My adolescence was influenced by diet culture, and that influence played a part in the development of my eating disorder. By my junior year of high school, I discovered the world of detox teas and diet pills. Laxative teas, goji berry extract pills, garcinia cambogia pills, Slimfast shakes, meal replacement shakes, lotions with caffeine that were said to boost fat loss…
Name almost any diet pill, tea, or product and I’ve tried it.
I have a solid five years of using diet products under my belt. To be honest, I literally couldn’t stop buying diet products. Every time I tried one that didn't work, I would just try another, constantly fueling the fire of my disorder. I wasn't able to fully stop using diet products until I was 22 and in an in-patient treatment program.
Starting my own recovery really opened my eyes to the diet industry—the same one I once believed would help me find peace within myself. Looking back, between my mid-teens and early twenties, I spent hundreds of dollars on these products for one single reason: Influencers and celebrities I looked up to were telling me that if I used these products, I would lose weight and become healthier. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that the media was telling me healthy equaled thin, which more recent research tells us is a big ol’ lie (Health At Every Size is a real thing—read up on it).
This notion of thinness equating to health and happiness is something known as the “thin deal,” and, unfortunately, this message continues to exist even with Instagram’s newly blocked hashtags.
Earlier this year, Instagram started blocking teens under 18 from seeing posts with certain hashtags that promote dangerous dieting products. The promotion of these products by popular teen influencers suggests that they attained their “healthy” figures by drinking tea or having a lollipop—a suggestion that ignores their privilege and access to personal fitness trainers, chefs, dieticians, doctors, and expensive food products. With this type of false advertising for these dieting products, it’s no wonder Instagram also decided to block posts that contain personal discount links to those companies’ websites.
See, the diet industry is a billion dollar a year industry.
How? Because companies pay celebrities to post pictures of them “using” these products, then receive kickbacks. An example: One Instagram influencer posted a photo of her drinking a detox shake from a very well-known diet-product company (I’ve been blocked by this specific company on Instagram for a while now due to 10 minutes of constant trolling... *le sigh*). Drinking isn’t the accurate word, since she didn’t even bother to mix the powder with the water, but I digress.
Her caption linked to the company, and if users clicked that specific link and entered the listed code, they would receive a discount on their order. What people might not know is the company’s website lists details of their ambassador program, where folks can create their own custom link. For every person who uses that link to get a discount, the influencer gets $10.
This influencer would make 17.2 million dollars if only 2% of her 86 million followers bought this diet tea using her link.
This is only a portion of what the company makes off of the product sales, not to mention it’s only from one celebrity endorsement. Eventually, it all adds up, and those who run these companies make millions every year by profiting off of other people's insecurities.
I think these new regulations are a great first step by Instagram to change the conversation about the real definition of health. But we still have so much work to do. Teens and adults are being bombarded with these type of messages multiple times a day, from multiple different angles: Advertisements on television, public transportation, magazines, and other social media platforms leave little room to avoid diet culture entirely.
The way I see it, these organizations make money off of things that used to make me insecure.
Eventually, I got tired of how horrible it felt to leave my house or talk to my friends and decided that there had to be a way to break out of this diet culture “culture.”
It was, and still is, a tough task to face every day. I learned to build some confidence in myself, and I still have hard moments when I’m exposed to diet culture. Sometimes I need a reminder of how to stay strong in the face of diet culture, so I put together a list of a few things that I remind myself of when I am feeling low:
- Detox-product companies need you to feel bad about yourself so they can profit. Do not let someone else make you feel bad about yourself.
- These products do not give our bodies what they need to function properly.
- Teas and meal replacement shakes cannot take the place of real food.
- Avoid social media if it triggers you or makes you feel bad.
The way to combat diet culture is to speak up, educate, and advocate. Start having the hard conversations about the different negative feelings you may have about your body and reach out to someone you trust for support. Sometimes we need to look to others for love as we’re learning to love ourselves.