‘What I Eat In A Day’ Social Media Trend Presents Harmful Effects

TikTok videos could have serious health implications

What I eat in a day varies. Somedays, I exceed five fruits and vegetables – others, I crave greasy pizza, deep-fried chicken, or an entire sleeve of Girl Scout cookies. But don’t we all fluctuate our eating habits? One TikTok trend doesn’t seem to think so.

Women in ponytails, leggings, and crop tops have picked up their phones and posted their meal plans online, sharing daily-diet vlogs of avocado toast, salads, and salmon. On TikTok, #whatieatinaday has surpassed 15.9 billion views. While content creators may not have ill intent when sharing these videos, many dieticians are sounding the alarm, saying these unrealistic food presentations can negatively impact mental and physical health.

Dr. Jillian Lampert works with Minnesota’s Emily Program, which focuses on eating disorder awareness, treatment, and lifetime recovery. She also teaches an eating disorder course at the University of Minnesota. Lampert says the #whatieatinaday trend is horrifying and harming young people.

“No teenager needs to care what anybody else eats in a day in order to determine what they eat in a day,” Lampert says. “It’s highly edited and curated.”

Yet many teens who are at a prime risk to develop an eating disorder may view these videos as real, and change the way they eat.

@kirra.mov 💚 #thatgirl #aesthetic #minivlog #whatieatinaday #healthylifestyle #motivation #healthyrecipes #breakfastideas ♬ original sound – xxtristanxo

Thirty million Americans of all shapes, ages, and sizes struggle with eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Roughly 3% of teens will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime, and, when considering the 95% of teenagers on TikTok, these statistics become alarming.

While creators behind #whatieatinaday may not be experiencing eating disorders themselves, most of these videos promote disordered eating habits. Some signs of disordered eating include: preoccupation with food, dieting, and counting calories, refusal to eat certain foods, such as carbs or fats, and dramatic weight loss. Language used in captions and on video overlays can mislead viewers, making them think the only way to lose weight, look like a model, or gain social media followers is by eating certain foods.

@karinaalcarazibar Remember it is important to feed your body when losing weight 💕#fyp #foryoupage #healthyfood #healthyrecipes #fitness #weightloss #whatieatinaday ♬ Self Love – Dreamville & Ari Lennox & Bas

There is a strong link between how teenage girls view themselves and social media. A study conducted last year on girls ages 14-17 found that social media exacerbated girls’ body image concerns. When specifically considering #whatieatinaday, teenage girls use TikTok more than teenage boys, making them primary consumers of the harmful videos.

Who teenage girls follow also impacts their outlook. Models remain a prominent influence on girls, who can then form negative appearance comparisons and unrealistic body standards. In a world where women and teenage girls aspire to look like social media influencers, step-by-step eating videos produce a false narrative of what foods are good and what foods are bad.

@valerielundquistsmith i also snacked on some cereal & drank a shiz ton of tea which was not pictured #fypシ #secretaccount #healthiswealth #fittok #gymgirl #whatieatinaday ♬ original sound – Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Lampert says what we eat often gets attached to morality – for example, if you eat broccoli you’re a good person and if you eat brownies you’re a bad person.

“The good and bad food dichotomy sets people up to feel like they fail so easily,” Lampert says. “It helps absolutely nobody.”

When Lampert has the good v. bad food debate with parents, she says they often point to their kids’ health. Lampert says while parents often have good intentions, fear motivates many of the eating habits they prescribe for their kids.

For food relationships to improve in person and online, parents, dieticians and social media users must move from a place of fear to empowerment.

@blairimani #SmarterInSeconds: “Good” vs “Bad” Foods with @Kera NYEMB-DIOP, Ph.D & @maya finoh ♬ original sound – Blair Imani

Online, some dieticians are responding to #whatieatinaday. With 664.5K  followers on TikTok, Abbey Sharp defines herself as a “wellness culture, BS-busting dietitian.” Many of her videos stitch a mega influencers’ #whatieatinaday video and her response together.

No celebrity is off limits. Jojo Siwa, Bella Hadid, and Kylie Jenner are just some of the mega-teen influencers Sharp has debunked, bringing a dietitians’ perspectives to balanced nutrition, trendy diets, and food fads.

@abbeyskitchen Fangirling over this day of eating rn. #jojosiwa #jojosbizarreadventure #whatieatinaday #wieiad #relatable #selfcare #intuitiveeating #selflove #foodie #foodtiktok #coffeeaddict #queens #hungercrushingcombo #healthysnacks #healthyrecipes #nutritiontips #rainbow #lgbtqally ♬ ROCKSTAR – DaBaby, Roddy Ricch

Other dietitians are continuing to make their own #whatieatinaday videos with a few caveats. A registered dietician, Paige Faustini has 139.8K followers on TikTok. Faustini says she will continue to make #whatieatinaday videos, so her followers can find meal ideas, but says she has had a shift in perspective.

Instead of focusing on the foods themselves, Faustini says she will emphasize why she is choosing to eat them. Nevertheless, Faustini warns that meal plans are not one-size-fits-all.

“Comparing your diet to someone else’s is not helpful,” Faustini said. “Even if we all ate the same way every day, we would all look different.”

@hungryhealthy An important reminder that comparing what you eat to what you see online is never helpful, if we all at the same we’d still all look different! Thanks for being here, ily ❤️ #dietitian #whatieatianday #whatieat #realisticnutrition #dietitiansoftiktok ♬ original sound – Paige Faustini, MS, RDN, CDN

While videos like these help counteract the trend’s unrealistic portrayal of food presentation and diet culture, conversations surrounding bodies must be improved. Lampert says we need to help teenage girls adopt a body-positive mindset.

“Your brain believes what it hears,” Lampert says. “Every time you look at something on social media and go ‘I’ll never look like that,” or ‘I don’t look like that,” or “Maybe I should eat like that,’ you can push back and say “I’m okay just like I am.”

Other influencers are embracing similar messages. Nelly London produces body positive content for her 61.5K followers. In an Instagram Reel with 2.4 million likes, London suggests that viewers consider their bodies as a perfect part of nature.

When I view my body this way – as beautiful, natural, and integral – I view food as fuel. Foods are not good or bad, but rather what we consume to nourish our needs.

If we remind teenage girls of this, they may become more accepting of who they are. Because beyond the curated vlogs of social media, what we eat in a day changes. Food variation should be accepted, appreciated and celebrated, so teenage girls can see themselves as much greater than their bodies.

If you or someone you love is experiencing an eating disorder, there are resources to help. Lampert encourages parents not to wait. The Emily Program offers a variety of treatment options, including initial screenings. The National Eating Disorder Association also offers a free helpline.

Emma is an editorial intern studying journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her love for storytelling stems from her hometown of Cannon Falls, Minnesota. In her free time, Emma loves watching college sports, spending time up north, and sharing food with friends and family.