One of the most popular TikTok trends is ‘What I eat in a day’ posts, where savvy users showcase a (curated) look of everything they (allegedly) eat in a day. These vibey videos are typically set to chill, catchy music, with a filter, as users are presented with an visually pleasing glimpse into their portions, pours and plates.
These posts may seem aspirational and may even inspire and encourage viewers to try new things, but experts caution viewers to keep their eyes on their own plates.
“What I eat in a day posts may impact what viewers believe they should be eating, even when the individual posting isn’t a health expert,” said Erin Treloar, certified health and wellness coach and founder of Raw Beauty Co. Instead of listening to their own internal hunger and fullness cues, she says people are following what works for someone else. “It’s important to remember what works for one person’s body isn’t right for every body,” Treloar said.
While she understands the intention behind them is usually to inspire, she thinks they’re much more harmful than helpful.
“‘What I Eat in A Day’ posts are catchy, they’re often posted by women who fit the beauty ideal, so they pull back the proverbial curtain on what these women do to look the way they look,” Treloar says.
Treloar says that not knowing if these individuals are actually eating what they post or not, is part of the issue. “It’s also impossible to tell what someone’s metabolism is like, how their mental health is, how much movement or energy they’re required to expend in a day, how much they sleep, or what stage of their menstrual cycle they’re in,” Treloar said.
When she was struggling with an anorexia or in recovery, Treloar says these kinds of posts would have sent her into a spiral, wondering why she had to eat so much more than others. “I also would have compared my body to theirs, clinging to the idea that if I ate what they ate I might look like them,” Treloar said.
Treloar isn’t the only expert finding these posts harmful. “People think that if they copy the behaviours of someone they idealize, they will become them — look like them, act like them, live like them,” says clinical therapist Kyla Fox, who runs an eating disorder outpatient treatment centre in Toronto. She says this perpetuates an internal message that, “if they can do it, so can I,” which discounts body diversification, genetics, lifestyle, etc.
When typing the #WhatIEatInADay hashtag into the app’s search menu, there’s a trigger warning that says: “At TikTok, while we value creative expression, our foremost priority is to keep 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.” They go on to encourage users to reach out to a trusted person to confide in and to contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) to get support, if needed, with contact information provided.
“The warning is important; It’s critical actually,” says Fox. She says it sets a tone for caution around a trend that can be deeply triggering and deeply harmful.
Frankly, she says it’s a trend that really has no business being out in the world. She says we need to be supporting messages that help people find comfort in their own lives, their own needs, their own relationship with food and their body — not getting lost in what someone else curates for the world.
The hashtag #whatieatinaday has a whopping 6.5 billion views on TikTok. With all this content being shared, and many impressionable kids and teens using the apps, as well as those who are already struggling with disordered eating or their weight during the pandemic, posts like these can be dangerous, if taken as either fact or as a guide.
Treloar says to consider whether these posts feel supportive to you and if not, to mute or unfollow accounts.
“If your children are consuming this kind of content they are absolutely old enough to have a really honest conversation about the potential dangers of this kind of message,” says Treloar. She suggests talking to your kids about how these posts make them feel and to ask them questions to help you understand how they are interpreting them. She says to remind your kids that what works for one person’s body won’t necessarily be right for them, and that health extends far beyond what you eat and the size of your body.
And if you’re one of many caught up with the problematic pandemic-based language like ‘The COVID-15,” Treloar says to be mindful of who you’re looking to for support and be cautious of anyone promising quick results from plans that require any kind of restrictions, rules or rigidity with food. “Surround yourself with people and voices that are celebrating health at every size,” Treloar said.