Most high school students consider it easier to blend in than to stand out. Perhaps this is the concept which helped plant the seeds of diet culture, which has increasingly affected adults, teens, and, disappointingly, kids. Generally, “diets”, or meal plans that claim to aid in losing weight, fail to recognize how an ideal, healthy body is obtained. Often these diets are misused, resulting in negative consequences to the body.
To be clear, I am not discussing a healthy diet that can also act as a lifestyle change. Rather, I am discussing crash diets – diets in which the goal is to lose weight quickly. Although healthy diets do exist, most everyday diets are not necessarily a shift from junk foods to healthy foods, but rather focus on minimizing daily calorie intake. And the majority of users of these diets don’t recognize the injustice they are doing their bodies, partially due to their normalization by our idols – from the pretty, skinny girl in class, to our own parental figures.
It is important to note that the motivation to diet does not come out of nowhere. The desire to lose weight is mostly caused by pressure from our fellow peers. Social media platforms like Instagram, where posts of skinny girls posing to elongate their torsos in bikinis are plentiful, have harmful influences on today’s teenagers. It isn’t that these girls are unnaturally skinny, it is that with our modern-day culture, it can appear as though these people have the most “fun”. As such, those with other body types may think that, in order to have fun themselves, they need to fit those skinny standards. Keep in mind, high school is an especially pivotal time in the development of self-identity. In being affected by the idolization of a perfect body, according to the US National Library of Medicine, every one in two girls and every one in four boys diet to change their body.
In aiming to change their bodies, these teens do anything from simply counting calories to purposely over-exercising. Often, we converse about the concept of dieting without much care. However, trends like replacing meals with coffee, staying at the gym until you feel like passing out, and abuse of laxatives and diet pills are prevalent problems that are overlooked in these conversations. Still, if a student comes to school looking as though he or she has lost weight, an almost automatic reaction is to congratulate them, fully ignoring whether or not the methods they used to lose the weight were healthy or not. Because of this, diets are played off as something everyone does and should do. This is diet culture, and it is extremely harmful.
All of this is not to say that there are no healthy diets. In fact, there are many. But the way I like to look at diets is not in terms of how much weight you will lose, but in terms of the health benefits you will reap. Cutting out foods proven to clog your arteries, for example, will not only help you become healthier but additionally may result in weight loss. However, no matter how you look at it, if a girl comes to school not having eaten in 3 days, we as a society need to recognize that that is far worse than her having only eaten junk food for three days. Junk food is bad for you, but it is much easier to cut junk food intake than to stop a dangerous cycle of crash diets, which can eventually develop into many different forms of an eating disorder.
We have to stop these issues at their core. When a kid comes home saying someone called them fat, a parent should not tell them to go on a diet. A parent should, first, tell them that no matter what, they have worth. If they really want to live a healthy life, they should eat whole foods that will allow their body to function the way it should- not so that they can be skinny, but so that they can dance, laugh, and play with the maximum energy their body can muster. Society needs to emphasize the importance of being healthy, rather than the importance of being thin.