No, That Eating Habit Isn't Normal
By Kylie Vo
“i wasn’t going to eat anyways”
“time to starve myself!”
It’s time to rethink our habits, our actions, our words, and stop the normalization of eating disorders. Comments like these flood the comment sections of Tik Tok influencers. Not only are such comments normalized on social media, they’re considered “funny.” These comments also actively promote the act of disordered eating and can be extremely triggering to those with or trying to recover from an eating disorder. Those who may suffer from eating disorders or body dysmorphia are prone to taking these comments seriously, resulting in guilt regarding their food consumption. So while some may laugh and continue their day normally with no attention paid to the comment, the opposite is true for so many others.
While Gen-Z has been known to encourage positive change through social media, the concept of body positivity has, in a way, reversed. With social media being so prominent in teens’ lives, the idea of the “perfect body” is ingrained everywhere we look, from Instagram posts to social media algorithms to brand partnerships. The pervasive nature of body standards in popular media makes it increasingly difficult to change these damaging ideals and impossible standards. These ideals lead to destructive, but normalized habits, that teenagers perform without anyone even batting an eye. Just between 2000 and 2018, the percentage of the population affected by an eating disorder increased by 4.4%. In those 18 years, social media presence boomed, which may correlate to the eating disorder increase.
On social media, teenagers constantly see celebrities and influencers with the “perfect body.” These celebrities appear to be living the perfect life. That lavish lifestyle comes with all the fans, money, and…”dieting tools” anyone could ever ask for.
These “tools” are usually just laxatives with a pretty label on them. Naive teenagers who are influenced by these, well, influencers, begin to consume laxatives and cause dangerous side effects, like organ damage in an attempt to look and live the perfect way. The constant use of laxatives has led some teens to an eventual eating disorder diagnosis, and the promotion from these celebrities only increases such diagnoses.
The normalization of eating disorders occurs in the everyday actions of teens as well. Personally, I have multiple close friends who use calorie-counting apps on their phones. They typically hide the fact, which may mean that many other teens are secretly tracking their meals. While some may argue that it is healthy, these apps sometimes set their target calorie count to around 1,000 kcal a day, which is about 1,000 kcal less than needed for the average teenager. Teens obsessively log what they eat into these apps and immediately feel guilty if the number isn’t low enough. These habits are becoming more and more standardized as I know multiple groups of teens even let each other know what they eat to keep each other “accountable.” This leads to groups of teens keeping themselves from getting the amount of food needed to properly grow and flourish. This habit also may lead to stress and anxiety, as the users cannot eat what they want to eat without feeling terrible afterwards. In terms of help, most adults are unaware of the use of their teens’ obsessive habits, so there is often not much help for today’s youth.
Another way disordered eating manifests itself in teens is through the idea of “saving calories” before going to parties or other events with their friends. Before going out, teenagers will refuse to eat in order to save the amount of calories they will need for alcoholic beverages or edibles. Not only does this instill the framework of disordered eating, which alone is already dangerous, it increases the chances of alcohol poisoning as the lack of food in the body can lead to getting drunk quicker. Teens also may reject food in order to look slimmer for the event. This develops the toxic idea that in order to attend an event, one must look the closest to the “body standard” as possible. These “calorie saving” habits are all enforced in a party environment, which increases their chances of spreading to the many teens around them.
While these little things may not seem like a big deal, in the grand scheme of things, they are. They actively promote the habits and ideas of eating disorders, which themselves are very normalized and barely looked down upon. Disordered eating habits have impacted the lives of over 4% of the teenage population. The number of people with an eating disorder is also undercounted, partly because of the assumption that males cannot get eating disorders. That overwhelming number grows each and every day as more people congratulate teens for participating in disordered eating habits instead of getting them help. The normalization of eating disorders leads to the danger of them being downplayed and not taken seriously enough.
When eating disorders are downplayed, they can lead to a lifetime of malnourishment, if not death. Every hour, someone in the world dies as a direct result of an untreated eating disorder. Out of every mental illness, eating disorders cause the most deaths, as they directly impact physical health as well as mental.
Gen-Z works hard to actively change the world for the better, however, they tend to not look at how their actions may hurt themselves. Many teens actively engage in disordered eating habits and endanger their health and the health of those around them. These disordered eating habits are far too normalized, and this needs to change as soon as possible. Teens must stop partaking in dangerous habits that promote eating disorders, including counting calories and making destructive jokes.