**DISCLAIMER: The remainder of the article contains trigger words about eating disorders (ED) and habits that may be concerning for people who are currently struggling with eating habits. If you feel like this article may not be a good read for you, but would like to know more about the content, check out “Health and K-Pop Part 6 — Self Esteem,” which contains a similar message without going in-depth about eating disorders. Also, I am not a doctor. **
While browsing through YouTube videos the other day, I came across several videos referencing female K-Pop idol IU‘s diet. The videos chronicled people during a short weight loss journey as they tried to follow “The IU diet.” For those who do not know, the IU diet is: one apple for breakfast, one sweet potato for lunch and a protein shake for dinner. Totaled, it’s 700 calories, which is about 1700 calories fewer than the recommended amount for an active female between the ages of 21-25, according to the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
While the diet itself may seem “normal” (after all, Korean idols are known to be under intense amounts of pressure to remain thin and fit), the fact that viewers and listeners — and even non-fans — of K-Pop are partaking in these dangerous diets is scary.
Scary, but not uncommon.
Struggling with an eating disorder isn’t easy. It sucks everything out of you, it drains you of happiness, fills you with depression, a fear of food and constant insecurity. Writing from personal experience, watching music videos of really skinny women who look amazing all the time can be really frustrating and upsetting, and that’s why being a K-Pop fan and having an ED is a potential recipe for disaster.
Depending on how involved you are in the K-Pop community, you may or may not have had a run in with idol diets. As a listener and viewer since 2012, I have had several encounters with fans of K-Pop who are desperate to look like their bias, to be thin and beautiful, because that is all that is seen in the Korean entertainment industry.
Yes, there are some songs out there that preach about self-love and acceptance, it can be difficult to take the message to heart when it is delivered by men with six packs or women with thigh gaps. But when you watch an idol sit down in a circle and describe their training routine or a diet that led them to lose weight quickly, it suddenly becomes incredibly easy to take every word and hold it close to your heart like a lifeline.
It’s not like this is a new topic. Entertainment agencies have been known to be exceptionally picky in who they debut, preferring to only debut idols who fit the traditional “image” of the company. SM Entertainment has a reputation for making their idols go through crazy workout plans and dieting routines before comebacks and debuts. YG Entertainment initially turned away BIG BANG‘S T.O.P on account of his weight. GOT7‘s Jackson has made countless remarks on his unhappiness with his body (despite being absolutely ripped). It’s no secret that BTS‘s Jimin has been in a constant war with himself about his weight.
Yet despite these rigorous standards set by entertainment agencies, sometimes the worst watchdogs out there are the fans themselves (refer to “Friday the 13th and Edward Avila“).
For many fans it’s not uncommon to spend exorbitant amounts of free time watching and looking up to these idols. They can be a positive role model or have a career that people desire. But when you see that positive role model in your life start to doubt themselves, it can be worrying. You look at the person who has the exact body type you want, and then you learn that they’re not even happy with their own bodies. Yet you’re still expected to be content with how you look? It is not easy.
My advice to you? Stay strong. Stay strong even when it feels like your mind is going crazy and the bad thoughts keep rushing in. Try and remind yourself that these idols are practicing for up to 14 hours a day and eating very little — but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same.
Ideas to help settle those negative thoughts about food and body image:
- Talk to someone. Don’t just tell them “I feel down.” Describe exactly how you are feeling. You might be surprised at the amount of people who experience the same emotions.
- If you feel the need to exercise, don’t do it on a machine. Machines count calories burned. Don’t concern yourself with calories burned. Focus on making your body feel good. Work out because you love your body, not because you hate it.
- When/if you eat, try not to stress. Stress while eating can actually inhibit the digestive process.
- If you feel uncomfortable with your body in a certain position, start saying to yourself, “This is just how my body looks when I ______”.
- Find that song. Find that one song that’ll help lift your spirits even a little bit, and when you’re down, play the mess out of it.
- Care. Care about yourself. Give yourself the same respect and love that you would give to your best friend.
- Find what works. Not everyone is affected by affirmations or distractions, so find a method that helps you feel more comfortable with yourself and around food.
If you or someone you know is struggling and feel READY to speak up or receive help and treatment, visit Eating Disorder Hope to find an eating disorder treatment program in your state.