Open up TikTok and, for the most part, you’ll come across a handful of types of videos. There are cool dances we don’t have nearly enough rhythm to master, shopping hauls that have our credit cards begging for a break, genius beauty hacks, pesto eggs and more. Yet another type of video that’s been popping up a ton lately is the ‘what I eat in a day’ video. (Videos tagged #whatieatinaday have been viewed a whopping 7.4 billion—billion with a ‘b’—times.)
Typically, a cute title card and voiceover will let you know, “Here’s what I eat in a typical day as a college student/girl in NYC/attorney working from home/etc.” From there, the creator walks you through their meals and snacks from the time they wake up until they go to bed. Often, they’re really fun to watch. They’re aspirational and beautifully shot and sometimes give us ideas for new meals. But according to some experts, the trend can actually be quite dangerous—especially to the teens and tweens who make up much of the platform’s audience.
We checked in with Dr. Amy Lee, Head of Nutrition for Nucific and an expert in weight control, obesity and nutrition, who told us that the trend, though harmless in theory, can negatively impact vulnerable viewers. “Some of the content does not reflect the healthiest ways of eating. A few that I noticed that would be concerning are the ones where a slim person is putting down junk food from morning to night and continues on eating at 2 a.m., or the exact opposite: Eating a small calorie count of less than 1,000 calories within a day.”
The problem lies, Dr. Lee says, in suggesting that any diet is “normal.” “The dangerous part is the idea of these ‘influencers’ normalizing what isn’t normal for the average person,” she tells us. “Especially for those who are already struggling with weight issues and trying to learn what others are doing.”
In addition to folks who are already struggling with disordered eating, younger viewers are more susceptible to being influenced by unhealthy eating patterns. “I think people have a common sense of what is normal or not, but the subset of those who are easily influenced may find themselves replicating these behaviors or simply repeating them to create content to post as well,” Dr. Lee adds.
TikTok has even included a disclaimer message on the #whatieatinaday hashtag’s landing page. It reads, “At TikTok, while we value creative expression, our foremost priority is keeping users safe. If you or someone you know are experiencing concerns around body image, food, or exercise—it's important that you know help is out there and that you are not alone. If helpful, you can confide in someone you trust. We also encourage you to contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline to get support, information and treatment options at http://nationaleatingdisorders.org/helpline or text "NEDA" to 741741 for 24/7 crisis support. It can make all the difference. Please remember to take care of yourselves and each other.”
Though it’s unrealistic to say that creators should just stop making these videos (again, they’re wildly popular), Dr. Lee hopes that popular creators on the app will do their due diligence to minimize harm. “A lot of bigger creators make these videos, and while the idea isn’t to necessarily ban them, these creators can make a movement towards doing their own research and knowledge behind a healthy day of eating to promote good habits, and even put warnings or disclaimers at the beginning of these videos that explain that they are merely for fun or inspiration, not to be followed directly.”
Something to think about the next time your mindlessly scrolling TikTok instead of falling asleep at a reasonable time, no?