Dieting to be skinny

Lacey-Jade Christie is lover of life, and a hater of diets. Photo Rebecca Johansen.
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Celebrities are promoting weight loss products, but are they losing weight, or gaining money? Rebecca Johansen investigates.

Christmas is the perfect time for giving and overindulging in guilty pleasures. But after months of dieting and exercising, 16-year-old Lacey-Jade Christie wasn’t going to be tempted. Instead she was crowned the winner of her family’s weight loss challenge after losing 15 kilograms.

She had volunteered for the seemingly innocent challenge, which encouraged her family to be healthier, but it was a Christmas present that backfired. Lacey-Jade had no idea this was the beginning of a lengthy battle of dieting and the start of her eating disorder.

And she’s not alone. According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, from 2011 to 2012, more than 2.3 million Australians aged 15 years and over were on a diet to lose weight.

Now 30, Lacey-Jade who works as a theatre nurse and a clinical nurse educator, believes the constant talk about her weight when growing up, and the recognition she received once she lost weight reinforced her need to be skinny.

“I won a pair of earrings and a lot of validation, and that validation is what started the cycle. You think, ‘well people think I’m great, they think I’m pretty. I might be miserable on the inside but everyone’s paying attention to me, so you just keep going’,” she says.

Two years after winning the challenge she was still dieting constantly. At around 18 years old, having just started university, Lacey-Jade developed Bulimia, a condition which is characterised by periods of binge eating followed by methods to avoid weight gain. She was diagnosed five years later.

The Butterfly Foundation estimates around four percent of Australians suffer from an eating disorder.

“There was a constant focus on me being the fat friend. I was trying to be skinny and trying to be a perfect size, which in my mind was a size 12. When I was diagnosed having diet products in my life allowed me to continue that behaviour without being sick. I was able to fool myself into thinking I’m still healthy because I’m taking diet products and I’m not bingeing or purging,” she says.

An Australia market research report, conducted in 2018, about weight loss services in Australia, revealed: Australians were expected to spend $309.9 million on weight loss counselling services, low-calorie foods and dietary supplements in 2018 and 2019.

Lacey-Jade admits to spending at least $1000 on diet products, using them as an escape. “It was just a mask so I could continue my restriction under the guise of being healthy because I bought them from reputable sources, and because I did that it’s more socially acceptable. It’s ingrained in us that being skinny and healthy is bettering yourself, but is it really?”

“We’re always told through advertising, magazines and celebrities that being a Kardashian with an hourglass figure, on the beach with all the money is the dream, and that influences your whole life,” she says.

Recently the Kardashians have been heavily criticised for promoting diet products on social media for tea detox company, Flat Tummy Co. Leading the charge is eating disorder survivor and The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil, who started a petition to ‘Stop celebrities promoting toxic diet products on social media’.

On March 21 Khloé Kardashian uploaded an image to Instagram flashing her stomach to promote Flat Tummy Co’s meal replacement shakes. The post said: “#ad Loving how my tummy looks right now you guys! I brought @flattummyco’s meal replacements shakes into my routine about 2 weeks ago, and the progress is undeniable. P.S the shakes are 20% off today and you can get Flat Tummy Tea at a really good deal too. Go check it out!”

Jameela immediately responded saying: “If you’re too irresponsible to a) own up to the fact that you have a personal trainer, nutritionist, probable chef, and a surgeon to achieve your aesthetic, rather than this laxative product… And b) tell them the side effects of this NON-FDA approved product, that most doctors are saying aren’t healthy,” she wrote, listing the product’s side effects, “then I guess I have to.”

The post has since been deleted after it received heavy criticism online. However, in an interview with The New York Times Khloé’s sister, Kim Kardashian, addressed the situation saying: “If there is work that is really easy that doesn’t take away from our kids, that’s like a huge priority. You’re going to get backlash for almost everything so as long as you like it or believe in it or it’s worth it financially, whatever your decision may be, as long as you’re ok with that.”

Accredited practising dietitian Felicity Curtain disagrees: “I think that’s really irresponsible because obviously, people like the Kardashians know how wide reach their influence is. The products are expensive and are not backed by any evidence and it’s potentially going to cause some really harmful body image issues down the track.”

“Detox teas at best will be a herbal tea that might fill you up with water so much it will suppress your appetite. At worse it can be a laxative that is filled with different ingredients. There’s lots of good research to show there’s no need to turn to these crazy laxative teas and in fact, we do know that by drinking [regular] tea it can act as a natural curb on your appetite. There’s no need to be swayed by ones you see on Instagram and other social media outlets. I think the only positive is now there are restrictions on the wording of a company-sponsored post,” she says.

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Khloé Kardashian’s mother Kris Jenner says her daughters are paid a heavy six-figure check for sponsored media posts. “[If it’s for] a pharmaceutical product, and it’s something that you’re going to drink, or ingest, or put on your body, the price goes up.”

Brands paying for influencers and celebrities to promote their products is the new normal. In 2016 semi-popular YouTuber and athlete Arianna Dantone was offered $11,850 to collaborate with the brand, iHerb.

In 2017 MTV’s ‘Teen Mom’ star Mackenzie McKee was caught out after she accidentally copied and pasted instructions she received from Flat Tummy Co for a sponsored post. The image which was uploaded to Instagram has since been deleted but it revealed just how staged advertisements are.  

Associate Professor Ken Harvey says Mackenzie McKee’s testimonial, which claimed Flat Tummy Co’s ‘Shake it Baby program is clinically proven to be three times more effective than diet and exercise alone’, is unlikely to be true.

“[This] would breach the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code 2018 if it was sited in Australia. The internet is a problem and it needs a global code of conduct, global policing and penalties that would deter this activity. The Therapeutic Goods Administration could refer this problem to the US FDA, but they don’t. [These companies are] exploitative and unethical, but it’s clearly a great way to make money by unscrupulous companies,” he says.

Ken Harvey for Australian Skeptics Photo Rebecca Johansen                                           

Not long-ago Lacey-Jade decided enough was enough. She had reached the point where she no longer recognised herself, even though she had a stable and successful life. She made the decision to change. “I didn’t realise I hated myself, I just knew I wanted to be skinny and so I thought to love myself because I was trying to be the best me, I could be,” she says.

She stopped focusing on dieting and weight loss and instead started to allow her body to be what it wants. She lost the diet products and gained her spark back. She started to fill her free time with things she loves the most; such as burlesque dancing on Saturday nights, costume making, cake baking, but most of all running a weekly body positive podcast, The Fat Collective.

If she had the opportunity to turn back time and change things, she says she wouldn’t change much, as without her past she wouldn’t be who she is, or where she is today. If anything, she would try and encourage her 16-year-old self to abandon those disruptive habits that once ruled her life.

 Looking towards the future she says her journey has been enlightening in terms of self-love. “Once you know what it’s like to hate yourself and you finally love yourself, it’s amazing,” she says.

 If you’re using detox tea or diet products, Lacey-Jade’s advice is simple, “tip it down the sink.” “You wouldn’t torture someone else so why are you torturing yourself?” she says.  

A spokesperson for Flat Tummy Co was not available to comment.