The Impact of Media on Dieting

The Impact of Media on Dieting

In modern society, people are consuming media more than ever before. Consumers are almost constantly exposed to media. With the rise of social media, more people can have their voices heard. This comes with positives and negatives. In addition to this, it may seem that dieting is inescapable across different forms of media. Across media, they are likely to mention dieting. The topic of nutrition and dieting continues to grow as well. (Ajmera, 2022) From traditional media, such as news broadcasts, to newer forms like social media as mentioned above, and podcasts. 


Fad diets, or popular diets, are often thought to help shed extra weight extremely quickly. Fad diets “limit your nutritional intake, can be unhealthy, and tend to fail in the long run.” (CDC) Others claim that while they are difficult, they can provide quick weight loss.  Some of the most popular diets include intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, the Mediterranean diet, and vegan/vegetarian diets. Detoxes are also considered to be a fad diet as well.  (Tahreem et al., 2022) 

The United States has been facing an obesity epidemic for decades, which is only getting worse. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight. Obesity is known to lead to a wide variety of health problems, like heart disease and type-2 diabetes, among others. (Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols, 2010) Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. When there are overweight people, typically they will look for a way to improve their health and shed the excess weight.

According to the CDC, less than a quarter of American adults get enough exercise. The recommended minimum for exercise is 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, and strength training at least twice a week. 44.7% of adults in the United States did not meet either of these standards. (Blackwell et al., 2018)

To understand the relationship between media and fad dieting, we must examine how we have arrived at this point. One of the early fad diets in the United States was the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Banting Diet in the 1860’s. This diet was met with criticisms by doctors, but still gained popularity. Americans were thrilled to be able to feel less hunger while losing weight. This diet is similar to one of the most popular diets in American history, the Atkins Diet. This diet was so popular that it changed our perception of healthy eating. These diets were hard to stick to because they restrict a participant from a variety of foods. People need to have variety in their diets, for nutritional sake, and to help with cravings. (Los Angeles Times, 2005)

When an individual isn’t satisfied with their body image, they will be more susceptible to content regarding fad diets. These diets are enticing to people who want to lose weight, and for one big reason, they are advertised as a quick and easy way to lose weight. This makes people less likely to follow the guidelines for healthy weight loss. Exposure to these diets on social media is often correlated to attempting them. (Cormier, 2023)

These diets have a variety of origins. The Ketogenic diet was originally introduced as a treatment for epilepsy. Despite being introduced by a medical professional, it still can have serious side effects, especially if attempting it just to shed extra weight. Most of these diets can have serious side effects, yet they are still commonly practiced. (Tahreem et al., 2022) 

The goal of this study is to help newcomers navigate the mass media’s world of dieting to avoid being deceived and starting dangerous habits. Dieting can be very intimidating, especially when looking at the extreme diet plans. Readers will learn how media contributes to the popularity of these diets, and how being exposed to these diets may affect media consumers. In this paper, readers will be able to compare a few of the most popular diets, and maybe even start their journey into the world of healthy dieting.

Literature Review
Literature Review

Media Projects the Idea of a Perfect Body

Sometimes, the media may be the trendsetter when it comes to what is popular or spoken about. Media can influence the public’s perception drastically. Media sometimes does this intentionally by producing more content revolving around a specific topic. This is called Agenda Setting Theory. (Coleman et al., 2008) One of the most popular topics across media is health and wellness, especially social media. Due to the obesity epidemic, it is a topic that will likely spark interest and attract viewership, especially because these diets may seem like magic solutions to weight loss. (Tahreem et al., 2022) 

It is no secret that the media often projects the sense that people need to have ideal bodies. Body image and its relation to media is a topic that has been discussed extensively over the years. There have been differences made, but people still may feel pressured to look a certain way because of how media influences them. A study from the American Psychological Association reported that by decreasing the amount of time spent on social media improves youth’s self-image. (Thai et al., 2023)

Fad dieting is not the magic solution it is made out to be across different media outlets. When losing weight rapidly, much of that weight may be water and muscle, not just fat. This can be dangerous. Especially if those dieting are not getting enough exercise. Some fad diets may provide health benefits, but each one is different, and often comes with drawbacks. “Fad diets have been linked with many physiological conditions such as cardiovascular disease, renal dysfunction and osteoporosis as well as psychological implications like eating disorders and depression.” (Khawandanah et al., 2016) Those looking to start a popular diet must do extensive research on that particular plan, or consult a professional. 

RQ1: How does media affect the popularity of fad diets in society?


The world of fitness is constantly going through changes. There are now “fitness influencers” who have dedicated their career to spreading their message of fitness on social media. They also give tips on dieting, usually catered to fat loss. Fitness influencer’s bodies are their brands. Many influencers make their results seem attainable for everyone, but is that realistic? Fitness influencers spend much more time working out than the average person. To make money, they sometimes take endorsement deals with companies that have a product or plan that may be framed as essential. An influencer may make the products look like one of their go-to products to achieve their physique, but they did not use the product or program until recently, deceiving their audience into purchasing. (Silva et al., 2021) This is not the case for every fitness influencer, but it is still a problem. 

Media uses message appeals to get consumers to act a certain way. One type of message appeal is guilt. Media may make consumers feel guilty over their fitness level. Being exposed to the “ideal bodies” on social media and media in general has been shown to have a negative effect on body image and lowers self-esteem, often initiating dietary changes. This can lead to eating disorders. A study conducted with nutrition students, most participants felt influenced by social media to cut out unhealthy foods and influenced their diet. A majority also felt that social media altered their perception of their own bodies. It was found that those who let social media influence their choices showed more characteristics of orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. They also found that engaging in fad dieting may lead to orthorexia nervosa. (Ganen et al. 2020) 

Exposure to this content is shown to be “associated with higher body dissatisfaction, dieting/restricting food, overeating, and choosing healthy foods.” (Rounsefell, 2019) Negative perceptions of one’s body image increases the chances of unhealthy dieting. Being exposed to content focusing on fitness and diet induces self-judgment. These posts are often enhanced or edited, setting unrealistic expectations and unfair comparisons. (Rounsefell, 2019)

RQ2: How does exposure to fad diets affect consumers?

Success and Consequence

Fad diets are quite divisive. These diets are typically difficult and follow a strict set of guidelines. One reason some say they are not a good way to attempt weight loss is because they are unrealistic, or unobtainable. Fad diets are not designed for long term use, which may lead to side effects.  (Khawandanah et al. 2016) Many experts agree that changes to lifestyle and diet, such as improving the quality of food consumed, is the best way to approach physical fitness. (Darby, 2016)

What about for the average person? This would depend on which of these the person would try. Some fad diets are more difficult than others. For instance, the ketogenic diet is quite strict and complicated. When following keto, it may lead to side effects such as nausea, vomiting, discomfort, among others. The keto diet has been shown to help those suffering from seizures and other neurological illnesses. These illnesses include Alzheimer’s, depression, Parkinson’s, narcolepsy, and more. (Tahreem et al. 2022) 

Intermittent fasting has become one of the most popular fad diets. This diet is less focused on what is eaten, and more on when a person eats. This diet restricts the time a person may eat. It is derived from how our ancestors ate during the times of hunting and gathering. One of the main points of intermittent fasting is to restrict calorie intake for that day. Participants may find it much more difficult to squeeze in 2,000 calories within a certain timeframe, making them feel fuller, making it easier to achieve the desired calorie deficit. In addition to this, during the fast, the body will use up its sugar and start burning the stored fat as a source of energy. (Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Going vegan has become extremely popular as well. The vegan diet is quite simple, the participant does not consume any animal products at all. Going vegan may increase the intake of certain nutritional needs, like iron and fiber, while eating less calories, fats, and cholesterol. Some negative effects of going vegan are not getting enough of other nutrients such as, vitamin D and B12, calcium and zinc. (Winston, 2023)

RQ3:  Are these diets suitable for the average person?


The design of this project will be a vlog-styled documentary.

The goal of this project is to give newcomers to dieting a roadmap to something that can be quite intimidating and confusing. This documentary will show them an unbiased look at a few fad diets pushed on us by mass media. It will also promote healthy weight loss.

The documentary will show how fad dieting affects us. Media often projects the sense of an “ideal body” which has negative effects on our self-esteem and body image, even leading to eating disorders. By trying these diets in the documentary, viewers will see the effect it has on a person. The documentary will showcase the difficulty of each diet selected, and if I can make it through each one of them. In addition to difficulty, the project will report on how I feel attempting each diet, including energy levels and hunger. When finished collecting data, it will answer if these diets are obtainable for the common person, based on personal experience.

The documentary will be around 20 minutes long. It will be composed of 4 separate trials. Calorie counting, vegan, intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet. Each diet will be a week-long, excluding keto to avoid possible side effects.

The documentary will be composed of a few different segments:

  • It will begin with a scripted introduction to introduce this concept to the audience. After speaking about the effect media has on dieting, it will explain how the data was collected. (trying each diet) 
  • After the introduction, the section for week one will begin. This week will be simply counting calories, an effective way to lose weight. Because this method stands the test of time, it will act as a control.
  • The second diet will be the vegan diet. This lifestyle is also pushed as a way to clean up eating habits and has become a popular method for healthy eating, despite having some drawbacks.
  • The third diet is currently one of the most popular fad diets, intermittent fasting. Based on how our hunter/gatherer ancestors lived, I will be restricting the time I can eat. I will be attempting different eating windows because there are a variety.
  • The fourth and final diet will be the ketogenic diet. Instead of a week, this diet will only be for two days. This will be to just try out the diet, but to avoid possible health risks. The keto diet was originally intended for neurological conditions, so a full week is out of the question.
  • Finally, a conclusion. This will be scripted and will feature going over the findings and deciding which diets are suitable, if any. The documentary will then compare each diet to the rest. 

The storytelling/narrative strategies will allow me to share that I recently lost weight and am still new to fitness. Being new to fitness and diet would hopefully attract the targeted audience of fitness newcomers, to help them avoid misinformation.

There will not be any interviews in the project.

Additional information, like calorie counts on foods that don’t have labels, will be answered by a Google Home, or an Amazon Echo, depending on the location. Part of this process required a calorie calculation. Mayo Clinic’s maintenance calorie calculator will be the tool used. My maintenance calories to be around 2600. All main sources are included in my work cited page. 

Calories and foods will be documented in a journal to keep track of eating and how I feel. I am also monitoring my energy levels and quality of workouts. The documentary will be filmed entirely on an iPhone 12, with a Rode Vlogger Kit. (tripod, shotgun mic, light) Most of the audio will be from recordings using an audio interface and a Shure SM57 microphone. The audio will be recorded using GarageBand and then edited into the footage using iMovie.

Community Outreach

I will be working with a group focused on eating disorders. The name of this group is the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, a registered non-profit. They help people who may be suffering from eating disorders.

Fad diets, and social media are both linked to eating disorders. People may become too immersed in their eating habits, whether it isn’t eating enough, too much, or focusing on dieting more than a person should. It may be difficult to realize someone is suffering from an eating disorder as well.

How does ANAD help? They provide a helpline to anyone who may be suffering. Calls are free and confidential. They will set callers up with resources to help overcome their eating disorder. This help line is open weekdays and will respond to messages left outside of their normal hours. If calling feels too intimidating, they also have an email option.

ANAD has several treatment center partners. They even have different levels. Professionals they set callers/emailers up with “include therapists, dieticians, physicians, psychiatrists, treatment centers, coaches, and others.” ( All of the professionals they set callers up with have been thoroughly reviewed before being added to the directory.

In addition to putting people in contact with professionals, they also assist callers and emailers to find a support group. They also list community events for anyone seeking help. They make getting help accessible to all.

There is even a tab on the website that will inform a reader of warning signs of an eating disorder. Some of those suffering may not know that they are. When a person’s perception of themselves becomes distorted, it may be hard to tell. This part of the website is also designed for anyone who may be worried for someone else. It details steps to take when talking to someone who may be suffering.

This project focuses on extreme fad diets, which is in the same domain as eating disorders. An eating disorder may lead to following dangerous diets, and vice versa. When a person’s social media feed is filled with the “ideal body” type, their perception of themselves becomes twisted, possibly leading to these diets or even an eating disorder.

This documentary may be triggering to someone facing an eating disorder. It is necessary to put the helpline at the end of the documentary. In addition to this, the number and email address will be in the description on YouTube, in case a viewer does not finish the video.


Fad dieting is not something people should participate in. Despite this, these diets are still popular due to how they are presented by each facet of media. Due to things like agenda setting, and how they are presented, people are still trying these diets. People consuming this content or seeing the “ideal body” have their self-esteem lowered, distorting their body image. People want to lose weight easily, and media tells them that fad diets are the way.

Fad diets are not any more effective than simply counting calories, yet when they are marketed, they seem to be. Through doing this project, it has been found that these diets may be misleading. It ultimately comes down to the calories consumed and calories burned.


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Treatment directory: ANAD - national association of anorexia nervosa and associated disorders. ANAD National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2023, September 1). 

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