Trigger Warning: Food, Calories, Eating Disorders, Diet Culture
If you search the hashtag “#WhatIEatInADay” on Tik Tok, you’ll find a wide assortment of creators participating in a trend where, as the hashtag suggests, one simply posts all of the food that they consumed in a day. This hashtag boasts 10.6 billion views, so it comes as no surprise that the trend has many different variations. “What I Eat in a Day” can be followed with different editions that appeal to different audiences. College students may want to showcase the dining options at their schools (check out this girls breakfast at Yale), other creators such as this woman can share the fun foods that they eat on a vacation – the options are endless. However, as often is the case when talking about food on social media, there is a subsection of this trend that feeds into a toxic and dangerous diet culture that my generation has grown up with in the age of social media: What I Eat in a Day, Model Edition.
As shown by the above, a quick search on Tik Tok for “Model eats in a day” produces an endless stream of video thumbnails of mostly white and always thin girls showing off their physiques. Already, this lack of representation raises some red flags. With only one body type showing up over and over again in association with modeling, it isn’t hard to see how, to a young, developing girl, thinness can become equated with health and beauty. While I don’t know the individual circumstances of each of these creators, Tik Tok consistently pushes these types of videos onto the feeds of vulnerable young girls, who come to desire a specific body type that may not be healthy for them. Not every girl looks like a Victoria Secret model, but that doesn’t mean that they are not healthy and beautiful. Clicking on these videos, one will find days full of restrictive eating habits with dangerously low calories. This pushes the message that if you eat like these girls, you will look like these girls. Let’s take a deeper look at an example.
In this video, we see a girl with very little body fat, eating maybe 1300 calories total throughout the day. That meets the daily caloric recommendation for a toddler. Furthermore, this specific video contains a very unbalanced diet – there is hardly any protein present, which is a macronutrient of key nutritional importance. Granted, this video only depicts one random day, so perhaps more protein is included on other days. However, by choosing to share this one specific day as her “What I Eat in a day as a Model”, this creator perpetuates the message that models typically eat in this way. This sentiment is furthered by her caption “PLEASE REMEMBER THIS IS WHAT WORKS FOR MY BODY!! EAT WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR BODY!” While this may be a well-intentioned disclaimer, it suggests that this eating style is how she has achieved this body type, when in reality there are many other factors that contribute to one’s physique (diet, exercise, genetics, bone structure, muscle composition, hormones, age, etc.,). It is not healthy to consistently eat like this, but to an impressionable young girl, adopting this style of restrictive eating often becomes seen as the only way to achieve the physique that so overwhelmingly dominates the mainstream narrative. This wildly distorts the concept of healthy eating, and can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia (a fixation on not eating to lose weight), orthorexia (a disordered eating pattern focused on the need to only eat “clean” or “pure” foods), and many others.
However, the sheer size of Tik Tok as a social media platform (>750 million users) means that in coexistence with this toxic diet culture are some creators who are trying to promote healthier and more normal eating habits. One of these creators is Emily Mariko, a 30 year old influencer who posts aesthetically pleasing videos of her making substantive, hearty meals with high nutritional value, that aren’t just plain salads or rice cakes. Mariko has been an influencer for years, but recently blew up after posting this video making a salmon+rice bowl. The video has garnered over 80 million views and 7.7 million likes since being posted on September 21, 2021, earning Mariko’s Tik Tok page 9.4 million followers.
The combination of her satisfying videos and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle leads the Tik Tok algorithm to push Mariko’s videos to the same audience that consumes videos highlighting and encouraging disordered eating habits. Mariko is not just showing girls what healthy eating looks like, but also that food is not the enemy. Foods like white rice have been villainized by years of fad diets that cut out perfectly normal foods from “acceptable” eating. Avoiding carbohydrates, fats, and processed foods is a common attribute to many restrictive meal plans in order to minimize caloric intake, but Mariko is showing her audience that these foods can and should be included into one’s daily eating. However, it is important to recognize that while Emily Mariko may be encouraging healthier eating habits than the restrictive lens of diet culture, Mariko holds a lot of influence because she, as most other successful fitness/lifestyle influencers that contribute to diet culture, has the thin/lean physique and small frame that diet culture has pushed on society to be the “goal” body type. In a hypothetical alternate universe where nothing except her natural body type changed, I wonder if Mariko would experience the same successes as a food/fitness/lifestyle influencer.
No, Emily Mariko is not singlehandedly ending the toxicity of diet culture. But what she is doing is using her platform to actively normalize nutritional and substantive eating to an audience that contains the same media consumers that are hit hardest by the toxicity of #WhatIEatInADay: Model Edition.