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Why a dietitian wants you to stop watching 'What I eat in a day' videos

Even if an influencer’s day of eating is perfectly healthy for them, that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for you.
A behind-the-scenes look at someone else's food diary can be inspiring, but it oversimplifies the many determinants involved in weight management.
A behind-the-scenes look at someone else's food diary can be inspiring, but it oversimplifies the many determinants involved in weight management.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

By now, you’ve probably landed on a "what I eat in a day" video on of your social feeds, which, as the name implies, involves a wellness influencer sharing a video account of their daily menu. These video food diaries are incredibly popular on visual platforms, like TikTok and Instagram, and understandably so. It can seem inspiring, and perhaps even helpful, to get a sneak peek into someone else’s eating habits — particularly someone you admire. But it’s best to view these videos with caution or to stop viewing them altogether. Here’s why.

There is a big difference between an influencer and an expert

Would you want to learn how to fly a plane by someone who has logged a million miles as a passenger or by someone who has logged those miles as a pilot?

It’s natural to want a behind-the-scenes look at the eating routines of people you look up to. However, there’s a big difference between an influencer and an expert. Think about it like this: Would you want to learn how to fly a plane from someone who has logged a million miles as a passenger or from someone who has logged those miles as a pilot? It sounds like an absurd question but placing your trust in someone inexperienced is also misguided.

Helping a person make dietary changes involves a deep understanding of nutrition and human behavior and requires specific and ongoing training. An influencer's job is to share what worked for them, but a dietitian’s job is to share what will work for you. An expert is skilled in analyzing evidence and putting that into practice with people.

Body diversity is lacking

We’re constantly inundated with messages that it’s ideal to be thin and these videos often perpetuate those misconceptions by showing mainly smaller-bodied people, many in spandex and belly-baring outfits. In other words, these videos don’t promote body diversity.

The problem with this is that we’re drawn to comparing ourselves to others who we deem as more attractive, more likable, or in any way better off. These types of comparisons can damage your self esteem. Social media comparisons tend to be based on appearances, and if the person you’re comparing yourself to doesn’t represent your body type, it can lead to dissatisfaction with your own body.

Additionally, when you click on or like a "what I eat" video, you’re likely to see more of this type of content on your feed. Therefore, thin-body representation becomes repetitive, which can lead to more distress.

As you’re scrolling, be sure to like and comment on posts that represent a diverse range of body sizes so you can see more realistic and varied images in your feed. And keep in mind that you can be healthy in a larger body just like you can be unhealthy in a smaller one.

There is no single approach that works for everyone

While "what I eat" videos don’t always explicitly talk about weight loss, the message is clear: You, too, can acquire a certain physique if you adopt the eating habits of the person you’re following. However, these videos drastically oversimplify the many determinants involved in weight management, such as age, genetics, health factors, lifestyle circumstances, sleep duration, budget and access to food, and so on. In fact, two people of the same height could eat and exercise the same way and still have different body shapes.

When you buy into the idea that you should be able to transform your appearance by following someone else’s diet, it can lead to feelings of failure and low self worth, and it may prevent you from seeking or following more suitable advice. Even if the dietary advice you’re following is sound, it isn’t personalized for you. You may need different portion sizes, or perhaps a different meal schedule, or you may need to avoid certain foods for health reasons. It’s also possible that you need to tend to other areas, like your stress level and how much sleep you’re getting. Social media is not intended to be one-on-one counseling or advice; for that, you need to speak to a qualified professional.

Social media is full of comparison traps

Comparing your food choices to someone else’s can also lead to undue worry and stress around the healthfulness of your own eating habits. Maybe your budget doesn’t allow you to include organic foods, or perhaps your work and home responsibilities leave you little time to meal prep a week’s worth of healthy food. In these scenarios and countless others, the comparisons can be detrimental to your well-being.

Remember that you can control your social media feeds by unfollowing or muting content that isn’t positively enhancing your mental and physical health. This is especially important if you’re triggered by certain posts and messages. If you’ve ever suffered from an eating disorder, have experienced disordered eating behaviors, or have suffered from body dissatisfaction, this content can be extremely problematic and should be avoided. TikTok even presents a disclaimer on the #whatieatinaday feed about where to seek help if "you're experiencing concerns around body image, food, or exercise." (Although the same disclaimer does not appear if you access one of these posts through search or scroll past one on your home feed.)

Teens are especially vulnerable to body image issues and unhealthy weight control behaviors, and since this type of content is popular on platforms with young audiences, parents should watch for signs of distress and disordered eating.

The bottom line

An influencer’s day of eating may be perfectly healthy for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s suitable or appropriate for you. One day of eating doesn’t give an overview of what else is going on in someone’s life, whether that’s what they’re eating on other days, how they’re sleeping, or the quality of their social connections. These are other meaningful determinants of health and quality of life.

Instead of looking at someone else’s daily food diary, it can be more helpful to use social media for healthy recipe ideas. You can use hashtags to sort recipes that meet your needs, say by looking for a #salmonrecipe if you’d like to add more seafood to your diet or #lettucelesssalad to help you pack in more veggies. You can also get general healthy eating tips by following registered dietitians’ accounts.

However, if you’re seeking specific advice about weight loss or another health goal, it’s important to get individualized expert guidance. If food or other accounts you’re following cause any distress, unfollow them immediately and get help, if needed.