TikTok Is Perpetuating Diet Culture and We’re So Over It

By: Lina El Saie

TikTok, if you don’t know what it is you’re probably too old or live under a rock (seriously my Gen X mom knows what it is). But TikTok’s lesser-known friend is diet culture, you probably know them but you just don’t realize it. Diet culture is the notion that shape, size and the number on the scale are far more important than physical and mental well-being. Dang, diet culture doesn’t seem like they’re a nice person but why are TikTok friends with them? The truth is we all are, it’s a toxic relationship.

Diet culture is the reason you think you need to cut out fats because you don’t look like the Instagram model you saw when you were scrolling last night before bed or the reason you skip out on going to the beach because the swimsuit you bought online doesn’t look as nice as it looked on the model when you tried it on. But still, why are diet culture and TikTok friends and why are we all friends with diet culture? Well, it’s because diet culture is everywhere, even on TikTok; those nice videos that are focused on aesthetics and not health or the necessary nutrients you need to SURVIVE.

TikTok has this insane ability to make things go viral in the shortest periods of time because of its large audience; which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because there aren’t any restrictions on what can go viral and what can’t – which makes it fairly easy for videos that target fast or “miracle cures” for weight loss to reach huge audiences. “What I eat in a day” (featuring our ahem “best friend” calorie counting in cute pastel pink) or “What I eat in a day for weight loss” (with a special feature of scale and sometimes calorie counting: the dynamic duo) or “How I lost ___lbs in a week” or the incredibly “science-based” “Miracle cure for weight loss” and a personal ahem favorite “Eat this not that”. The one common variable is often restrictive eating and oftentimes calorie counting.

Where do I even begin with restrictive eating? These “what i eat in a day” videos feature so many dangers that are rarely mentioned or brought to light; they are very short; they don’t feature the negative side effects and since TikTok as a whole is more focused on aesthetics than it is on the reality of restrictive eating. The accounts won’t show you the muscle cramps, the vitamin deficiencies or the mental toll it takes on them. Instead, they show the aesthetically arranged meals with the calorie count in a nice pastel shade of pink to match the vibe. These accounts only show you what it looks like on the outside, they don’t show you the cycle of doom that they are hurdled into because of diet culture. They don’t show you the thoughts in their brain when they eat or see food and feel guilt. These videos glorify diet culture.

Diet culture is the thing that ruins your body, the thing that makes you feel like you’re getting too fat to be considered an hourglass figure so you need to have caffeine instead of breakfast. The thing that makes you resent your natural body for not losing the amount of weight you want to lose despite following a strict diet, and despite not giving in to your cravings, the thing that makes you feel guilty for eating curly fries or ice cream or a burger, is diet culture.

And now for my personal favorite: “eat this not that”! These videos will genuinely be the death of me, FOOD DOESN’T NEED TO HAVE THE LOWEST CALORIE COUNT POSSIBLE TO BE ENJOYED. Now that that’s out of the way, food has nutrients, calories, fats, carbohydrates and proteins for a reason, shockingly that reason is your body needs these nutrients, fats, carbohydrates and proteins. You shouldn’t look for lower-calorie substitutions for the foods that you want to enjoy. These videos perpetuate the idea that the foods you eat need to have the least calories, like peanut butter powder instead of, you know, peanut butter?! The concept is just messing with my mind because foods don’t need to be stripped down to a former shell of what they were. 

You don’t need to feel guilty for eating food, you shouldn’t look for lower-calorie substitutes. I would understand healthier alternatives like no chemicals or artificial flavorings but you shouldn’t look for the one with the least calories. Fewer calories does not mean it’s healthier, sometimes the less calories the worse it is for you. Okay let’s say you want to have a snack, you have 20 calorie banana muffins and you have a banana (the one that comes for you know a tree), you’d pick the banana even though that the banana has 90 calories, but the banana is better for you that the 20 calorie banana muffin with barely any nutrients.

I’ll give you an analogy to help:

Imagine you have this car and you have 2,000 coins to fuel the car with gasoline, and let’s say you want to save money so you start using 1,500 coins to fuel the car. The car’s GPS starts to lag a bit but it’s not too bad the car still works. You’re saving money but you want to save more money so you start using 1,000 coins instead, the GPS starts to lag a little more and the car starts to get slower, but you’re saving more money and the car still works so it’s fine. You still want to save more money so you start using 800 coins, by now the gauge has adapted to the tiny amounts of gasoline. The car is getting slower and the GPS is lagging a lot more but the car still works so it’s fine and you’re saving money. The car is slow and the GPS lags a lot but the car still works and you want to save more money so you start using 500 coins, then 200 coins, then 100 coins then 50 coins. You’re using 50 coins and you’re saving money but despite saving all that money you still want more, the car is slow but it still works and the GPS is always lagging and barely ever works but it’s fine so you shift to 25 coins and then 0 coins. 

The car breaks down completely so you take it to a mechanic, the mechanic asks you about the gasoline and how much you’ve been using and how much you’ve spent on gasoline; you tell the mechanic about how you’ve been saving money by restricting the gasoline and how the GPS had started to lag and got slower and how the car was getting slower and slower and about how the GPS barely worked. The mechanic tells you that the gasoline was necessary for so many functions in the car and because there wasn’t enough gasoline those functions shut down to save the gasoline for the important functions. You wanted to save money so you restricted the car’s gasoline and now the car stopped working completely and the gauge has adapted to the restricted gasoline, but the car doesn’t work anymore. All that just to save some money, there were so many alternatives that would have been less destructive to the car but now the car has long term damage and you ended up using the money you saved to fix the car. 

Now imagine your body is the car and the coins are the calories your body needs to survive. Making long term damage is not worth the weight you’ll lose. I used this analogy because sometimes it’s easier to think of what you’re doing in a way that isn’t direct to put things into perspective because it’s very easy to be hard on ourselves especially in situations where we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves.

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