From cabbage soup to the Atkins diet, we’ve seen it all. Baby food, raw food, the “Caveman” diet, and green coffee beans (with countless more in between) to the latest, and most dangerous—the cotton ball diet. We are inundated with more and more extreme diets each time we open a magazine, turn on the TV, or log in to our social media accounts. We also have YouTube and the like (the reality shows of social media) to rely on now, to provide us with all the instructions we need to aid in our quest to achieve weight loss . . . at any cost.
Despite 95 percent of all dieters regaining their lost weight, and a cultural epidemic that tells us we need to have a certain type of body to fit in and be loved, we (including our children) are willing to go to any lengths to satisfy our need to be thin. It is this that has led to the latest fad, the highly dangerous cotton ball diet that promises weight loss while causing our children to impact their bowels, develop malnutrition, damage their gastrointestinal tracts, burst their intestines, or even die, all in the name of approval.
For some of us—no, many of us—the media has become a textbook for how to fit in with the cultural body ideal. Slowly, we are blurring the lines between dieters and those who suffer from eating disorders. Eating disorders are a mental illness. They are an emotional behavioral disorder that currently affects over 70 million people worldwide. Due to feelings of shame, guilt, and obsession surrounding food and body size, those with eating disorders are willing to go to any lengths to be allowed to eat, to rid their body of what they eat, or to not eat at all. (1) Eighty-one percent of ten-year-olds fear being fat, 47percent of girls in the fifth through twelfth grades report wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures, and 42 percent of first through third grade girls want to be thinner. Over 50 percent of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors, while 91 percent of women surveyed on a college campus have attempted to control their weight through dieting—clearly indicating that it is not just a problem for those who have been diagnosed with eating disorders, but it is now a learned belief and behavior for many of our own children.
Remember when you were young and a magician revealed a live dove under a handkerchief? Now magicians go to extreme and dangerous lengths to awe us by freezing themselves, burying themselves alive, and swallowing kerosene. Why? Because the lovely dove is a has-been. But just as these outlandish and risky tricks should not be attempted at home, neither should the extremely dangerous diets we see on our computer and TV screens or in magazines.
Just like warning labels on packets of cigarettes, long statements from pharmaceutical companies during advertisements and the fine print at the bottom of our screens that warn us about the implications of trying this ourselves, we must start asking the same accountability from the diet industry and social media.
It’s a matter of life or death.