Not a quick fix


photo by Angelica Mendez

Social media is one of the main influences on diet culture and body image, showing unrealistic standards online. Diet culture comes from things that influence us to think we need to eat and look a certain way to be accepted by others in society.

By February, many New Year’s resolutions are hanging on by a thin thread, and in most cases, that resolution is to go to the gym to grind for that “ideal body.” Whether it is a guy trying to bulk up or a girl trying to get an hourglass shape, everyone is working to achieve body goals, and there is one main reason everyone is working towards these highly desirable looks.  

Diet culture’s influence on exercise 

For Emily*, the trap was over-exercising and falling for the online workout videos that promised results in two weeks. Workout programs like ‘Chloe Ting: two week shred challenge’ and ‘Blogilates 14-day quarantine challenge’ took over the internet during quarantine. Created by different influencers and featuring different workouts, these videos all had one thing in common: they promised people that they would lose weight. 

 Most days, she would do an hour of cardio and an hour and a half of these popular workout videos. One of the most common ones she did was the Alexis Ren ab workout, which is a model’s go-to ab exercises that promises a quick and effective ab routine.

“I know myself and also a lot of people over quarantine were kind of on this health kick, and we would all over exercise, under-eat and follow all trends that we would see,” Emily said.

Emily was not alone when it came to the health-crazed quarantine year. Many people hopped onto workout plans all to work off that dreaded “quarantine 15.” 

The “quarantine 15”  is essentially the college “freshman 15.” It stood for the additional 15 pounds everyone thought they would gain during lockdown, so while the world was suffering from a global pandemic, a lot of people were worrying about that dreaded weight gain,  turning to diet cultures “quick fixes” to prevent it.  

“I think that the quarantine 15 negatively affected many people, including me, but the thing is it is just a strategy they used to make us want to buy weight prevention stuff, and we all fell for it,” Emily said. “It made me feel like I had to do all these things just not to gain a little weight.” 

For Emily, the quick weight loss “remedies” were apple cider vinegar pills and the Olly probiotic and prebiotic gummies. She hoped that these two pills would help her stomach look flatter and help her lose weight faster. But many of the “quick fixes” marketed to prevent weight gain are all used to reach the ideal body goal diet culture has set up for people. 

Products like apple cider vinegar vitamins, waist trainers and steroids only successfully sell because people are told they can lose weight and look a certain way by using them. According to Marketing Week, marketers know that consumers associate the goal of weight loss with failure, guilt and frustration, feelings created by diet culture’s body standards. 

But over time, the excessive workout plan and quick fix pills did not work for Emily and she decided to ask her mom for help. She and her mom then formed a healthier workout plan and went to the gym together, as well as worked on fixing their diets to incorporate all the nutrients they needed to be healthy without the diet pills and vitamins. 

Diet culture

According to CNN Health, diet culture is the societal pressure to eat and look a certain way to be accepted by others in society. But what that definition fails to mention are the consequences that come with diet culture. 

“I feel like [diet culture] had good intentions in the beginning, it started with people realizing they did not feel the way they used to and wanting to get to the root of the problem,” junior Amanda Negron said. “But then as time progressed, people took advantage of it, and a lot of it today is scams of influencers and people saying starve yourself.” 

Despite the possibility of having good intentions in the beginning, diet culture has always influenced people, with the first diet fad dating back to the 1800s. In fact, 41% to 66% of girls will fall for diet culture and 20% to 31% of boys will, according to the National Library of Medicine. 

“I definitely think [girls and guys] have to look a very specific way in order to be deemed attractive and to fit the societal norm,” junior Alana Hunt said. “For girls it is very thin [and] tall, and for guys it is very tall and muscular, but that just is not possible for many people.” 

Hunt witnessed many people close to her struggle with the way they look and be influenced by diet culture. She witnessed some family members and close friends think they had to change and tried to help them when she saw them struggle with food and exercise. 

“I’ve seen people just tear them apart, because they do not see their own worth because society told them that they are not beautiful and that something needs to change about them,” Hunt said. “I think it is terrible that society has pushed out the idea that we need to look a certain way.”

Whether it is a guy or girl being influenced by diet culture, it can have a huge impact on a person’s body image and be accompanied by many other issues. Anyone can feel pressured to look the way society wants them to, but it can quickly turn into obsessive and excessive attempts to gain a certain appearance. Such attempts might include restricting themselves from eating, over-exercising and taking diet pills (or other pills that can make you lose weight or gain muscle faster). 

Diet cultures influence on food 

With social media feed constantly full of influencers and famous people, Sarah* started to compare herself to these people every day. As a result, from 2020 to 2022, Sarah began to struggle with her eating. While the struggle started off small with only cutting out things she considered junk, it progressed to where she could barely eat stuff that was considered healthy. 

“I just could not eat without regretting and wanting to get rid of food I ate,” Sarah said. “It got to the point where I was on vacation and got a salad, ate half then got really upset and felt guilty, [and thought] I should not have eaten that.” 

As her condition worsened, she was worried that her condition was becoming an eating disorder and decided to talk to her brother, who helped her have a “social media detox.” 

“He just kept checking up on me and making sure I was eating and would tell me to stay off [social media] during any time I started to feel bad about my weight or the way I looked,” Sarah said. “It just kind of helped having someone to talk to, who made sure I was doing okay and made sure I was not comparing myself to others.” 

Diet culture on social media

According to UC San Diego Recreation, social media feeds into diet culture especially because of the distorted reality it can cause and the idolization of certain physiques it creates. Because of its ability to mask reality with the use of filters, poses, Photoshop and angles, social media is a main cause for the spread of diet culture and body image issues. 

“You are seeing all these influencers and people you do not know, your brain might automatically think, oh they edit but you are still comparing yourself,” Sarah said. “You are still thinking why can’t I look like that person, then there’s all the what I eat in a day or my weight loss workout routine, and you just want to follow it because you are like, ‘Maybe if I do that, I will look like that.’” 

Not only do everyday pictures on feeds influence these things, trends that go around on social media can also influence how people see themselves. One of the current trends is the Bella Hadid trend, where people show themselves barely eating or fitting between a very small door gap with the audio saying “I am Bella Hadid.”

“I think trends like this make people, myself included, feel like we need to be as skinny as her because she is considered body goals, and just overtime constantly seeing that can really affect people’s mental health and body image,” Emily said. 

 While many trends and posts can seem innocent at first, they can lead into the many downfalls of diet culture and body image. These things in turn, as well as many others, can lead to extreme workout patterns, obsessive food habits and many other issues. 

Getting past diet culture

According to Healthline, stopping diet culture starts with focusing on healthy eating and exercising patterns, as well as setting boundaries and taking time. 

Finding the perfect medium for clean eating before it gets excessive and a good amount of exercise  are key to stopping diet culture. 

“You have to know that it is what’s on the inside that matters. I know that sounds cliche, but do not put so much weight into your appearance, or else you are falling for diet culture,” Hunt said. “Appearance is not always something that is easily changeable, and it is not even something that holds as much weight as who you are as a person and what you do with your life.”