Photo: c/o Disney
It seems like every month, we’re challenged by the internet to meet an unrealistic standard of beauty or health. Remember the recent obsession with the thigh gap or that absurd A4 waist challenge? Well, the latest trend sweeping social media is known as the Cinderella Challenge, and dietitians strongly warn against it. What began in Japan, the challenge encourages women to take extreme measures to meet the female form of the cartoon character. Yes, the cartoon character.
The Cinderella Diet challenges women to aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 18, which is classified as underweight by the US Department of Health & Human Services. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight, and anywhere from 18.5 to 24.9 is considered a healthy index for adults.
“This is an unrealistic beauty standard upheld by our diet culture, which says that if we want to be more worthy, desirable, or ‘good,’ then we should be thin,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness and creator of the Ditch the Diet Challenge, a free e-course. “The images we see in the media, whether that's TV, movies, advertisements, or social media, represent a very narrow standard of beauty. Less than 5 percent of people look like this.”
“Focusing solely on BMI is a setup for failure, especially when the BMI recommended is actually considered underweight,” adds Brooke Alpert, MS, RN, CDN, a nutrition expert and founder of B Nutritious. “It doesn’t take into consideration your body type or muscle mass.” And restricting your diet to reach such extremes has serious health risks. “Extreme dieting and being underweight comes with risks like mood swings, missed periods, fertility issues, hair loss, bone loss, muscle loss, anemia, a compromised immune system, and much more,” explains Rumsey. What’s more, idealizing fictional body proportions like this can lead to body, image concerns, disordered eating, and depression.
“Weight does not equal health. You do not need to be thin or lose weight in order to be healthy,” Rumsey emphasizes. “Research shows that people of all different body sizes have similar health improvements when they change their behaviors, regardless of whether their weight changes.” She encourages women to stop focusing on numbers and instead focus on things you can control, like health behaviors around food, exercise, sleep, and stress. Consider a non-diet approach and active lifestyle, and the dreams that you wish will come true.