‘Water fasting’ goes viral among teenagers despite health concerns


An 18-year-old student in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, surnamed Park, has been on a “water diet” for nearly a week. During this time, she has consumed nothing but water, salt and some nutritional supplements while fasting.

Her goal is to reach 120 on the “height minus weight” scale, which she believes represents an ideal standard for being slim. Currently standing at 160 centimeters tall and weighing 47 kilograms, she intends to shed an additional seven kilograms before summer.

Like Park, a growing number of Korean female teenagers are on an extreme “water diet” ahead of the summer season. The extreme diet has garnered attention, especially as famous celebrities are reported to have rapidly lost weight without exercise through fasting.

As of Monday, over 1,000 posts have been uploaded with the hashtag “water fasting” on Instagram, while YouTube has several videos where people share their experiences of losing fat through the water diet and tips on holding back their appetite.

“I am fasting, but it’s harder to endure dizziness than hunger,” one user said on X, formerly Twitter. Numerous online users have also claimed to have been fasting for nearly a month and lost over 10 kilograms.

According to the National Health Insurance Service’s report last year, the number of female anorexia patients aged in their teens has increased sevenfold over four years, from 275 in 2018 to 1,874 in 2022.

However, experts point out that such extreme diets in adolescents inevitably disrupt their physical and cognitive development and even cause various health problems such as dietary amenorrhea, osteoporosis and eating disorders.

“Doctors advise against teenagers basing their diets on appearance rather than health. Intermittent fasting, which is widely 추천 considered a diet method, should also be avoided for more than 16 hours. If teenagers go beyond it and starve themselves, there can be dangerous consequences,” said Sim Kyung-won, a professor of family medicine at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital.

Kang Jae-heon, a professor of family medicine at Gangbuk Samsung Hospital, also said, “It is difficult to solve nutritional deficiencies only with mineral water and nutritional supplements because the human body needs various nutrients such as protein and fat.”

Some note that the prevalence of lookism in Korea has contributed to this phenomenon.

“As an excessively thin female body becomes an ideal image through (social media), some people could become obsessed with extreme diets,” said Lim Myung-ho, a psychology professor at Dankook University.

“Especially teenagers with low self-esteem could be trying to satisfy their sense of achievement through attaining thin bodies.”

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