Social media trends, such as “What I eat in a day,” fad diets and quick-fix products like collagen water garner millions of views per video. For example, one video about collagen water on TikTok gained 29 thousand likes.
Social media trends, such as “What I eat in a day,” fad diets and quick-fix products like collagen water garner millions of views per video. For example, one video about collagen water on TikTok gained 29 thousand likes.
Saahir Mawani

Bringing diet culture to the table

Students, community members and experts weigh in on the impact of diet culture on teens

“What are your New Year’s resolutions?” 

This question pops up all over social media at the end of every December, and comes with a variety of “hate and negativity,” junior Rhylenn Coleman said. Of the 302.35 social media million users, 31% of 18–25-year-olds respond with the same thing. 

“Lose weight.” 

Though the percentage decreases as the demographics get younger (41% of 42-57, 36% of 26-41, 31% of 18-25 ), 36% of the population still wishes to lose weight. While losing weight can be healthy for certain individuals, many of the promoted techniques, specifically on Instagram and Tik Tok, can have unhealthy tendencies. 

The impact of social media

Social media trends, such as “What I eat in a day,” fad diets and quick-fix products like collagen water garner millions of views per video. For example, one video about collagen water on TikTok gained 29 thousand likes. These trends did not spread past the barrier of social media, where a study found that people who reduced their social media use had improvement in how they regarded their overall physical appearance. Coleman, who was not allowed to join online platforms until she was 16, said she benefited from staying offline.

“Social media is not a healthy environment,” Coleman said. “People are always discussing others’ weight. I have depression and anxiety; I would go through phases of not eating at all, and then binge-eating. Even if I wasn’t conscious of it, I was always thinking about looking like this [certain] body type, which was inspired by people I saw on social media.”

Despite the negatives, social media has, statistically, had positive effects. Following the rise of fitness and lifestyle influencers, workout classes such as SoulCycle, Rumble and OrangeTheory gained 971k followers total. With one SoulCycle class leading to 500-700 burned calories, those wishing to lose weight turn to the classes. DFW resident Sarah Jasani said her experiences with social media, however, made her attend SoulCycle classes to an unhealthy extent. 

“When I started being healthy, I used workout classes to get away from social media and the real world,” Jasani said. “I used [workout classes] to have an hour without my phone [and] without work. I used it more for my mental health than my physical health.”

In terms of diet culture affecting pop culture, 12-time Grammy winner Taylor Swift released a music video for “Anti-Hero,” in October of 2022, featuring a scene where Swift looks down at a scale with the word ‘FAT’ written on it. This led to intense media backlash, especially due to Swift’s appearance being a ‘conventionally’ thin woman according to society. 

This led to Swift removing the scene from her music video. Fans, such as @midastouchchevy defended her, saying “anti-hero captured the danger of [the] weight of expectation and the societal pressures of thinness, never feeling worthy of being loved bc scales screamed “overweight.” anti-hero is a commentary on abolishing the pejorative.” 

Other celebrities have been attacked over their body’s physical journey, one of them being Khloé Kardashian. Following her divorce in 2013, she lost significant weight, leading to speculation claiming she took Ozempic, an obesity medication. 

“When I think about [the weight loss industry], the first name I think of is [Khloé] Kardashian,” assistant physician Alyssa Musa said. “As a celebrity, she vlogged her fitness journey daily, consistently posting a story every single day. That shows that not all celebrities are taking magic pills or getting work done that makes them thinner.”  

Additionally, companies push fitness-oriented competition features in their products, such as Apple’s feature on their Apple Watches, where friends and family compete to burn the most calories based on their personal goals. Similar to Kardashian, people, such as Jasani, have dedicated accounts to track their progress, either publicly or privately.

“I’ve noticed that when I do hit a certain benchmark, I do enjoy taking a picture with the sign [with an accomplishment] and showing it off,” Jasani said. “It’s not for vanity, but to show that I do work out [and to say] look at my accomplishments.”

In an era dominated by the constant stream of images and updates on social media platforms, it’s hard to remember the time before this culture took a new form. When glossy magazines adorned newsstands in the early 2000s, supermodels such as Kate Moss and Tyra Banks became the standard of feminine beauty, with pictures of the result without any prep and journey, they proceeded to enforce strict social expectations for women. 

“Growing up, my generation saw people in magazines [and thought] ‘I wish I looked like that,’” Musa said. “Now, [we are] in this phase of social media where [influencers] are posting about what they’re eating and their workouts. I’ve reached a point where I try to remind myself and my patients that this culture is not important, [but] living a healthy lifestyle [is.]”  

Disordered eating/health effects

In research administered by the UNC School of Medicine about eating disorders and how to identify them, they found that 42% of first through third-grade students surveyed said they wanted to be thinner. The National Institute of Mental Health discovered that the prevalence of eating disorders such as Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, and Binge-eating disorder grows with age. 

A survey conducted by Eating Disorder Hope showed that more than 50% of adolescent individuals suffering from an eating disorder also suffer from depression. 

“There are times when I interact with students and I see that their eating habits are unhealthy and concerning,” student assistance counselor Stephanie Bañuelos said. “In the mental health field, if we are dealing with emotional stress, we have to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves physically. I’ve noticed that people that have unhealthy eating habits are compensating for lack of control in their personal life.” 

Consuming social media as a teenager imposes a wide variety of effects on teenagers: depres­sion, anx­i­ety, inad­e­quate sleep (which can affect neu­ro­log­i­cal devel­op­ment), low self-esteem, poor body image and eat­ing dis­or­der behav­iors. This is further emphasized by online harassment or peer pressure in teen minds, proven by social desirability bias —- answering according to society’s expectations, rather than own beliefs or experiences. 

“As a teenager, you are figuring out who you are and how you fit in with your friends,” Bañuelos said. “I can only imagine that social media has negative connotations associated with it. A lot of times, our go-to is to have negative [thoughts], so we just need to be mindful.”

Calorie restriction has been proven to lead to a lack of focus, especially in teens. It includes other effects, such as a weak metabolism. These effects at such a young age can affect a person’s health and overall physical development. In ex-wrestler Coby Goodrich’s case, who one competes with depends on weight.. 

“I’m in a weight class sport, where the slimmer you are, the more specific the competition is,” ex-wrestler Coby Goodrich said. “To fit the class, I had to restrict my calories a little bit. I lost 60 pounds in four months, but wasn’t eating much. I was only eating 1200 calories per day (compared to the average 2600 for growing teenagers), and it was tough to focus in school.” 

With people openly discussing eating disorders, Bañuelos said she hopes people understand it will take time to make change. 

“Social media has made [people] expect results fast and instant,” Bañuelos said. “We get instant gratification everywhere, but our bodies aren’t built that way. It’s appealing, but when it doesn’t work, instead of going to the next thing, take your time and reflect.” 


While diet culture and food have their fair share of proven negative effects, there have been professionally approved ways to use food and eating to one’s advantage.

Recently, a medication named Ozempic has made headlines for its use by celebrities, notably Elon Musk and Amy Schumer, in their weight loss journey. This injection helps one lose about 5 pounds per month. While some people use it for a temporary time, once they complete the use of this drug, the weight comes back. Musa said she recommends alternative treatments to her patients instead. 

“Initially, when patients come in asking for treatments to lose weight, I get to know them and their history,” Musa said. “I do a trial period, where I have them set three goals for themselves before I start them on any medication. The biggest factor in losing weight is consistency, so setting those goals where it can become a habit sets a base for losing weight.” 

The saying, “consistency is key,” is used frequently in the fitness community. This is emphasized when competing in sports such as wrestling, which relies heavily on body weight. 

“When we had tournaments and I had to make weight [checks], I would barely eat anything,” Goodrich said. “I would have a protein shake for lunch, have a little workout and then go home after practice. I would go straight to bed to pass the time I couldn’t eat or drink water. I never regretted it [though.] It’s the reason why I’m healthy and it taught me a lot.” 

Recovery can take a long time for some individuals. Studies say that habits take 30-60 days to break, which is why people return to their unhealthy habits.  

“It takes time,” Musa said. “I remind my patients Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the building blocks were put up every single day. Being consistent makes them a little more motivated. It’s hard, but I always say start small and then go big.”

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