was 49%, which is significantly higher than the general population.”


The manipulated, photoshopped pictures teenagers see on apps like Instagram play a role in shaping the way they view their own bodies. And with social media’s increasing usage, diet culture is becoming extremely dangerous.


Over decades and decades, the “perfect” body has changed drastically. In 1910, the ideal body was “The Gibson Girl.” “The Gibson Girl” was tall, slender. Yet, she had large hips and a small, snatched waist. In 1960, the perfect body for women was delicate: narrow hips, slender thighs and legs, thin legs, and a flat stomach. Unlike “The Gibson Girl,” the paragon of beauty during the 1960s had no waist definition. In 2010, a big butt, wide hips, and a tiny waist are considered attractive.


How is it that beauty standards can change so drastically over time? This just comes to show how unattainable and ridiculous the idea of the perfect body truly is.


After learning about diet culture and how it is rooted in our society, it is inevitable to wonder how we can break from this continuous cycle.


Ending The Cycle


It is easy to fall under the spell of diet culture; to begin listening to the opinions of others instead of the signals your body sends you. Reminding yourself that food is meant to keep you alive and not to make you look a certain way is key to breaking away from this damaging cycle. Counting calories, restricting what kinds of foods you can eat, and ignoring your body are habits you must break to finally see food as nothing but nourishment.


Since social media plays such an integral role in diet culture, taking a look at who you are following on platforms will allow you to disassociate from those that impact you negatively. Instead, following people who reiterate the importance of self-love and appreciate all that your body does for you will help you disregard what diet culture tells you.


I hope that moving forward, young and impressionable boys and girls do not look at themselves in the mirror and wish that they were different; wish that they could change their own, unique bodies. I hope that moving forward, that young girl is not insecure about her stomach. I hope that moving forward, that young boy is not insecure about his arms.


I hope that our society can end the cycle by eradicating diet culture.

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