Teenagers are one of the most impressionable groups out there — they are very susceptible to fads and mainstream media that can harm their health. Teens’ perception of their body image is already on high alert, often just getting out of puberty and getting used to their new body image. The struggle is real with these teens and parents must be as supportive and protective as possible to ensure they stay out of danger and know how much diet culture sucks.

What Is Diet Culture?

Diet culture is an idea imposed by society that you are only worthy if your body looks a certain way. You obtain this body by participating in diet trends, regardless of their effect on your physical or mental health. However, good health and a thin body are not mutually exclusive. You can be healthy and fit and not have a supermodel physique.
Around 45 million people in America go on a diet every year. Rather than focusing on healthy lifestyles, people are solely looking at their weight and body image. This is an unhealthy perspective that can be harmful to teenagers and their daily life.

The Danger Zone

Social media and mainstream media outlets are full of negativity about body image. Diet culture feeds negative information about how thin you should look and what you should eat to be deemed pretty or worthy enough for society. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian put the idea in children’s heads that limiting your diet for weeks to fit into a dress is perfectly acceptable.
No adolescent should endure an unhealthy diet for any purpose and it should not be commercialized or perceived as normal or acceptable. With these ideas in their heads, pressure from school and their peers and self-esteem issues, more and more teens are experiencing higher risks of eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is more common in teens and young adults and refers to being transfixed on an area of your body that you wish looked differently and believe to be flawed. 
There is a fine line between eating healthily to maintain optimal overall health and eating minimally to obtain a particular look for peer approval or attention. Parents should discourage teens from believing in the farse that diet culture is acceptable or expected.

How You Can Help

You can help steer your child away from diet culture beliefs in a few different ways. You can try to prevent them from being introduced to diet culture, but your choices are limited unless you plan to keep them at home and off the internet without access to television. Preparing to curb the negativity to the best of your abilities as a parent is best.

Limit Diet and Weight Talk

Avoid negative talk about eating habits or losing weight in your home. Even if you are only referring to yourself or others, your child can still hear you and come up with their own interpretations of what you’re saying.
Be wary of what you discuss in front of your child that they can take out of context. Kids tend to listen and arrive at conclusions when they aren’t supposed to. Negative talk about eating habits can reinforce diet culture and cause your teen to create inaccurate ideas about body image and what is acceptable.

Encourage Rest and Downtime

Encourage your kids to take a break and have some downtime. Teens are busier nowadays with sports, extracurricular activities, friends and homework. Ensure they take enough time to relax and recharge for their overall health.
Take walks as a family to encourage physical activity that isn’t pressured or forced on them as a way to lose weight, but rather a family activity you all engage in for fun. Strolls in nature can do wonders for stress and help your teen have some outdoor break time.

Have Open Communication

It’s essential to have open and honest communication with your teen. You want them to feel comfortable enough to come to you about anything that troubles them. Encourage your child to talk about eating habits or what they hear about diet culture.
Ensure they have a solid support system they can confide in if they don’t want to talk to you. Parents can be intimidating to teens — sometimes, they need an objective person to discuss this with. Provide resources like a counselor or support group and let them know that it’s OK to speak to someone else as long as they get accurate information about the topic.

Know When To Worry

When your teen isn’t eating full meals or is talking about eating disorders, it’s time to have a conversation with them about diet culture. You can introduce this concept to them earlier to prepare them or wait until it is necessary. Don’t be pushy with them if they’re experiencing issues with their body image, as it may cause them to shut down or worsen their emotions. Encourage your child to confide in you about what’s happening with them.
Being self-conscious is a normal part of being a teenager. About 33% of adolescent girls are dieting when they are already a healthy weight. Talk with your kid about why they are skipping meals or eating less. Offer more nutritious options for them — like incorporating a healthy diet rather than skipping meals — if they want to be healthier in a safer way. Ensure your teenager understands the distinction between diet culture and being fit, as well as the adverse side effects of a diet.

Diet Culture Can Be Challenging for Teens

Your teen is going through enough physically and emotionally without worrying about what they eat — or don’t eat. Encourage your child to love themselves and their bodies no matter their weight or how society perceives them. Diet culture sucks and your teen should know why so they can help their peers understand it and dissuade others from buying into its negative message.


Ava Roman