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Understanding Social Media’s Impact of Dieting

Nutrition, Eating Disorders

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It’s a well-known fact that social media is a popular resource to learn about the latest trends and fads. Unfortunately, it often promotes misinformation about food and nutrition. Social media platforms provide a wealth of diet information that’s largely unregulated, often contradictory, and usually promoted by noncredentialed individuals.

Because of the U.S. diet and weight loss market — which, as Research and Markets reported, reached an industry record of $78 billion in 2019 — dieting has become a cultural norm. According to Boston Medical Center, nearly 45 million Americans go on a diet each year.

Dieting is both a major precursor to disordered eating and a risk factor for developing an eating disorder in people of all ages, backgrounds, and body sizes. Social media diet trends are often targeted to a younger, more impressionable audience, which is particularly concerning when considering the well-being of adolescents in our communities. In fact, a 2016 research study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that young adults who frequently use social media are more likely to struggle with their eating habits and body image.

Here are some ways you can help your child navigate health and nutrition information on social media:

  • Encourage open dialogue and have them reflect on their experience. If a fad seems too good to be true or potentially harmful to their mental or physical well-being, it likely is.
  • Work with them to set boundaries on their social media pages and curate their feeds to include body diversity and messages about positive relationships with food.
  • Reach out to a credentialed nutrition professional, such as a registered dietitian, to better understand diet trends and to seek evidence-based nutritional guidance.

Beyond that, it’s always helpful to lead by example at mealtime. Eating should be a pleasant, enjoyable experience. Encourage your child to eat a wide variety of foods for nutritional balance and to support their overall well-being. Remember: All Foods Fit!

If you’re concerned that you or someone you know might be struggling with disordered eating, we encourage you to reach out to a health care professional and use these resources. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website for more information about eating disorders.

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