Following the MET gala, there’s been a lot of buzz around celebrities behaving in ways that promote unhealthy and toxic messages about body image and diet culture. The glamorization of extreme weight loss is a pervasive problem, especially considering how much sway social media has on our emotions and mental state.
Plus, on the physical side, there’s already evidence that shows how extreme or constant dieting is unsustainable and can lead to weight cycling (repeatedly gaining and losing weight). To make matters worse, weight cycling is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.
According to Paula Atkinson, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Washington, DC who specializes in eating disorders and body image, “we know that dieting (of all kinds, but specifically… extreme restriction) is trauma to the body and the brain. It can lead to years of food obsession, body hatred, feeling out of control with food, and other sometimes lifelong consequences.”
However, these days there seem to be more people, celebrities and health experts alike, who will not stand for such dangerous messages and are calling out influential individuals on their harmful behavior.
Here are four things that we can all do to help stop toxic messages about diet culture and body image in their tracks, and create a safer, healthier space for everyone.
Remember that crash diets backfire in the long term
“Crash diets, or any diet promising quick weight loss, do not [deal with] the harder and more important issue of sustainability,” says California-based nutritionist Amanda Sauceda, RDN. “People are never able to keep up with restrictive diets, which can lead us into a vicious cycle of weight cycling, which is extremely detrimental to the body and mind.”
To support this claim, take a look at this 2020 meta-analysis that looked at data from many popular diet patterns such as low-carb, Mediterranean, low calorie, low fat, macronutrient counting, and more. The research revealed that even though it’s true that most people would lose weight in the first six months of all these diets, almost all participants would regain most or all of the weight within the year.
Curate the media you consume
“Constant access and exposure to celebrities is almost unavoidable these days,” says Atkinson. “But we have some choice of who we follow, and who and what we allow into our consciousness.”
Of course, you won’t be able to dodge every harmful headline, but you can choose to stop following celebrities or people that make you feel as though you, your life, and your body aren’t “good enough.” Instead, try to follow social media accounts that encourage healthy relationships with food.
Stop putting celebrities on a pedestal
Even though we all know that social media platforms such as Instagram only show the highlights of someone’s life and not the full picture, it’s certainly worth repeating. Many celebrities and influencers display only their most glamorous moments and hide their everyday lives or difficult times.
Atkinson reminds her clients that many of the rich and famous struggle with severe body image issues and celebrating dramatic weight loss is often only perpetuating problematic mindsets and practices that are thriving behind the scenes.
Body acceptance is far more fulfilling than fitting into a dress
While Atkinson recognizes how hard it can be to remove yourself from diet culture and all the societal beliefs about body shape and food choices, she asserts that the “freedom from the entire scam is far more fulfilling and far less fleeting than fitting into any dress.”
Atkinson promotes body neutrality, which disconnects your self-worth from what your body looks like. This is seen as a healthier and more sustainable approach than body positivity, which calls for people to love their bodies at all times.