Rhiannon Richmond ’24
We all have our vices, and as much as it pains me to admit, mine is TikTok. I have tried to quit the habit multiple times, but each day I still find myself scrolling through my “For You” page, seeking mindless entertainment. Recently, however, my page has become saturated with young girls promoting their own “fitness” trends and “clean eating” habits, swearing that each has helped them “transform” their body. While there is absolutely no harm in striving for a healthy lifestyle, a disproportionate focus on such can produce harmful effects, turning seemingly beneficial diet and exercise into dangerous habits.
I have no qualms with anyone who has chosen to share their fitness and diet practices on social media. Everyone has the right to act as they see fit for themselves, but consumers of media, like myself, must understand the implications of attempting to mimic another. A recent so-called eating trend I stumbled upon is the “sugar-free” diet, and while this may not sound like a new concept to you, this sugar-free diet excluded even natural sugars, like those derived from fruit and vegetables, meaning that one who subscribes to this diet must avoid these foods. Extreme diet fads promoted on TikTok, more often than not by unlicensed professionals, have no foundation in research, and as a result, if you were to try to copy someone you see on your feed,
“you can develop nutrient deficiencies” (Harvard Health) by eliminating too many foods from your diet, causing crucial vitamins, fats, proteins, or likewise, to be missing from daily consumption. The results of such are not glamorous—hair loss will occur, nails and bones become brittle, the body is constantly cold, teeth yellow, just to name a few. Why should I know? I have done it.
It is extremely tempting to mock the actions of someone on social media, especially when their body is constantly flaunted. A study on the effects of the content of “health” influencers on consumers reported that “81.1% of women are dissatisfied with their body,” (Collet, De Foe, Marks) a startling statistic. Wellness influencers profit off of objectifying themselves, for content surrounding clean-eating trends and exercises “receive[s] high levels of engagement,” (Collet, De Foe, Marks) only encouraging the production of more damaging content. As someone who is susceptible to developing disordered eating, constantly being exposed to new diets is dangerous. Orthorexia, specifically, is on the rise, which is defined as “a disordered eating pattern defined by an excessive preoccupation with healthy eating” (Collet, De Foe, Marks). Viewers must be aware of their risk of harming themselves should mimicking an influencer lead to an eating disorder.
Once disordered eating becomes normal, it is a difficult process to restore health, as I have experienced—quite simply, you have to eat. You have to eat a lot, way more than you think is necessary, and you have to let go of any dietary restrictions pulled from social media (excluding allergies, sensitivities, or moral exclusions, of course). How can we avoid falling victim to beautiful people who tell us that we can look like them if we just follow their every choice? Influencers are not going anywhere, so the only way to combat temptation to adopt their practices is to understand the basic truths behind diet and exercise.
Even if you exactly reproduce someone’s exact lifestyle in the hopes of molding your physical being to mirror theirs, this will not happen. Why? Everyone reacts to diets differently. Depending on genetics, health profile, demographic, and even personality, people will not respond to the same health practices exactly as someone else may (TIME). This is a crucial fact that can prevent mental and physical wrought by social media trends. If you keep in mind that even if you did decide to copy that person you are jealous of on TikTok, down to the bedtime snack, that you still would likely not look like they do, you are much less likely to feel the desire to put yourself in harm’s way, risking the development of an eating disorder and deteriorating health, to do so.
TikTok is addicting, like all social media platforms that preceded it, and all to come. While it is perfectly normal to seek an escape from the stress of the day on the internet, one must not lose sight of their physical well-being, warding off the pressure to conform to wellness influencers by reminding themselves that each body is unique, beautiful, and worthy of proper care. I wish I had known that there is not one perfect diet that works the same on all bodies when I first became absorbed by media influence as a young teenager, for the risks far outweigh any body goals.
“Clean Eating: The Good and the Bad.” Harvard Health, 23 Oct. 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/clean-eating-the-good-and-the-bad.
Ducharme, Jamie. “Study: There’s No Such Thing as a One-Size-Fits All Diet.” Time, Time, 10 June 2019, https://time.com/5600706/personalized-diets-study/.
Marks, Rosie Jean, et al. “The Pursuit of Wellness: Social Media, Body Image and Eating Disorders.” Children and Youth Services Review, vol. 119, 2020, p. 105659., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105659.