Opinion: The impact of dangerous diet fads during the pandemic

Influencers on social media should promote healthy exercise routines that teens can easily follow at home.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/jamiellee6/" target="_self">Jamie Lee</a>

Jamie Lee

August 2, 2022
According to a study from 2002, up to 57% of teen girls engage in unhealthy eating behaviors that include crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills or laxatives. Eating disorders are so prevalent among young adults, that in one study on college campuses, 91% of women reported trying to control their weight through dieting. 

The first eating disorder diagnosis was anorexia nervosa, made in 1874 by Sir William Gull. Until the 1900s, eating disorders were a topic many overlooked or were unaware of the issue.

However, in recent years, the number of anorexia patients has increased by 36% every 5 years and around eight million people currently suffer from it. With the most vulnerable age group being females 15 to 24 years old, eating disorders have become a major concern for women in the 21st century. 

With over 4.62 billion online, social media platforms are now considered a major driving force behind the norms and trends of society. During the coronavirus, quarantine conditions have only increased people’s exposure to such content as they rely more on entertainment online.

Due to this recent shift, many have experienced weight gain and a rise in body image issues. Understandably, people then looked to social media for advice and tips regarding weight loss.

While some accounts promote healthy lifestyle habits during quarantine, the popularity of this topic has also allowed for dangerous advice to emerge that could increase one’s risk for unhealthy eating behaviors.

Many fads in dieting have emerged rapidly as teens sharing their meal plans on social media is a popular trend. Keto and paleo diets have become more popular due to creators claiming they have lost a significant amount of weight thanks to these diets.

Unlike the older trends in dieting that require a person to eat a minimal amount of food, these diets promote teens to eat meals. However, the issue comes from the fact that most people promoting the diets are not doctors or nutritionists. This leads to the spread of misinformation and unhealthy adaptations to possibly healthy diets. 

The ketogenic diet is one such diet that has taken the Internet by storm. The term “keto” is in relation to ketone, a fatty acid that fuels the metabolism and muscle functions of the body. In a keto diet, people replace carbohydrates with excess fats accumulating a high level of ketone in the blood, resulting in ketosis or a fat-burning state. In total, participants of the diet aim to consume 5% of their daily calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein, and 75% from fat.

The major troubling issue about this diet, is that one must cut down significantly on fruit and vegetable consumption since these are a prevalent source of carbohydrates as well as important vitamins and nutrients. Removing grains (another common source of carbs) also results in a decline in consumed fiber which is necessary for healthy bowel movements. Although the keto diet may lead to rapid weight loss, the body may suffer the “keto flu,” which includes symptoms like nausea, vomiting and constipation. The diet has also been shown to interfere with the proper mineral density in bones

Apple cider vinegar has for a long time shown to have multiple health benefits including an improvement in weight loss. However, it received its greatest spotlight during the COVID quarantine period due to a trend on social media that encouraged users to drink a shot of apple cider vinegar every day, i.e. the #applecidervinegarchallenge. Many lifestyle creators joined in on the trend by sharing daily videos of drinking straight apple cider vinegar and recording their weight loss progress.

In a recent Harvard research study, the consumption of straight vinegar was shown to degrade tooth enamel, which makes them vulnerable to bacteria, and increased the likelihood of cavities and stains. This trend is often accompanied by a caloric deficit or diet. Thus, by consuming straight vinegar while acid levels are high due to calorie deficit, the body may develop heartburn and acid reflux due to the excessive levels of acidity present.

The coronavirus has caused countless teens to develop dangerous eating habits due to body dysmorphia and sudden weight gain. Many social media personalities have exacerbated this issue by promoting diet fads and stating misinformation in their content to make the fads more appealing.

With limited opportunities to exercise socially during the pandemic, many teens relied on these diet fads to lose weight. However, scientific studies have shown that these diets are ineffective and lead to health degradation. 

To prevent the further spread of false harmful information, teens must be properly informed of healthy diets and methods for weight loss by health professionals. Schools and organizations must put more focus on educating students on proper nutrition to avoid the insufficient or excessive consumption of certain nutrients and food items.

Furthermore, instead of focusing on diet fads, influencers on social media should promote healthy exercise routines that teens can easily follow at home. Since social media platforms play an important role in society, people must learn how to use them to promote healthy lifestyles.