Social media fad diets, excessive eating can cause critical mental health disorders

With obesity increasing across different age groups, the social media driven fad diets are contributing to eating disorders resulting in psychiatric issues.
Social media fad diets, excessive eating can cause critical mental health disorders

Hyderabad: The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that adult obesity (among 890 million individuals) and adolescent obesity (37 million) doubled and quadrupled respectively in 2022 when compared to data in 1990.

While obesity or excessive body weight is a major public health concern, unscientific dietary methods popular, particularly among women, are even more dangerous.

Anorexia is among the major mental health disorders caused by bad diets

Rigid and pseudo-scientific diets result in eating disorders which severely affect the physical and more importantly, mental well-being. The possible development of psychiatric disorders along with eating disorders, primarily Anorexia Nervosa, could be fatal to the young population, a study has found.

The study has concluded that 47 per cent of the patients studied had psychiatric conditions resulting in an increase in the risk of death by 1.9 times. The societal pressure and lack of awareness of such disorders contribute to high psychiatric issues.

What makes fad diets dangerous for health?

Fad diets – intake of only one type of food for a prolonged period promoted by unqualified practitioners and social media influencers – are highly risky, leading to negative health consequences. A few social media influencers who followed such fad diets have also lost their lives.

The human body requires a balanced diet which includes proteins, carbohydrates and fat in appropriate quantities to remain healthy and active.

Social media influencers losing lives

The recent deaths of social media influencers who followed fad diets throw light on the impending dangers of the unscientific dietary practices.

Zhanna Samsonova, an ardent propagator and follower of the 'vegan' raw food diet died at the age of 39. She had been following a fruit and sprout-based diet for four years before her death.

Another social media influencer and academician who specialised in obesity studies, Dr Cat Pause died at 42. She was a ‘Fat Activist’, who is said to have glorified and supported morbid obesity. Though she challenged the stigma around obesity, her practises drew criticism for being unhealthy.

These examples suggest that one form of diet practice, either ‘vegan’ or uncontrolled food consumption is equally dangerous. This could lead to Anorexia Nervosa and further psychiatric conditions among women particularly leading to even further complexities.

Increasing obesity in India

A Lancet study of 2022 found that 12.5 million Indian children between 5 and 18 years were obese just as 70 million people above the age of 20. Even though India is ranked 182 of the 197 countries for the prevalence of obesity, the issue needs attention.

“Earlier people from developed countries like the US and Europe were obese. Now people from developing countries like India are also obese,” said Dr G Ramanujam, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Government Medical College, Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu.

Eating disorders and fad diets

The increase in cases of obesity has given rise to a spurt of dietary practices across different age groups, particularly among young women. With the ambition of reducing weight, they resort to unscientific diet practices.

Dr Ramanujam said, “Most women are longing for size zero physical appearance and reportedly have an increased obsession towards diet practices. This results in eating disorders, specifically Anorexia Nervosa leading to sudden weight loss.”

Such diet practices are being adopted by many people, longing for a quick solution to obesity; skipping food at selected times, and taking only a specific type of food for a longer period of time are some of the dietary methods recommended by unqualified persons.

“People propagating fad diets make tall claims but there is no scientific proof. They defy basic principles of biochemistry and nutritional adequacy. Since several studies show negative health consequences of fad diets, people should obtain proper medical advice,” Dr Ramanujan said.

How do improper diets psychologically affect the youth

The inclination towards trying types of dietary practices sets in at 13 to 18 years of age. The prevalence is high among adolescent age groups, especially among the female sex. Its prevalence is also high in families with a history of mental illness.

Experts recommend seeking treatment for eating disorders since affected people are found to have a high risk of suicide and psychological complications. A recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders has found that mortality rates are high among patients with anorexia nervosa, nearly doubling when psychiatric conditions are also present.

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