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Diet Fads and Eating Disorders

Article Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC and Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

With new diet trends constantly cycling through the media, it can be difficult to sort through the many health claims, fads, and scams.  With the diet industry being a billion dollar business, many of their profits are made by promoting diets that promise instant results and fast weight loss.  Capitalizing on our diet obsessed culture, more than 50 billion dollars are spent on diet products each year [1].  While it may be tempting to follow popular diet scams, many of these trendy diets are not only ineffective but dangerous to one’s physical health.

Juice cleanses, diet pills, metabolism boosting ingredients, lists of good foods versus bad foods – all of these things are the propelling force behind a vicious dieting cycle and dangerous health risks.  The many gimmicks and faulty promises involved in diet trends cannot offer the tools for sustaining physical health over longer durations.  Jumping on the bandwagon of popular diet fads can also be a gateway to eating disorder habits and behaviors.  What may begin as a seemingly harmless attempt for losing a few pounds or getting “healthier” can quickly escalate to an all-consuming eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.

College students are particularly vulnerable to the numerous fads flaunted by the diet industry.  A semi-annual survey completed by the American College Health Association on approximately 95,000 students found that 44% of college-aged women and 27% of college-aged men are dieting to lose weight [2].  Research has also shown that body image concerns are extremely prevalent on college campuses, with at least 75% of college students reporting dissatisfaction with their weight [3].  Dieting, or following a new diet trend that promises some degree of weight loss, may seem like a temporary solution to body insecurities or low self-esteem.  What are the signs that a diet has gone too far?

If you have frequently turned to the latest diet fads in an attempt to control your weight, be aware of the following signs.  These red flags may indicate that dieting behaviors are leading towards the slippery slope of an eating disorder:

  • Weight loss, exercise, dieting, and body image becomes an obsession
  • Purging methods are utilized in attempt for weight loss, including self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or diet pills
  • Restrictive calorie levels or limited foods on a diet lead to episodes of binge eating
  • For women, loss of menstrual periods
  • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”
  • Feeling out of control during a binge or eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness
  • Refraining from social activities and usual friends to avoid situations involving food

If you or someone you care about has been struggling with extreme dieting behaviors, low self-esteem, or poor body image, know that there is help available and hope for freedom.  Eating Disorder Hope offers several resources for eating disorder prevention, treatment and recovery as well as self-help tips and information for connecting to support groups.  Having adequate help and support can serve as a crucial tool for eating disorder prevention.


[1]: Tampa FL PRWEB, April 19, 2007; LaRosa J. U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market, Marketdata Enterprises.
[2]: American College Health Association, National College Health Assessment: Reference Group Data Report. 2010, American College Health Association: Linthicum, MD.
[3]: Soet, J. and T. Sevig, Mental health issues facing a diverse sample of college students: Results from the College Student Mental Health Survey. NASPA journal, 2006. 43(3): p. 410-431.


Page last reviewed & updated:
March 4, 2014

Published on, Help & Support for Eating Disorder Information

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