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How TikTok Trends Fuel Eating Disorders

Navigating between clicks, likes, and food.

Health hacks are all over social media. Shots of olive oil, prebiotics, probiotics, and green powders are promoted as digestive aids, and eating chunks of butter and whole watermelons every day is recommended to be good for your body.

How TikTok Trends Fuel Eating Disorders. Health hacks are all over social media. Shots of olive oil, prebiotics, probiotics, and green powders are promoted as digestive aids, and eating chunks of butter and whole watermelons every day is recommended to be good for your body.

The algorithm of such platforms, and TikTok in particular, creates a tailored, highly curated viewing experience for users. It consistently gathers data about each user and what attracts them as they scroll. Each person's "For You" page is determined by the videos they watch, share with friends, and like or comment on. One can't argue that weight loss trends, or content that advertises itself as helping achieve a healthy, slimmer body, has a powerful influence on the minds of its predominantly female audience.

You can watch a beautiful blonde put dried pasta in a blender to make an approximate flour, then add an egg to make a sort of dough. She then makes lumpy, fat noodles, boils them, tops them with tomato sauce, and declares that they are "exactly like fresh pasta." But that's not as bad as the abomination that is tacos prepared by boiling beef, eggs, and cheese in a bag of Doritos. There's an entire genre of diabetes-sponsored content in which beautiful, young, slim women combine terrifying amounts of marshmallows, sweets, chocolate, butter, cereal, pre-made cookie dough, and the like into "incredible" desserts that should be illegal. You can watch people boil crisps for mashed potatoes or bake uncooked dried pasta with a house-brick-sized piece of cream cheese and a jar of sauce. "Pizza" is oven-baked dry packet ramen with tomato sauce and cheese. Girl Dinner, watertok, guttok, what I eat in a day, and eat with me are other recent trends. While all of this may appear to be harmless food blogging and health hacking on the surface, it begs the question of what deeper forces are at work within these trends.

Some of the meals depicted in the viral TikTok video are quite relatable. A single spicy ramen packet. Pasta with olive oil for one. A selection of cheeses and deli meats. These are the sorts of lazy, low-effort meals everyone enjoys after a long day, and we call them Girl Dinners.

Nutritionists and health professionals have called the TikTok "girl dinner" trend "disturbing." The seemingly healthy trend involves women all over the world sharing their snack-like sloppy dinners. However, some of the trend's most viral 'dinners' aren't even dinners. A corn can. A can of Coca-Cola Zero. Ice cubes in a glass. One of the trend's most popular posts is a video of a woman going straight to bed without eating anything.

A handful of TikTok gut health preachers endorse substances that have long been dangerous weight-loss staples: laxatives. Laxatives frequently show up on the TikTok hashtag #guttok. It's a place where people talk about their struggles with chronic gut conditions and where questionable remedies are common. Some videos claim that laxatives enable individuals to slim down and feel less bloated, but research has found no evidence that laxatives cause long-term weight loss. Experts worry that the spread of laxative misinformation will lead to disordered eating.

You may have also seen #EatWithMe videos on TikTok, which usually show young women eating food and encouraging viewers to do the same. Many of these content creators claim to want to help people suffering from eating disorders conquer their fear of food. It's worth noting that many #EatWithMe videos include the hashtag "#mukbang" in the description. The videos with both hashtags are less about eating disorder recovery and more about the spectacle of watching someone eat a large meal heartily, and often noisily.

I believe that the social media exhibition of diet culture, weight normativity, and the thin ideal is problematic and can harm an individual's relationship with food by making them feel more pressured about what they eat. Mukbang and #EatWithMe videos, for example, share some visual themes. Both use the image of a relatively thin girl eating food as a form of entertainment and release. It's easy to see how people with eating disorders might start by watching #EatWithMe videos about eating disorder recovery but soon find themselves watching mukbang videos.

All of these trends may provide an excuse for someone to have a handful of nuts and a soda for dinner. The app is designed to keep users consuming and clicking for as long as possible, but if we let it decide what kinds of meals we eat, these trends may aid those who have a disordered relationship with food in hiding behind it and claiming that everything is normal.


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