By: Anita Daryanani, UCSD Dietetic Intern
Photo by: Arielle Chen | Daily Trojan
What Is “Diet Culture”?
“Diet culture” refers to a set of beliefs that values thinness, appearance, and shape above health & well-being 1,2,3. Additionally, the concept places importance on restricting calories, normalizes negative self-talk, and labels certain foods as “good” and “bad”. Individuals subjected to “diet culture” messages have been conditioned to believe that not only does thinness and dieting equate to health, but that the pursuit of health makes one person morally superior to another1,2,3.
Also, the idea of “fat talk” has also become prevalent in society. “Fat talk” refers to negative comments about one’s weight and food choices.
Some examples of fat talk include:
- My/Your thighs are huge
- That milkshake has way too many calories!
- I/You should not be eating this
- I/You look fat in this dress
- I/You need to go for a run after Thanksgiving dinner
- I/You was/were so bad earlier; I/you had a hamburger and fries!
“Diet culture” and “fat talk” have become so normalized in modern society that disordered eating behaviors may happen without any concern1,2,3. Common warning signs of eating disorders (such as skipping meals, restricting calories, excessively exercising, and eliminating certain food groups) should be concerning, but are instead looked upon as normal now. Thus, the vast presence of “diet culture” and “fat talk” may contribute to harmful behaviors that are left unacknowledged; these may then persist into a diagnosable eating disorder1,2,3,4,5,6.
How is Social Media Involved?
The media has a tremendous impact on body-image1,2,3,4,5,6. Social media platforms are accused of distorting reality, in that the models portrayed are either naturally thin and thus unrepresentative of normality, or unnaturally thin due to forced dieting, malnutrition, and/or digital editing2,3. Edited images have been reported to encourage men and women to compare themselves to heavily enhanced and often physically unachievable appearance ideals, which can have a serious negative impact on their wellbeing6. Exposure to these images in the media has been associated with increased body dissatisfaction, lowered self-esteem, and body image-related anxiety6. Also, not surprisingly, the media are often blamed for the increasing incidence of eating disorders because images of idealized/slim physiques motivate society to attempt to achieve slimness themselves. It can be assumed that viewers are under the impression that thinner is better, and that skinny equals attractive1,2,3,4,5,6.
- According to a social media usage survey conducted in 2019, 90% of American 18 – 29-year-olds indicated that they use any form of social media daily. Because social media is so universal and influential in today’s society, posts can be impactful.5
- Notably, a study reported that over 50% of the 2000 adults who were surveyed had previously edited their social media images in some way. Additionally, 70% of women, and over 50% of men aged 18–35 years reported editing their images regularly. This demonstrates a large amount of dissatisfaction in one’s true, original, and natural self to the point where altering the image seems ideal.6
The Bottom Line:
“Diet culture” is prevalent in modern society and edited/unrealistic social media posts help to spread this harmful content1,2,3,4,5.
Here are some steps to eliminate “diet culture”:
- Avoid “fat-talk”
- Do not edit photos. Embrace your natural self!
- Recognize that thinness does not equal health
- Understand that models are not representative of an average human’s body5
- Unfollow toxic accounts and instead follow accounts with diverse body types
These actions can create a happier & healthier society.
If you’re struggling with body image check out these resources:
And if you’d like to improve your relationship with food, schedule an appointment with Erin Kukura, MS, RD (UCSD Recreation Dietitian).
- Harrison K. Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders. The Routledge International Handbook of Children, Adolescents and Media. doi:10.4324/9780203366981.ch27
- Hogan MJ, Strasburger VC. Body image, eating disorders, and the media. Adolescent medicine: state of the art reviews. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19227390/. Published 2008. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Wiseman C, Sunday S, Becker A. Impact of the media on adolescent body image. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15936668/. Published 2005. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- A, Calado M. Westernization: The Role of Mass Media on Body Image and Eating Disorders. Relevant topics in Eating Disorders. 2012. doi:10.5772/31307
- Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/. Published June 5, 2020. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Guest E. Photo editing: enhancing social media images to reflect appearance ideals. Journal of Aesthetic Nursing. 2016;5(9):444-446. doi:10.12968/joan.2016.5.9.444