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When Is Moving Too Much? Understanding The Power Of Diet Culture

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

“Diet”. Only four letters, but a word of practices, definitions and obsessions. This short word is cruelly associated with your dating profile, an expected summer trip and fitting into those old skinny jeans you miss. Historically misinterpreted, this conception leads to the inaccurate association of thinness and weight loss to health, making one’s relationship with exercising and food potentially toxic.

Diet culture is the culture we’re all steeped in; it’s the belief that we can control our bodies based on what and how much we eat, and it places a moral judgment on food and bodies.

Sabrina Strings, sociology professor at University of California

Why do we pursue dieting?

Approximately 45 million Americans go on diets every year. In 2022, roughly half of New Year’s resolutions in the US were related to eating and exercising habits. Why are we so captivated by the golden concept of “fitness”? Media industry can explain it, or at least most of it. 

In an interview, nutritionist Rafaela Benatti alleged that most people, especially teenagers and adults, start dieting for aesthetic purposes rather than health-related ones, which usually come first only for patients with specific diseases or conditions. Although many would think this is a direct development of social media impact, it started way before Instagram and TikTok were popular.

Last decades’ communication vehicles were already major users of photo editing and the biggest advertisers of unreal beauty standards. In the next video, for example, influencer Spencer Barbosa talks about how she grew up consuming magazines that promoted body comparison between celebrities. 

Modern life platforms, which are filled with body images that are products of inaccessible routines and plastic surgery, are simply the new face of a tendency that has been in the media for years pressuring us, mere consumers.

Up to the limit, or even beyond it

One of the central aspects of diet culture is obsessing over physical exercises in the hope of achieving shape goals. This conjecture has been getting more common in the last months with trends such as “gymtok”, which is creating a community fascinated by working out – which is totally welcome. However, with boundaries.

Conditioning your physique to its limits, ingesting supplements without proper recommendation and basing your practices on virtual contents are signs that your gym session has turned into a damaging habit. 

Excessive exercising can cause, according to Benatti, loss of lean mass and various types of lesions, muscular and ligament, for instance. The nutritionist says if your daily workout lasts longer than two hours, you are seldom obtaining any positive results. The only exception to the rule are athletes, who exercise heavily with professional guidance.

The art of labeling 

“You should not eat that, it is not good for you”. How often do we listen to (or say) a sentence like that? Is there even such a thing as “good food” and “bad food”? At least this is what diet culture makes us believe in.

This assumption leads to cutting from your nutrition everything considered “harmful” for your body when a truly healthy menu is based on balance, not restriction. Benatti claims prohibitive diets are not a clever choice: people who engage in this sort of method can only persist for a short period of time, and when they return to a regular intake, a “reboot effect” takes place and they end up weighing more than before.


No such thing as good and bad foods? #nutritiontips

♬ original sound – Sohee Carpenter

Furthermore, food categorizing encourages individuals to categorize. A person’s physique starts being a parameter for their character, abilities and routine, which falsely places people with higher weights in “lower classifications”, to wit, a position of social isolation and aversion.

What would(n’t) you do for perfection?

The most severe consequence of this set of values is the appearance of eating disorders, which are, as specified by Benatti, a common outcome of restraining and fad diets.

Apart from the most widely known maladies, like anorexia and bulimia, there is a list of less spoken ones: orthorexia, obsession over natural and pure food; vigorexia, also known as muscle dysmorphia, it is the fixation in an extremely strong body; drunkorexia, the substitution of food for alcohol in order to inhibit the appetite; among others. 

One for all

Combating diet culture is an institutional challenge that begins with you. Recognizing these beliefs in our personal practices, using social media as an awareness tool, fighting the propagation of these ideas in any kind of space and helping a friend in need are measures we can take in favor of a new meaning for the four letters.


The article above was edited by Duda Kabzas.
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Marina Telent

Casper Libero '27

Estudante de jornalismo da Cásper Líbero, junto minhas paixões pela comunicação e pela vida :)