"What I Eat in a Day" Videos & Impact on Mental Health

Written by Sophie Conant & Talia Cecchele

What I Eat in a Day videos have become very popular over the last couple of years. If you scroll on any social media site, you’re likely to come across one. However, despite their growing popularity, do these videos actually do more harm than good? At what point does a harmless bit of fun become something that is a detriment to someone’s mental health and self-esteem?


What are “What I Eat in a Day” videos?

What I Eat in a Day videos document what an individual eats in a day. They are usually posted on social media sites like Instagram and Tiktok by various influencers and celebrities.


What might begin as recipe inspiration can become an unhealthy comparison and aspiration to eat like the person posting the video. The message behind a What I Eat in a Day can all too easily shift to What I Eat in a Day to look like this. Further reinforced by the cover image of many videos showcasing pictures of a posed body, usually in activewear and edited.


Some people might view these videos for inspiration, take what they need and move on. We're not denying that some content creators will have a healthy relationship with food and use What I Eat in a Day videos to try and show case different days of eating, food variety and role model dietary flexibility. However, not all influencers have this in mind and/or might not be aware of the extent of the harm or influence that these types of videos can have.


Social media is a highlight reel. A snapshot of a few minutes of someone's day. What I Eat in a Day videos can't ever accurately depict what or how someone eats, because what we eat changes every day and is dependent on lifestyle, food availability, social activities etc. One person's daily food intake should never be the same as another's as we are all beautifully unique human beings with our own energy requirements and nutritional goals. Normal eating looks different for everyone. We have a blog on What is Normal Eating? if you're interested in finding out more.


What about Eating Disorder Recovery?

What I Eat in a Day videos are commonly created by people during their recovery to document food challenges, track progress, be held accountable or inspire others in their own recovery journey.


Whilst for some people the act of either creating these videos or watching them can be motivating and inspiring, for many it can lead to unhelpful comparisons (which eating disorder thrive off). We never know what is happening behind closed doors, so it is so important to acknowledge that the person behind the camera might be struggling in their own recovery, potentially not nourishing their body or engaging in unhealthy behaviours off screen. A person who promotes themselves as "recovered" might not be.


Recovery from an eating disorder is personal and no two people will have the same journey (or meal plan). Energy requirements and dietary recommendations vary from person to person. If someone is in recovery, they should not compare what they eat or their progress to someone else. We want to reduce any feelings of failure, guilt, shame or unworthiness which can creep up when comparing to others.


Why we don't support “What I Eat in a Day” videos

1. Negative impact on self-esteem

Research has shown that eating comparisons cause an increased likelihood in engagement with disordered eating behaviours (1), and increased comparison can exacerbate issues with self-esteem. We should never compare what we eat to what someone else eats. Everyone has different nutritional needs, and what is enough for one person might not be for someone else.


Eating disorders thrive off comparison. For many people, watching what someone else eats will be a significant trigger for comparative thoughts. This can be particularly harmful if a video depicts an unhealthy relationship with food and reinforces disordered eating behaviours such as calorie counting.


2. It's a snapshot

One video is not an accurate representation of someone's overall dietary intake or progress. A balanced diet should include a different range of foods each day. It takes a lot of effort to capture exactly what is consumed in a day, as often normal eating also includes spontaneous snacks or drinks which can be missed out of What I Eat in a Day videos.


It is positive that some influencers will add a disclaimer to their post to inform viewers that the video is a representation of one day’s worth of food, however if does not eliminate comparison for many people.


3. An eating disorder may not allow someone to see the bigger picture

‘Black and white’ thinking is often associated with eating disorders (2). This can make it difficult to take things with a pinch of salt and sit in the many shades of grey that nutrition is. Food can be viewed as good or bad or clean, so if someone is promoting their video as a healthy way of eating, then someone with an eating disorder may find it difficult to ensure their own nutritional needs are met by eating differently.


4. Relationship with food and body image

If someone has an unhealthy relationship with food or their body, What I Eat in a Day videos could exacerbate this. A person might be disappointed that their body does not look like another person's or berate themselves for not being able to stick to a diet. Any attempt of dieting could lead to disordered eating behaviours such as calorie counting, body checking or weighing.


If we all ate the same and moved the same, we would still have different body shapes.


5. Promotion of disordered habits

Many What I Eat in a Day videos promote unhealthy food behaviours including displaying the calorie content of meals, (check out our blog Are All Calories Equal?), tracking macronutrients or dietary restriction (e.g. avoiding food groups like carbohydrates). Although calorie counting and tracking might serve a purpose for some people (e.g. athletes), the unnecessary promotion of these behaviours reinforces diet culture mentality.


Can “What I Eat in a Day” videos be positive?

Many people won't be negatively influenced by What I Eat in a Day videos. However, creators should be conscious of the audience they are posting to. If someone has a healthy relationship with food, watching for inspiration or entertainment if a video stumbles onto an explore page won't cause harm. We are all human beings though and we love comparing how we eat and what we look like to others (thanks to the world we live in). So subconsciously, these videos could still be influencing someone to compare their dietary choices or appearance.


Final thoughts...

What I Eat in a Day videos can be triggering for someone in recovery from an eating disorder and also reinforce unhealthy eating behaviours.


If you are finding yourself comparing your diet to someone else’s when you watch these videos, it might be a good idea to mute or unfollow certain accounts. We suggest avoiding watching What I Eat in a Day videos if:

  • You do not have a healthy relationship with food.

  • You find yourself comparing your diet or body to someone else’s.

  • The video promotes disordered eating habits, such as calorie counting and body checking.

For anyone who is considering posting/has posted one of these videos, we strongly encourage you to think again and maybe hit that archive button. You never know who is on the other side of the screen and how vulnerable they could be.


If you feel as though you are struggling with your relationship with food or your body, book a free discovery call with us. We would be delighted to guide you towards finding balance again.


Sophie Conant

TCN Intern


Sophie Conant is a 2nd year Dietetics student at the University of Nottingham. Her own journey to finding food freedom has given her a passion to help others to do the same. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, climbing and cooking for friends.


 

REFERENCES:

[1] Fitzsimmons-Craft E, Ciao A and Accuroso E, 2016, A naturalistic examination of social comparisons and disordered eating thoughts, urges, and behaviours in college women, International Journal of Eating Disorders, Vol. 49

[2] Byrne S, Allen K, Dove E, Watt F and Nathan P, 2008, The reliability and validity of the dichotomous thinking in eating disorders scale, Eating behaviours: an international journal, Vol. 9

 

Talia Cecchele Nutrition is a team of registered dietitians that specialise in eating disorders and disordered eating. We aim to bring balance back to nutrition, help you to break free from food rules and find food freedom. We offer virtual consultations and group programs so whether you are based in London, the United Kingdom or around the world we would love to support you. To enquire about a private consultation please fill out a contact form.


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