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Are TikTok “What I Eat in a Day’s” helpful or harmful?

Are TikTok “What I Eat in a Day’s” helpful or harmful?

In the realm of social media, TikTok has become an immensely popular platform for sharing snippets of daily life. From dances, to funny home videos, Tik Tok gained wide popularity, especially during the difficult times of COVID-19. One category of videos that Tik Tok’s algorithm made popular is known as: “What I Eat in a Days”, a compilation of videos and images showcasing the creator’s diet that particular day. While seemingly innocent on the surface, these videos may have underlying messages that affect our subconscious thoughts and feelings around food, beliefs about ourselves and our bodies and ultimately influence our overall behaviors with diet and exercise. Thus, before consuming these videos at face value, it is important we take a deeper look into the messages underneath, so we can make more informed decisions about what social media we choose to watch.

Harmful Aspects

As a therapist that specializes in body image and eating disorders, one of the primary concerns I see with “What I Eat in a Day” videos, is the potential for comparison. Consumers may find themselves comparing their own daily food intake to those showcased in the videos, despite differences in body types, metabolic rates, and nutritional needs. Remember, we only want to be taking nutritional advice from Registered Dietitians (RDNs) and/or qualified professionals working with us! Our bodies are extremely different, requiring unique needs. When we are constantly bombarded with messages from other individuals about their own diets, this can not only confuse us, but can also foster feelings of inadequacy or pressure to conform to unrealistic standards of thinness or fitness.

Speaking of, these videos often feature images of individuals’ bodies, which can subtly convey the message that thinness or “fitness” is the moral imperative behind the video. This can be especially triggering for those struggling with body image issues or eating disorders. The focus on appearance rather than health can perpetuate harmful ideals and reinforce societal pressures to attain a certain aesthetic.

Moreover, another concern is that some “What I Eat in a Day” videos may contain undertones of orthorexia or restrictive eating habits. Orthorexia is known as “an obsession with clean or healthy eating”, often creating extremely negative mental health effects. Restrictive undertones may be sneaky as well. They may come in the form of “How I stuck to xxx amount of calories” or “How I cut out sugar/fats/carbs/(insert any food group) today”. By showcasing meticulously planned and controlled meals, these videos may inadvertently glorify disordered eating patterns and contribute to a culture of food obsession and restriction. Especially given those struggling with disordered eating habits are more likely to click on these types of videos, it seems the cycle only gets perpetuated via TikTok’s algorithm.

Helpful Aspects

However, to play devil’s advocate, not all of these videos are harmful! In fact, many of my clients have consistently shared how healing they can be. Some influencers use their platform to challenge disordered eating trends and promote a healthier relationship with food, normalizing the message that it’s okay and necessary to fuel our bodies. Especially when videos are created by eating disorder informed Registered Dietitians, these individuals may offer educational content backed by nutrition expertise, helping viewers make informed choices about their dietary habits.

Additionally, these videos have the potential to reverse the narrative of restrictive or “clean eating” imperatives. By showcasing a diverse range of dietary patterns and food choices, TikTok creators can encourage viewers to embrace variety and flexibility in their eating habits rather than rigid rules or restrictions.

Solution

So what’s the answer to the initial question? Are these videos helpful or harmful?
Evidently, every therapist’s favorite words: “It depends”. 
It is ultimately up to us viewers to filter out our social media content prior to consuming it.  To help navigate the potentially harmful aspects of “What I Eat in a Day” videos, I have included a few proactive steps we can take to protect our mental and emotional well-being. We must:

    1. Learn how to unfollow or mute triggering accounts that promote harmful ideals or behaviors.
    2. Seek out body-positive influencers who promote self-acceptance and diversity in body shapes and sizes.
    3. Set healthy boundaries with our social media consumption and recognize when it’s time to take a break.
    4. Seek professional mental health support from a licensed therapist if we are really struggling.

As a rule of thumb, it’s important to approach “What I Eat in a Day” videos critically. We always get to remember that prioritizing our health and well-being is most important. If we begin to notice feelings of comparison or the need to conform to unrealistic standards, make sure to hit that unfollow button.

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