Life Opinion

Social media reinforces diet culture, warping how we think about food

With summer on its way, and the need for that summer body, don’t let social media impact your intake of food.

Is summer on its way, or is it the end of your favorite holiday? Did you gain a little weight and want to lose it fast? 

Don’t fall into this trap. 

The culture we created around dieting isn’t healthy. Losing weight cannot be done quickly in a safe way, it takes time and hard work. Stick to a safe healthy diet and try to do some exercise.  

Social media creates these labels on food to make people “healthier” but they could end up leading to orthorexia, an eating disorder where you obsess over healthy eating. Diet culture is how society has taught us to value being skinny over our mental and physical health. Whether that’s with diets of just beliefs that have been forced on you about “good” and “bad” food, diet culture affects us all. But at the end of the day food is food and there’s nothing wrong with indulging in some chocolate cake or even a bag of chips from time to time.

Many studies show that social media can affect what kind of food you consume. Lily Hawkins of Aston University explains that “If we believe our friends are eating plenty of fruit and veg we’re more likely to eat fruit and veg ourselves. On the other hand, if we feel they’re happy to consume lots of snacks and sugary drinks, it can give us a ‘licence to overeat’ foods that are bad for our health.”  

Social media may be playing a role in eating disorders. There is no proof that social media is causing eating disorders but a survey conducted by researchers at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago shows that there is a link between social media and body image concerns. It may not be causing the disorder itself but being exposed to people with “perfect” bodies for hours at a time can cause insecurities and make us less confident in our own skin. Social media also influences what we eat by showing us new diets and labels food as good and bad. 

TikTok is a social media platform that values being skinny: The majority of people who go viral on this platform—such as Loren Gray, Charli D’Amelio and Bella Poarch— all lean into similar trends: they wear tight, revealing clothes to show off their “perfect” bodies. 

There have been trends on this app that influences unhealthy eating and promotes eating disorders. One trend on TikTok showed how people lost weight over a period of time. For people with eating disorders and disordered eating, trends like this can be very triggering. Since this mental illness is so competitive, seeing someone lose so much weight can make them want to match their number or even exceed it. Recently there has been more body positive tiktok such as this one explaining that there is no “perfect” body.

During quarantine, TikTok’s For You Page was filled with workout routines and healthy eating in the hope that people could get in shape during these boring days. But seeing content like this for hours at a time could be harmful. The survey conducted by researchers Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, showed that 62% of people with anorexia experienced more severe symptoms during the pandemic. Melissa Harrison is a professional counselor, who is said to work with kids as young as 12 years old who were restricting their eating due to TikTok.   

Another popular platform that values perfection is Instagram. Not only does it promote unrealistic standards towards your body but Instagram has also admitted to promoting weight loss content to people with eating disorders. They said this “accident” happened because the explore page is based on your interests. So when people with eating disorders searched terms such as “appetite suppressant,” Instagram used that to find similar content that might interest its users.

There is limited research proving that Instagram is linked to body dissatisfaction or body surveillance, although many users believe it does. “I’d just get all these suggestions of weight loss hashtags… It just made it easier and in a way… tempting to dip my foot back into the eating disorder world,” Rose Anne Evans states. Rose is a teenage girl who suffered from an eating disorder. Her doctor, Dr. Goldin, told the BBC that, “It’s deeply worrying and to some extent the situation is spiralling out of control, […] It glamorises eating disorders.” He believes, “there is still content on Instagram that should not be there.” 

The same BBC report quotes Tom Quin, the director of external affairs at a UK charity that address eating disorder. Quinn has worked at this eating disorder charity for almost 4 years. He wishes to end the pain caused by eating disorders. 

“The government must take whatever steps necessary to ensure that content that promotes eating disorders is not available,” Quinn says.  

Cover Image: Viola Tran

2 comments on “Social media reinforces diet culture, warping how we think about food

  1. Pingback: The capabilities I have demonstrated through my work in New Media Lab – Site Title

  2. Pingback: The capabilities I have demonstrated through my work in New Media Lab – Viola's blog

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