Just as the norms of society have evolved to become fast-paced and technology-driven, diet trends of young adults have morphed in those directions as well. Parents should be aware of common diet trends and how they affect the mental wellness of young adults.
Common Diet Trends
Processed & Fast Foods: The average young adult packs in a pretty hectic schedule, so snacking on processed foods, like protein bars, chips, and microwavable pizzas, usually replaces healthy home cooked meals. Many young adults stop in at fast food chains for a quick bite, in lieu of making it to the family dinner table.
It may be common knowledge that too much processed or fast food can wreck physical havoc on the body due to consumption of empty calories, excessive dietary fats and refined sugars – contributing to weight gain, increasing blood pressure, and raising cholesterol levels. In addition to increasing the risk for particular disease states that contribute to a decline in physical health, regularly consuming processed and fast foods may impact social and emotional health as well. Scientists are starting to explore the link between a diet high in processed and fast foods and mental health concerns, like bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. An article in The Washington Post, “Can what you eat affect your mental health? New research links diet and the mind” highlights a research study linking healthy diet with lower amounts of depression while telling the story of a woman who has managed her symptoms of bipolar disorder by adapting her diet.
Diet & Exercise Apps: Checking out diet and exercise applications may be helpful in making nutritional choices and establishing healthy fitness routines for some, like young adults who are overweight and at risk for diabetes or cardiovascular disease. However, for a person who struggles with an Eating Disorder, like Bulimia Nervosa or Anorexia Nervosa, the use of such apps may make matters worse. Calorie counting and exercise logging applications can become dangerous tools for young adults who are obsessed with being skinny. By plugging in numbers like current weight, goal weight, calories consumed, and exercise performed, people can easily compute how many calories they need to consume to facilitate weight loss. However, this numbers game can get out of hand. Hunger Games: Is our tech obsession making anorexia worse (New Republic) describes just how destructive diet and exercise apps can be for people with eating disorders.
In addition to well-intended diet and exercise applications, other social media programs create communities based on being thin. For example, Thinspo, short for thinsporation, encourages young women to log on and check out a new “thinsporation” picture every morning. While the company claims not to be pro-anorexic or pro-bulimic, their site idealizes slender physique, which can fuel one’s infatuation to be skinny. Participating in online communities that glorify unrealistic body images may strongly influence the behaviors and perceptions of people who struggle with Eating Disorders.
If your son or daughter is having difficulties forming a positive relationship with food, nutrition, or personal body image, please seek eating disorder treatment and professional help.