Diet companies encouraging post-isolation weight-loss is triggering

First, there were the memes. Then, there were the challenges. Now, in the seemingly never-ending quest for ‘perfection,’ diet companies have begun banking on our lockdown weight-gain concerns to make money.

In the wake of recent bids for increased legislation surrounding social media’s fueling of a mental health crisis, I’ve been additionally questioning the toxicity of diet companies and their marketing methods. ‘If you’ve come out of lockdown feeling concerned about your weight,’ starts the Slimming World ad I saw on Instagram last night, ‘there really is no better place to help you get back in the driving seat.’ Although I hold nothing against the promotion to stay healthy and achieve one’s own, ideal body size, something didn’t sit quite right with me when I saw this on my feed, particularly given that the pandemic has somehow contributed to yet another new kind of fat-shaming.

First, there were the #Quarantine15 memes and relentless ‘before and after’ caricatures. Then, there were the challenges that, with them, brought about a dramatic rise in obsessive fitness regimes and eating disorders. And now, in the seemingly never-ending quest for ‘perfection,’ the diet industry is once again exploiting our health fears, but this time with a focus on pushing us to lose the few pounds we may have put on during our government-imposed time indoors.

coronavirus memes

To put this into perspective, a random sampling of seven companies’ social media posts between March and July this year uncovered that at least 20% – and up to 80% – of the brands’ content used threats of stay-at-home weight-gain to shift products. Unfortunately however, the problem isn’t so much to do with what these companies are selling us, rather the way in which they’ve gone about doing so. Often, the narrative they’re eager to foist upon us can come across as extremely toxic, suggesting they intend to capitalise on negative perceptions of ‘post-isolation bodies,’ instead of actually wanting to help. Plus, banking on these guilty thoughts as a marketing tool and displaying aggressive pep talks online about using this opportunity to trim down is inherently triggering for those with eating disorders and can rapidly undo important progress.

A motivation to look your best is not, by any means, a bad mindset to have and there is, of course, a growing demand to generate revenue in the current economic climate, but is this messaging truly necessary? It can appear insensitive to those suffering from pre-existing conditions such as anorexia or bulimia and surely, therefore, it would be more useful to place emphasis on non-scale victories like how regular exercise and nutritious foods have the ability to improve stress and anxiety. They would also do well to distance themselves from disseminating the damaging language of diet culture in favour of compassionate phrasing, as encouraging people to live up to a set of somewhat arbitrary standards that have little to do with real wellness simply isn’t beneficial.

‘So you’ve gained weight,’ says Elyse Resch, a nutrition therapist. ‘So what? You’re alive. We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have.’ And she’s right. The possibility that we might look slightly different after an irrepressible virus changed the world overnight shouldn’t worry us. Using food to cope in an uncertain situation is a totally normal reaction and, quite frankly, a privilege. We definitely shouldn’t be made to feel lazy or critical of our image for practicing a spot of self-care and this self-care shouldn’t result in a harmful self-talk spiral. ‘It’s hard enough to block out body-image concerns in a normal time,’ continues Resch. ‘Now, most of what we’d normally turn to is gone. Food as comfort is what’s left, for a lot of us, and it’s fine to just enjoy it.’

What’s essential to remember is that weight loss alone will not make you any healthier. What will, is a relationship with food that doesn’t involve working out to burn off snacks, restrictive eating, or calorie counting.

‘The key to dismantling a system that makes money off your insecurities is identifying diet ‘thirst traps’ and excluding yourself from that narrative,’ says clinical psychologist, Paula Freedman. ‘When you’re no longer convinced your body is a problem, the problem is solved.’

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