How Marketing & Media Fuel Diet Culture


Social media marketing for “quick fix” diets is dangerous for mental health. (Courtesy of Pixabey.)

With the start of the new year, millions of people who have made the New Year’s resolution to lose weight are attacking their goal with full force. From gym memberships to fat-burning supplements and teas, businesses are capitalizing on the public’s desperation for a quick fix. Marketing for weight-loss and lifestyle changes has never been more intense, despite the fact that there are countless different methods and products that can allow one to reach their goal of losing weight, diet culture, for the most part, remains incredibly toxic.

The marketing techniques that are currently employed by diet companies focus on selling a particular physique as opposed to a healthier lifestyle. Companies’ marketing teams sell this idea through any means necessary, including through bombarding social media platforms with this kind of advertising. It is an irrational and irresponsible marketing technique, because it is a hyper-focused tactic to attract teenagers and adults, who use social media platforms more than other demographics and whose bodies are still developing and are more susceptible to body image issues.

Most recently, Instagram was forced to crack down on weight loss marketing strategies which were targeting minors. As of now, Instagram has pledged to prevent underage Instagram users from seeing advertisements for weight loss products and remove any “fast-fix” claims regarding diet or weight loss. But will this really work? Likely not. Social media platforms like Instagram have been making these promises for years and yet the problem persists, so there is no reason to really believe that the Instagram executives are taking this seriously.

More specifically, current diet culture creates a system that measures body sizes and enforces guidelines for what, when and how much food should be consumed, but there is no focus on the nutritional value of the food being consumed. Current diet culture media is centered around equating size to health, failing to account for actual health of the individual. Diet trends like paleo, keto, low-carb and Atkins are all diets that can have long-term health implications. From as low-risk as having low energy to as high-risk as organ failure, these diets are sold as the panacea to health when they are simply a means to lose weight, not a way to get healthy. This perceived health is an incredibly damaging mentality because one cannot simply look at a person and decide whether or not they are healthy. There are so many factors that go into determining the health of an individual, so to make a decisive claim that an overweight individual is unhealthy is simply an incomplete assessment. Health is holistic, and only considering one facet of an individual’s health says nothing about the big picture. 

Instead of thinking about self-care, the messaging behind diet culture is actually counterintuitive when it comes to health. By media and marketing standards of conforming to a particular “ideal” body type which is unattainable for the majority of the population, a new health crisis arises. The consequences of pushing such a strong “ideal body” is that people’s mental health goes in the toilet in the pursuit of this. It’s human nature to want what you cannot have, and there is no exception when it comes to diet culture. Weight loss marketing has created a competition to see who can get closest to this unattainable ideal, and disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are stemmed from this need to win and achieve the ideal body. And sadly enough, 20% of the almost 30 million Americans who may experience an eating disorder in their lives will never receive treatment, because, with the current diet culture, they do not believe they have a problem.

Though losing weight does not always have to feed into a negative spiral that ends in disordered eating or full-blown eating disorders, current diet culture is most definitely a problem. In order to lose weight in a healthy way, people should be focused on the nutritional value of the food they eat and how it makes them feel. People should also consult with a doctor or a nutritionist so that they can decide if this desire to lose weight is really health-based or if it is nothing more than media-manipulated desire.