Many creators of these short-form videos started out providing meal prep tips or recipe ideas for those in search of inspiration for new dishes to cook at home. But over time, “what I eat in a day” videos have become increasingly focused on providing nutritional guidance for viewers looking to improve their health through food or adopt an entirely new dietary lifestyle. "Sharing a photo or video of a recipe is one thing, but coupling that with nutrition advice is entirely another," says Christine Byrne, MPH, RD, a Raleigh-based dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and intuitive eating. While some creators choose to just film their food choices, others may layer on descriptive captions or voiceovers dictating the precise number of calories (or grams of protein, carbs, or fat) they consumed or how long one must exercise to 'work it off.' Other videos even appear as if they're going to show how to make a delicious-looking dish, and then cut to sharing how eating it can result in weight loss or be incorporated into an intermittent fasting regimen.
Indeed, what may start as a bit of voyeuristic intrigue—who knew that my favorite professional chef loves eating Lucky Charms for breakfast? or I can't believe the most energetic Peloton instructor completely avoids caffeine—can turn sour the second you start to wonder if you, too, should adopt the eating habits of those you admire. And while there is certainly no harm in finding new recipes through social media or even being fascinated to see how an ultra-marathon runner fuels up before a race (Well+Good formerly had such a recurring series known as "Food Diaries," which focused on the eating habits of fitness professionals), relying on “what I eat in a day” videos to determine how you should be eating can cause you to dismiss your own nutritional needs and compare your food choices to others. "A simple recipe video can be a great way to share something you enjoy with others, but a recipe video with nutrition or diet advice attached is problematic because it becomes prescriptive—'eat this if you want this result'—and can be triggering," says Byrne. This, she adds, can easily lead to disordered eating.
“Regulating your [food] intake based on what somebody else is eating can be harmful and make it difficult to honor your own body’s unique cues,” says Isabel Vasquez, RD, LDN, an anti-diet registered dietitian at Your Latina Nutritionist. "The truth is that no one on Instagram [or any social media platform], even if that person is a dietitian or a doctor, understands your unique health situation. What's healthy for one person may not be healthy for another," agrees Byrne.
Here, three registered dietitians share their take on this growing trend, and share their thoughts on why these videos should not serve as nutritional guidance.
Why "what I eat in a day" videos can be harmful, according to experts
1. They fail to address your individual nutritional needs
"Addressing your nutritional needs requires taking account of far more than just ingredients themselves—your activity levels, health conditions, hydration levels, stressors, environment, and so much more all play a role in what your body needs," Vasquez explains. There's also your own personal taste preferences and cultural customs, which matter just as much as the nutritional makeup of a meal. "Relying on a short video for nutritional guidance often dismisses all of these important factors to be aware of."
Vasquez adds that using someone else’s food choices as a means of determining what (and how much) you should be eating takes you away from connecting with your own body. Failing to take your unique nutritional situation and requirements into account may also worsen symptoms caused by digestive disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), due to having different food triggers than other individuals. “IBS food triggers can be different, so [uncritically] following someone else’s food preferences fails to address your own situation as well as these triggers,” adds Samina Qureshi, RD, LD, an intuitive eating registered dietitian and the founder of Wholesome Start, a telehealth nutrition coaching practice based in Houston, Texas. “Healing, whether it be for IBS or strictly for your relationship with food, is a multifaceted process in which you have to think about other factors in your lifestyle that could be contributing to your digestive system or view on food.”
Bottom line: Even if the person creating the videos experiences similar symptoms or is looking to accomplish a similar goal, your nutritional needs will most likely still be very different than theirs.
2. They create food-related comparison traps
Getting an inside view of a person’s food choices can breed comparison traps that leave you questioning your own decisions. “Seeing a video clip [about someone else's eating habits] as short as 10 seconds can start to impact how you think about food, your body, and the choices you make,” says Qureshi. “Comparison truly is the thief of joy that can make you question everything you eat, as well as trigger disordered eating patterns.”
Videos that fit within a very narrow mold—which tends to be dominated by the eating habits of skinny white influencers—may also omit culturally relevant foods for communities of color, making it harder for members of these communities to view them as part of a balanced diet. Foods that carry history, tradition, and enjoyment can become quickly (and wrongfully) viewed as less-than due to the lack of representation. “There is a significant lack of information out there about our cultural foods, which means many of my clients have to rebuild their relationships with their cultural foods.” says Vasquez. “[Cultural foods] are nutritionally valuable, and they also connect us to our families and our culture and that usually gets ignored or minimized in these videos.”
3. These videos can promote disordered eating
Although the main intention of “what I eat in a day” videos is to highlight a person’s meal choices throughout a 24-hour period, the opening scene often consists of a body shot of a thin and/or "fit" body. And because trim, toned bodies are perceived as healthier in American culture, viewers are primed to consider these people as healthy-eating authorities—despite the lack of schooling or extensive knowledge in dietetics. "When you take nutrition advice from an influencer, it's really hard to tell whether the advice is evidence-based or not," says Byrne. "An influencer might cite a study saying that X food helps with Y health issue, but who knows how rigorous or conclusive that study was? Plus, a single study doesn't make something evidence-based. An evidence-based recommendation is one that takes all studies on a particular topic into account."
Taking extreme, unhealthy, and unsubstantiated diet tips from anyone—especially someone who is not a nutrition professional—could easily cause a person to start fearing certain foods or having a disordered relationship with food, adds Qureshi.
Even if these videos advocate for intuitive eating, which calls for listening to (and responding to) your hunger cues and needs, they can still promote disordered eating. Intuitive eating is, in essence, all about breaking free from food "rules" and restrictions. It emphasizes nourishing yourself by tuning into what your body wants and needs to eat at any given moment. Rather than trying to follow a strict eating plan or co-opt an influencer's dietary habits, the goal is to be in touch with what your body is signaling physically, mentally, and emotionally at all times, and making food choices accordingly. Intuitive eating is designed to help people get out of the diet cycle and heal their relationship with food, rather than fixate on the food choices of another.
“There’s a big difference between highlighting certain meals or approaches to nutrition for recipe inspiration and giving advice in the format of ‘here's what I eat in a day.' The latter is basically a form of tracking, which is generally not supportive of intuitive eating,” says Vasquez. To her point, even if a video host rallies against, say, counting calories, any form of closely monitoring one's own food intake (including the filming and breaking down of every morsel that went into one's mouth that day) is not considered intuitive eating. "Many of these videos are created by folks who have a disordered relationship with food. Someone who has a truly healthy relationship with food probably doesn't feel the need to post what they eat in a day, or to give unsolicited diet advice on social media," says Byrne. Again, comparison is the thief of joy, and it certainly goes against the healing ethos of intuitive eating.
Learn more about what healthy intuitive eating looking like—according to a dietitian—by checking out this video:
4. They often worsen your body image
Despite what you may see online, body diversity naturally exists, points out Qureshi. “Even if we all ate, drank, slept, and exercised in the same way as one another, we would still have people living in a wide variety of shapes and sizes,” she says.
“[Seeing a person’s body in these videos] can be so problematic because it’s furthering this idea that your body should look a certain way and it is further promoting the thin ideal,” agrees Vasquez. “It ties your eating directly to how you look, even if it’s not explicit.” The correlation between your body and the food you consume often dismisses uncontrollable factors (like genetics) and can leave you comparing your body to others, resulting in feelings of dissatisfaction or body shame.
How to approach "what I eat in a day" videos, according to dietitians
Despite the harmful impacts of this trend, it is one that is most likely not going to disappear anytime soon. But there are different ways to reduce the chances of coming across this trend on social media, such as unfollowing or blocking accounts that feel triggering and following accounts that promote intuitive eating from an authentic space.
Vasquez also suggests simply spending less time on social media. And when you do open the apps, she recommends creating a safe space to process your emotions after being triggered to help. “I would advise noticing what thoughts these videos bring up for you,” she says. “If you’re having thoughts about how you should change your eating habits or shame about your body, then self-reflect on those,” says Vasquez. Self-awareness can make it easier to reframe your thoughts in a more positive light, whether it be celebrating cultural foods or showing compassion towards yourself. Speaking to a counselor or therapist may also be beneficial for those feeling triggered.
On the other hand, if “what I eat in a day” videos are helpful ways for you to discover new dishes, then that’s also okay. The underlying message is to find a balance between inspiration and determining (or shifting) what you assume own body needs based upon another person's food choices. “Ask yourself how hungry you are, what access to food you have, when was the last time you ate, what foods will satisfy you now, and start thinking about your own needs,” Qureshi says. The answers to these questions can help you treat your body with compassion and address your unique nutritional requirements.
Additionally, Byrne emphasizes the fact that food choices should not dictate your happiness or self-worth. "The underlying assumption that eating a certain food or following a certain diet will drastically change your life for the better is a huge red flag that I see with influencers who give nutrition advice," she says. "That is a massive oversimplification, and it's just not true. Our overall health, and how we feel from day to day, is about so much more than what we eat. In general, nutrition advice on social media doesn't honor the fact that health and wellbeing are about more than just food."
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