content warning: eating disorders, calories
earlier we looked the racist roots of fatphobia and in this post we will explore the history of dieting. I have created a timeline of popular fad diets in recent history, starting in the 19th century, although dieting has been around since the beginning of time.
I was a little hesitant about posting this, incase someone mistakes it as weight loss advice which is not what I’m promoting. I’m not a nutritionist, but I strongly discourage anyone from following any of the diets discussed in this post. my intent is to show how the diet industry has evolved and how it is full of vultures who adapt to current trends to make profit, at the expense of our wellbeing. but if this content may be triggering to you and if you think you may take this as diet advice, please don’t read any further
what is a fad diet?
an ‘easy and effortless’ diet that promises dramatic weight loss in a short amount of time, by following a certain regime, buying a product, or cutting out certain foods. although fad diets have been proven to not work, the promise of a ‘quick fix’ still manages to lure people in. they tend to go in and out of fashion, there’s always a new and trendy diet that’s endorsed by celebrities or influencers.
the dangers of dieting
- high chance of disordered eating
- increased feelings of deprivation
- decreased metabolism (see: the biggest loser study)
- feelings of failure
- lower self-esteem, and social anxiety
- loss of confidence and self trust
- food obsession (see: the minnesota starvation experiment – this is a really interesting experiment, it’s crazy)
- stomach cramps, constipation, acid reflux, etc.
- amenorrhea or irregular periods
- weight cycling/ fluctuation
the dangers of weight cycling/ yo-yo dieting
although weight loss is encouraged by health professionals, 95% of diets fail and a third of dieters regain their weight. dieting causes weight cycling, the losing and regaining of weight, which has many severe health implications:
- eating disorders and other psychological disorders
- increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and coronary artery disease
- hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance
- fluctuations in cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, heart rate, cardiac workload, sympathetic activity, blood glucose and lipids
- shortened lifespan
which one of these surprised you the most? if you know of any that I did not include, please mention them in the comments below!!
diet trends of the 2010s
before I begin I’d like to make it known that I’m very biased because by this point, I’m sure I’ve made it clear that I hate diets, and these are just my opinions on them – this should not be taken as medical advice. I’m sure my experiences and issues with food affect the way I see these diets, and maybe other people have better experiences with them. also I’m not trying to attack people who follow these diets, because I’ve actually done them all. just wanted to put that out there 😌😌
a trend that was popular throughout the 2010s and continues to have a following. in short, the purpose of going on a detox is to remove ‘toxins’ that have accumulated in the body. this is usually done by fasting, going on a liquid diet (juicing, acv, lemon water etc), using dietary supplements, or restricting your food intake for a few days. however, unless you have liver disease, your body is already able to detox itself so it’s very unnecessary (it’s just another marketing ploy)
it promotes the idea that you need to ‘make up’ for what you ate by punishing your body. these diets often lack nutrients and result in nausea, weakness, irritability, light-headedness, and binge eating. the only time that detoxing works is when treating a person suffering from dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or poison
this article explains the pseudoscience of detoxing in more detail
HCLF vegan/ raw til 4
I’m not criticising veganism as a dietary choice, I’m talking about the trend from around 2016/2017 when pretty much everyone on youtube went vegan, and those who didn’t were criticised. they promoted a ‘raw til 4’ diet, or a high carb low fat (HCLF) vegan diet, that consisted of a huge amount of fruit and starchy vegetables. they encouraged eating in volume, and promoted a high calorie diet. their ‘what I eat in a day’ videos were all very similar, usually starting their day with a big smoothie bowl with lots of bananas, and different types of fruits, seeds, and ‘superfood‘ powders.
however, the people that promoted these diets were usually rich and white, and their privilege was exhibited when they gained a reputation of shaming those who weren’t able to go vegan. they were able to buy lots of fresh produce and supplements, and usually lived in areas that had lots of vegan food options. they also had time to work out often, and did not acknowledge their privilege. also, a lot of people with eating disorders turned to this diet for ‘recovery’ as it gave them the impression of being able to eat whatever they wanted but it was still very restrictive (don’t attack me I was one of these people!!!)
I feel like I’m gonna get attacked for this because it has such a loyal following but I need to speak my truth. I’m an intermittent fasting hater. I did it for years and thought that I had recovered from my eating disorder but it just validated it by telling me it was healthy and good to ignore my body’s hunger cues.
there are so many different kinds of fasting: 5:2, the fast 800, OMAD, 16:8, 20:4… it disconnects you from your body’s hunger cues, encouraging the mind over matter mindset, and encourages you to suppress your appetite instead of listening to your body. it really messed up how I viewed food, it felt like an accomplishment being able to go without food. I saw a lot of similarities between IF communities and pro-ana communities (ok I know I’m gonna get attacked for that… I’m ready) as they had similar tips and tricks on how to ignore hunger, suppress your appetite, deal with social events etc… I remember always waiting until I could eat and planning my meals, obsessing over food and feeling dizzy all day, feeling like a failure if I needed to eat. those who endorse these diets do try to make it clear that people with eating disorders should not do IF, but that will not discourage anyone.
(I know many people have positive experiences with IF, especially if they have a healthy relationship with food. you can eat however you want, I just hate how it’s promoted as a one size fits all diet)
calorie counting apps
diet culture quickly found its way onto our phones, and made it easy to track our calories through calorie counting apps. I’m scared to name the apps incase I get sued for defamation but you guys know which ones I’m talking about >:) these apps promote focusing on the quantity of food, not quality, reducing them to numbers and create food anxiety about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. these apps make it difficult to log homemade foods, and easy to log ready meals.
these apps can be very useful to many people, especially those who are trying to make sure that they eat enough food. it allows users to effortlessly track calories, and is very easy to use to use and makes it very easy to track calories, and see what nutrients are in their food. (this person talks about their positive experience with myfitnesspal, discussing the pros and cons – but they do say that they’re not able to eat intuitively and feel like they have to track their calories. they also say that they would rather be obsessed with calories than gaining weight)
these apps encourage obsessive policing of our food, and they ignore the fact that our bodies’ needs vary everyday. I had a love-hate relationship with a certain app (that shall not be named), it made me feel safe knowing how many calories I was eating, but at the same time caused a lot of food anxiety. read about this user’s experience with calorie counting apps – see how the replies disregard her point and just blindly defend the app, and claim that she probably just has an eating disorder
I’d go through cycles of deleting these apps and re-downloading them (this is actually very common, look at this tweet and its replies!!) and although I haven’t used them in a long time, I’m still aware of the calorie content in everything I eat. these apps make us lose trust in our bodies, we feel like we must depend on our phones to tell us how much to eat instead of our hunger cues.
- calorie counting apps and body dissatisfaction (study)
- blogs, social media and apps & disordered eating/ compulsive exercising (study)
- weight loss apps and disordered eating behaviours (study)
- MFP and eating disorders (blog post)
- the dangers of quantifying health (time magazine article)
- How using MyFitnessPal led to my binge eating and an unhealthy obsession with food (reddit post – read the replies too!)
I have a lot to say about this one. this diet focuses on eating ‘real’ food and eliminating ‘processed’ food. people choose to avoid different foods but ‘clean eating’ can mean organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, sugar-free, oil-free, grain-free, legume-free, and plant-based. these ideas are very popular on instagram, tiktok and pinterest, such as ‘clean eating swaps’ (zoodles > pasta; bread > rice cakes; flour > ground almond/ oats) and ‘clean eating’ recipes (black bean brownies, oatmeal muffins, chickpea cookies).
although it’s always good to eat more fruit and vegetables, I think it does more harm than good as it demonises many foods and promotes the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. people who try to eat clean may feel guilty when eating foods that aren’t considered ‘clean’ and may lead to binge eating. this can quickly become obsessive and may lead to eating disorders (especially orthorexia). companies have capitalised on this trend, marketing their products as ‘guilt-free’, ‘real’, and ‘clean’. people on this diet often have ‘cheat’ meals or days, as this diet encourages an all-or-nothing approach, demonising certain foods.
now I’m not criticising those who eat lots of protein (because I’m sure that’s perfectly fine), and I know this isn’t a diet but I wanted to acknowledge the rise of protein products. at some point, our shelves just became infested with protein?? protein granola, yoghurt, muffins, noodles, cheese, cereal bars, porridge, crisps, bagels… you could slap PROTEIN on anything and I’d probably buy it. although I know that these products don’t even contain that much protein, I just fall for it every single time.
I did some research and found that in the UK we eat almost double the amount of protein we need (Fleming, 2019). these products are marketed as ‘muscle fuel’, but just because they added some protein does not mean that it’s ‘healthier’. although they may contain more protein, they often have a lot more sugar. protein is in right now, because the ideal body type for men is usually lean and muscular, and the ideal body type for women includes having a big butt and abs (and consuming protein is encouraged when trying to grow muscle)
slimming tea, coffee, + vitamins
remember when you couldn’t scroll through instagram without seeing a celebrity or an influencer promoting some kind of weight-loss tea, coffee, supplement, or sweet that they had definitely never used? I’m extra salty about this one because my friend and I fell for this and bought some expensive tea when we were about 14…. humiliating
but that just shows how dangerous these ads are because these figures have some very young and impressionable followers (I was one of them😖) these instagram posts were eventually banned in late 2019 because they were dangerous and just made you poo.
social media allows celebrities and influencers to benefit from these toxic beauty standards (as seen in these ads), but maybe they are also victims of it. Khloé Kardashian recently proved this when she tried very hard to remove a picture of herself looking….normal??
Khloé went live to prove that she did not look like that photo, and although it must have been upsetting to see a picture she did not like, it was incredibly harmful for her to suggest that it’d be the end of the world (or the Kardashian brand at least) if her body did look like that. can you imagine if celebrities’ bodies weren’t so different from ours after all, and they couldn’t sell products to make ours look like theirs?
kale, quinoa, chia seeds, matcha, seaweed, turmeric, açai, hemp, wheatgrass, spirulina, kombucha… these food are supposedly full of magical nutrients that are anti-aging, immune-boosting, detoxifying, antioxidising, and so on. the term ‘superfood’ is actually a nutritionally meaningless (Nestle, 2018) buzzword used in food marketing to boost sales. Marion Nestle (2018) found that the studies behind these claims are food industry funded and tend to have results that favour the products they are marketing. this is due to our societal interest in health and nutrition.
these foods are nutritious but labelling them as ‘superfood’ enables businesses to put high price on them, and there are many other nutritious foods that have the same health benefits but because they aren’t marketed as ‘superfood’ they’re neglected. they’re widely promoted in the media, and encourages consumers to view food only as fuel.
as MacGregor et al (2018) wrote, “The health and pseudo-scientific claims about the nutritional benefits of anti-ageing superfoods are about selling an experience – a premium product for those willing and able to afford to consume them and able to buy into the dream of self-transformation that is marketed to the consumer…. The promise of health, well-being and vitality are not necessarily that of eating and enjoying the anti-ageing superfood but rather consuming the underlying nutrients in the food”
I know that people may disagree with my opinions on these diets, and everyone has a right to do so! our experiences shape our opinions, and people who haven’t had issues with food may not see things the way I do.
if you feel comfortable, feel free to talk about your experiences with these diets and any that I have not mentioned in the comments below!! ♡♡
today we may laugh at the people who used tapeworms, cigarettes and meat smoothies to lose weight, but at the time, that’s what was promoted. I wonder if future generations will laugh at us for cutting out entire food groups, only eat at certain times, and eating ‘nature’s cereal’ in a bid to lose weight?
my next post will be the last post about diet culture for a little while, I’m moving onto another topic for a few weeks, but here’s a sneak peak of next week’s post!! 🥰🥰🥰
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Eikey et al. (2017): Desire to Be Underweight: Exploratory Study on a Weight Loss App Community and User Perceptions of the Impact on Disordered Eating Behaviors
Embacher, McGloin and Atkin (2018): Body Dissatisfaction, Neuroticism, and Female Sex as Predictors of Calorie-Tracking App Use Amongst College Students
Hefner et al. (2016): Mobile exercising and tweeting the pounds away: The use of digital applications and microblogging and their association with disordered eating and compulsive exercise
Levinson, Fewell and Brosof (2017): My Fitness Pal Calorie Tracker Usage in the Eating Disorders
MacGregor, Petersen, and Parker (2018): Promoting a healthier, younger you: The media marketing of anti-ageing superfoods