Suck on This: Fad Diet Products Thrive on Instagram

I am an Instagram fiend. I scroll on IG way more than I should, even, admittedly, when in traffic, while on the loo, and while crossing the street to class. I have been on Instagram since 2010 (yep, right when it was initially launched), and have witnessed first-hand many changes to the layout, user interface, creation of verified profiles, change in logo, and the implementation of algorithms and ads.  

Instagram is an amazing user-friendly app that allows one to interact with friends, family, celebs, brands, sports teams, and businesses. The app has grown more multi-dimensional than its initial use as an app to slap fun filters on photos. I have noticed in recent years, companies using celebrity endorsements to advertise products. Among some of the most popular products are teeth whitening devices, at home meal delivery services, and anthropomorphized hair vitamins in the form of gummies. The shtick is that users are not supposed to know the post is an ad. Users are meant to believe that Kylie Jenner, for instance, just happens to use product X and feels like posting about it because she is so jazzed! In this past year, thankfully, that level of phoniness has phased out; I have seen celebrities hashtag #Ad before a sponsored post, in order to remain transparent to followers that they are, in fact, getting paid to promote a product.

Instagram, a place that was once an amusing app to connect with friends and edit photos, has been overridden with capitalistic endeavors; every third or fourth photo in my timeline is an ad for a product, new app, or service that Instagram’s algorithm deems appropriate for me. This brings me to the chosen diet and subsequent diet culture that I will be examining, unpacking, and dissecting. Flat Tummy Co is an online retailer that sells weight loss and appetite suppressant products. The goal of this company’s products is to aid women in achieving the ideal “flat” tummy via shakes, herbal teas, and lollipops. These weight loss supplements suppress appetite and induce frequent and unnatural bowel movements and urination. On Flat Tummy Co’s website, the company makes false and vague claims, stating:

"With over 1 million products sold, and over 14,000 website reviews - we’ve got women from all around the world getting back to looking (and feeling) like the best versions of themselves. These are just some of the thousands of women who have seen results! Check them out!"

There is a multitude of reviews showcasing the results of users including testimonials that report that Flat Tummy Co products keep them “bloat free” and their tummies “more regular". A key issue lies in the vague claims, like “no more bloating” and “feeling better”, which do not specify exactly how the products work or what the potential side effects are.

Check out the current photo posted below from Flat Tummy Co’s website. The photo follows a specific model. The before and after pictures posted on the website are obviously taken on the same day, in the same room, in the same outfit. Each photo has striking similarities to the next. The myriad of before photos on the website showcase workout pants that are pulled down below the waistline, where and the stomach protrudes out intentionally, and love handles bulge more shockingly. In the after photos, the workout pants are hiked-up in a flattering fashion, smoothing over the stomach as the stomach is also quite obviously sucked in. As in the photo below, the strategically placed yoga pants sit higher on the girl’s hips, hiding her lower belly pooch, making her look slimmer.    

The picture demonstrates the before and after tactic that dupes potential customers. In order for the company to make any real claims of weight loss achieved, testimonials would need to include statistics on weight and body fat percentage after the products were used. I can guarantee the woman in the picture above weighs the same and has not lost any inches off her waist, nor achieved any true, let alone sustainable, weight loss. If anything, she has lost a few pounds of water.

Social media, specifically Instagram, allows companies to target women by placing its products in the hands of prominent celebrities who have millions of followers, like Kim Kardashian for example. Flat Tummy Co has paid Kim to post about their products, and Kim’s following will likely listen and believe the products are how she stays so trim. One of the most alarming products Flat Tummy Co sells is appetite suppressant lollipops. A two-week supply costs almost 30 bucks. If your body is telling you to eat. You need to eat. It means you are hungry, which is a natural and normal feeling. These lollipops glamorize disordered eating and reinforce anorexia by telling girls to suppress the natural feeling of hunger and instead forgo eating.

There are no side effects listed on Flat Tummy Co’s website, and the main ingredient listed is the active ingredient Satiereal. Flat Tummy Co’s lollipops are considered supplements, meaning they are not strictly regulated by the FDA, which is why when celebrities like Kim Kardashian recommend supplements, it can become very dangerous to the general public. The general public will likely not do research to see if the supplement is safe or comes with any detrimental side effects. Those in support of fad diets, be it celebrities or the companies who create the bogus products, promise dieters that they can lose weight easily and rapidly, yet their claims are seldom backed by credible research (Daniels, 2004). Fad diet companies only have one goal: making money. Flat Tummy Co is in the business of fooling women for profit. Men do fall prey as well, although this cursory essay will focus on women who are the majority affected.

The key indicators of fad diets should be made public knowledge. The following are key warnings of a fad diet: recommendations that help sell a product, dramatic statements that are not supported by reputable scientific research, any claims that sound “too good to be true”, and promises of quick weight loss, especially more than two pounds per week (Daniels, 2004).

Flat Tummy Co’s products embody the red flags listed. Flat Tummy’s website states the sole purpose of their products is to “create a natural, safe and gentle way to get [...] tummies flat and kick that bloated, slow and sluggish feeling.” Their website also states that their products should not have users feeling like they are running to the bathroom; however, we know their products contain strong diuretics and laxatives, which will induce frequent urination and defecation. Their site says, “The very gentle cleansing effect is an essential part of the detoxification process to eliminate all those nasties and beat the bloat.” The website uses cute and playful words, such as “nasties” as to avoid medical jargon possibly because there is no research backing the products. The website also states that users will feel “a difference” in just the first few days.

Sadly, despite how educated the general public is on the dangers of fad diets, people will choose the easy alternative. If swallowing a pill, sucking on a lollipop, or drinking herbal tea promises a flat stomach and rapid weight loss, even the most educated people succumb to widespread psychological and social factors known as well as the "common sense perception of health", which promises the success of fad diets (Levine 1987).

Understanding the red flags and warning signs of fad diets as well as the ability to spot bogus diet supplements is vital for everyone's health and overall well-being. My generation, Millennials, utilize the Internet, more so, social media sites like Instagram and Facebook, for information on diets and nutrition advice, which often results in learning inaccurate information about the latest fad diets and supplements (Whyte et al., 2005). This is why it is so important for the general public to stay informed.

Fact-based Information about sham diet products should be applied for use within the public so that men and women do not waste their money on deceptive products and fall into the hypnotics of false advertisements. The vast majority of weight loss products are not regulated by the FDA and can be dangerous especially if abused or taken beyond the recommended dosages. Women who wish to be thinner- plagued by an impossible beauty standard perpetuated by Western culture- are at a much higher risk of overdosing on weight loss supplements, causing potentially irreversible damage to their health. The public has the right to understand that popular and trendy diet supplements are not effective in the long term, and typically after one is done taking the weight loss product, weight gain is the norm and to be expected (Whyte et al., 2005).