Why ‘What I Eat in a Day’ Posts Are Dangerous

TikTok has emerged as a major igniter of food trends — from mushroom coffee and pancake cereal to cloud bread and feta pasta. But there’s another trend dominating TikTok that’s become bigger than any of these viral recipes. That’s the #whatieatinaday trend, which is nearing 9 billion views.

These video food diaries are also popular on Instagram — typically featuring a wellness influencer or celebrity showcasing their smoothies, avocado toast, grain bowls, salads and other foods they ate that day — often accompanied by a full-length yoga pant-clad mirror selfie.

[READ: Viral TikTok Nutrition Trends: Which Should You Avoid?]

Social Media’s Negative Impact

This trend illustrates the growing concern about Instagram’s negative influence on a young girl’s body image — which has dominated recent conversations about this social media app. Research conducted by the platform’s owner, Facebook, found that Instagram made body image worse for one in three girls in the U.S. More than 40% of teen Instagram users who reported feeling “unattractive” said the feelings began when using the app.

At least TikTok has added a disclaimer on posts tagged #whatieatinaday: “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 encourage confiding in someone for support or contacting the National Eating Disorders Association helpline.

Even though #whatieatinaday posts may be intended to serve as healthy inspiration for others, there’s a growing sentiment that these video diaries of daily eats will likely do more harm than good — especially among young girls or people with a history of disordered eating. I talked to several registered dietitians to get their opinion about this social media trend.

[SEE Top Nutrition Fallacies on Social Media.]

Dismiss Promises of Eat Like Me, Look Like Me

The underlying message these posts send is that if you eat like them, then you can eventually look like them, says Cara Harbstreet, an intuitive eating registered dietitian of Street Smart Nutrition and author of “Healthy Eating for Life: An Intuitive Eating Workbook.” Yet what someone else eats in a day doesn’t mean it’s right for you — especially since these “staged” videos are not a completely accurate representation of what someone typically eats, she says.

Often the overly stylized meals do not add up to a nutritionally adequate diet. The posts are promoting the illusion of a perfect or ideal day of eating, along with a perfect or ideal body size.

“Younger audiences, especially girls and young women, internalize the message that they must eat like these creators in order to achieve and maintain not only health, but also social desirability,” Harbstreet says. “The biggest collective harm I see with this trend is that it normalizes disordered or restrictive eating behaviors. This could prevent someone struggling with an eating disorder from seeking and receiving support or treatment.”

Even if the #whatieatinaday posts are displaying a balanced day of eating, the subtext message of “eat like me, and you will look like me” is harmful because people will not necessarily achieve the same body size as the Instagrammer even if they copied their day of eating bite for bite, says registered dietitian Rachael Hartley, a Boston-based certified intuitive eating counselor and author of “Gentle Nutrition.”

Additionally, she says “what might be a balanced, adequate day of satisfying meals for one person may be inadequate and unsatisfying to another.” Even worse, someone looking at these posts may conclude that they need to be eating half as much to lose weight.

[SEE: A Sneaky Way Social Media Is Warping Body Image.]

Avoid Comparison Traps

Alissa Rumsey, a New York City-based dietitian and author of ” Unapologetic Eating,” says that the people making these videos are overwhelmingly thin, young, able-bodied and white. “There is a complete lack of body diversity and this promotes harmful comparisons to unrealistic body standards that are unattainable to the vast majority of people.”

Tamara Melton, an Atlanta-based registered detitian and co-founder and executive director of Diversify Dietetics, is also troubled by the sameness of these posts. “People who are from different cultures may not see their cultural foods represented by influencers. They may take this to mean that their culture’s foods aren’t healthy, which is not true.”

South Korea-based chef and registered dietitian Tessa Nguyen, founder of Taste Nutrition Consulting, agrees. “Messaging revolving around superficial aesthetics of looking a certain way or eating a certain way is harmful because it reinforces systemically racist binaries of which foods, bodies and habits are seen as “good” and which are seen as “bad.”

“This is particularly poignant when we consider social media algorithms only promote and amplify white, thin, able-bodied and neurotypical creators,” she says. “It also perpetuates the false information that looking a certain way means you’re healthy. Posts like “what I eat in a day” set up an unrealistic ideal, including promoting guilt and comparisons when the viewer doesn’t identify with what the creator is sharing. Therefore, those of us from marginalized communities are once again unable to see positive representations of our diverse bodies, foods and cultural representation in these harmful posts.”

One Meal at a Time

Rather than a day’s worth of food, many of the registered dietitians I spoke to suggest posting a single meal instead. Hartley said an individual meal or recipe can serve as an idea or inspiration versus a full day of eating to copy.

Or sometimes #whatieatinaday posts can be helpful, she says.

“I occasionally share #whyIateWednesday posts, with the aim of showing how intuitive eating skills help in decision making around food,” she says. “I aim to highlight a wide range of foods, including fast food, desserts, convenience foods and other foods that diet culture might demonize, as well as showing how to incorporate nutrition in a gentle way.

“Most of all, I try to highlight what it looks like to eat enough, showing real life portion sizes, getting seconds and eating snacks between meals and sometimes right before meals to tide me over,” she says.

Rumsey says diet culture has skewed our sense of how much is “normal” to eat at meals or snacks, so it can be helpful to see a full meal plated that shows a variety of foods and enough carbohydrates. “I’ve had clients who were struggling with disordered eating, and they found it helpful to see people sharing a plated meal because it normalized how much food people eat at mealtimes.”

Take Control of Your Social Feed

The backlash against the #whatieatinaday trend has grown so much that now many of the posts you’ll see are exaggerations of daily eating — comically showing large amounts of indulgent foods and beverages, perhaps as a way of poking fun at the absurdness of the perfect posts. Yet the majority of these posts are still reinforcing the concept of a perfect day of eating.

Melton says she likes to remind people that social media is someone’s highlight reel, and you can control its influence on you. “If you are following an influencer that doesn’t make you feel more positive about your health — feel free to unfollow!”

Rumsey also recommends unfollowing anyone who shares #whatieatinaday videos. Instead, if you’re interested in food content, she says, follow people who are cooking and preparing fun, delicious meals or folks who are talking about food but also encouraging you to listen to your body.

“Avoid following anyone whose body or food intake causes you to negatively compare yourself to them; aim to diversify your feed so that you are following a wide range of body types and food content creators.”

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Why ‘What I Eat in a Day’ Posts Are Dangerous originally appeared on usnews.com

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