The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

How to navigate a world where diet culture seems inescapable

Yu Yu Blue

Editor’s note: This story contains discussion of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors. 

The pandemic was a special time for a lot of us, to say the least. Maybe you learned how to make your own bread from scratch or binge-watched a new Netflix original TV show that, if you weren’t forced to stay inside, you would’ve never watched. 

For many, it was a time of growth and reflection. 

For me, the first few months of quarantine were not the times people are now romanticizing on social media.

I have always struggled with body image issues, especially growing up as a dancer, being forced to stare at my body in a skin-tight leotard for hours on end. In my experience, quarantine was just a time to hone in on my insecurities and attempt to “fix” them. 

I’ll spare you the details, but long story short, my attempts to “fix” my body landed me in a residential treatment facility for 42 days. 

Despite being away from my friends and family, and the only movies to watch were “Maleficent” and “Over the Hedge, I’m grateful for my time there and what it taught me. 

But even though the program I was in prides itself in being one of the top treatment programs in the country for addiction, eating disorders and mental health disorders, I was never taught how to cope with what was going to happen once I stepped foot into the real world.

I got used to being just another girl among 25 others for weeks on end, but eventually, I had to remember how to be a real person and deal with everyday challenges. 

I was in for a rude awakening when I realized how normalized diet culture and even some eating disorder behaviors are in society.

Diet culture is hidden everywhere. Companies sell “meal supplement” protein bars that simply don’t provide enough nutrients to be considered a meal. Celebrities promote weight loss supplements and diet plans so they can make a quick buck but don’t really care about the effect they have on the consumer. The thousands of fitness influencers on social media are telling us what to eat and what not to eat, and they all contradict each other. 

Since there was no crash course on living in a world that is obsessed and contaminated with diet culture, I had to teach myself. 

If you’ve ever read any of my stories or talked to me about anything for more than an hour, you’ll know how I like to solve my problems — delete social media. 

In all seriousness, social media is a major source of disordered eating content, and as users, we’re consuming harmful content without even realizing it. 

Marika Tiggemann, a professor at Flinders University, conducted a study to better understand the reasons adolescent girls desire to look a certain way, the media was the most influential factor in encouraging thinness.

“Social media is the holy grail of promoting ED culture and if someone is struggling with those misconceptions, then it is extremely easy to run into toxic mindsets.” said DePaul junior Abbi Swietlik. 

As sad as it is to admit, I’ve been on Instagram since 2012, and I can confidently say that if I did not start using social media at 9 years old, I would not have the body image issues I have today, especially not to the severity it was four years ago. 

After recognizing that social media is one of the many problems, we must take action to ensure that social media is a safe place to be and learn to recognize what is enforcing diet culture or disordered eating. 

“The first thing to do is to clean your feed,” said Amy Goldsmith, founder of Kindred Nutrition, a private practice of dieticians and therapists who specialize in eating disorders and sports nutrition. “We can control our own feeds by unfollowing anything diet culture or removing ourselves from blogs or newsletter that auto send to us.”

Still, it’s important to be wary of the influencers you follow who promote body positivity and food freedom because they can even be doing more harm than good. 

For example, when I got out of treatment, I followed dozens of eating disorder recovery pages, hoping that it would provide a better community than I had known before. However, these accounts post tons of body checking, assuming that it will be relatable but only serves as a comparison for their audience. Also, these accounts would talk about the behaviors they used in the depths of their eating disorder, which only adds more fuel to the fire by giving inspiration and tips to those who haven’t made it to their recovery stage quite yet. 

Regardless of it being my favorite piece of advice to hand out, deleting social media won’t stop the problems we face in the real world. I’m still trying to figure out how to make my way through this life without ending up where I was four years ago. But if I could say my advice, it would be to communicate. 

Not everyone is going to know what you don’t want to hear. Imagine my frustration when I got out of treatment, where no one was allowed to even talk about food, and thrown back into a world where it seems like food is the only thing people want to talk about. But, if you don’t want to talk about something, like food or triggering behaviors, you have a right to say so. 

“It’s okay to reject diet culture and ED propaganda and to hold your boundaries,” Goldsmith said “The more you show your boundaries with what you will allow into conversations, the more people will respect your stance.”

Navigating this world can be terrifying, and the societal pressures to look or live a certain way don’t make the load upon our shoulders any lighter. That’s why it’s important to put our health first before listening to the eating disorder propaganda that plagues our world.

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