By Dr. Terri Griffith
Picture this: You’re scrolling Tik Tok when you find a “What I eat in a day” video. A 20-something-year-old influencer, clad in fluffy white Skims and perfectly coiffed hair to match the never-lived-in aesthetic of her home, shows you everything she eats in a day to maintain her “healthy” lifestyle. She also shares a workout routine that she swears by to maintain her physique. She is thin, gorgeous, and seems to have it all – and she promises that if you follow her diet and fitness routine, you too will be thin, gorgeous, and have it all.
In a world that praises unattainable standards of beauty, many people are willing to try anything to achieve their ideal body image. “Healthy lifestyle” and “clean eating” content can seem innocuous, but diet trends like “What I eat in a day” and “one meal a day” are dangerous. These trending diets that aim to completely eliminate certain types of foods from our diets or put strict limits on calorie consumption can be harmful because they’re not sustainable and the influencers that promote them often don’t have the credentials necessary to make these recommendations.
Social-media diets can make us feel like we are competing with strangers and eating disorders are competitive by nature. The pressure to be the most attractive, eat the healthiest, and attain the ideal body image is exasperated with every scroll. Everyone’s body is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all diet. Even a diet recommended by a nutritionist that works well for one person may not be healthy for the next. Generalizing about what people should and shouldn’t be eating can not only negatively affect people who already struggle with an eating disorder, but it can also encourage and even reward disordered eating for those who have never been diagnosed with one.
Eating disorders do not discriminate, but certain populations are more significantly impacted by body dissatisfaction than others. These groups include people of color, individuals with existing mental illnesses, and, yes, the LGBTQ community. Fifty to 60% of LGBTQ individuals express body dissatisfaction, compared to approximately 30% of their heterosexual peers. These numbers are even higher for individuals who identify as transgender, as their body image is typically impacted by where they currently are in their transition process.
The LGBTQ community is also more susceptible to eating disorders due to the higher rates of anxiety and depression experienced. Lack of acceptance, difficulty finding a group to belong to, and overt and subtle prejudice are all factors that contribute to higher incidences of depression than the general population. And unfortunately, depression can be the first step in a downward spiral of a negative feedback loop: depression leading to poor self-esteem, contributing to negative body image, which often leads to harmful habits such as eating disorders, substance use, or self-injurious behaviors. With the convenience and instant availability of social media, diet trends can not only be dangerous but could even result in fatal outcomes.
So how can we combat being bombarded with negative messages about our bodies when social media is constantly at our fingertips? It starts with being aware of what media you’re consuming. Do you follow people who are obsessed with body image? Do your favorite shows have characters to whom you compare yourself? Remove those influences that negatively impact your mental state and reward behaviors like disordered eating. It’s also important for parents to have open conversations with their children about what they are internalizing.
You can also train your thoughts by tracking and consciously changing the narrative you tell yourself. For example, if you find yourself deliberately or unknowingly touching your stomach and feeling pudgy, or comparing yourself to others in the room, you can recognize when those thoughts come up and replace them with thoughts that are less judgmental, critical and are more accepting.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone. Visit sheppardpratt.org to find resources and learn about our evidence-based eating disorder treatment program.