Filming yourself eating is really awkward. It didn't help that I'd just woken up and had sleep crusties in my eyes, and that the yogurt I was eating stuck to my dry lips.
My resulting video wasn't glamorous. If anything it was totally mundane, but that was kind of the point. I was attempting to make my own "What I Eat in a Day" TikTok, after months of voraciously consuming them on my For You page. I'd become obsessed with the “What I Eat in a Day” trend, particularly TikToks from influencer Trisha Paytas — but I was interested in a very specific type of these videos.
Videos on this topic have been around for ages and have become so mainstream that Harper's Bazaar has a YouTube series of celebrities sharing their daily diets called "Food Diaries." In those, you can hear about how many cups of tea Padma Lakshmi drinks in a day, or how Gwyneth Paltrow fits dinner around her son's water polo schedule.
For less famous people, many of the videos center around calorie counting, weight loss, or niche dieting fads. Those videos have been rightly critiqued by dietitians and eating disorder experts for promoting restriction.
Lately, though, people on TikTok have been flipping the script. There's been a growing collection of videos with captions like, "what I eat in a day as a fat person who doesn't want to lose weight," or "what I eat in a day in recovery," or "what I eat in a day as an intuitive eater." Instead of showing a curated and "clean" array of foods, the people making these videos eat whatever they want. There's no moralizing of their choices, no calorie counting, no promises that copying them will give you a particular body size.
I immediately found these videos comforting, and I'm not the only one. Paytas regularly posts "What I Eat in a Day" videos where they just seem so free. The videos might include them eating pasta, or pizza, or takeout, and they eat it happily with no judgment of themself or others. That's a big deal for an influencer who has very publicly struggled with their body image.
There is, unsurprisingly, some judgment in the comments, but there are also people saying the videos make them feel safe. "These videos inspire me to eat everyday without feeling guilty," one comment reads.
I get it. I have my own colorful history when it comes to eating, and am intimately familiar with restricting, bingeing, and other behaviors that, had I actually talked to a doctor about them, would have landed me with some sort of diagnosis. As an adult who still has a larger body, I've put a lot of time, effort, and money toward therapy bills trying to repair that relationship. I'm not perfect, but I think I’m getting better, and I’m hardly alone in that struggle.
Kailin Sarrah, 24, works as a coach for people recovering from eating disorders and is also a content creator. She’s also struggled with disordered eating herself, she told me. On her TikTok channel, Sarrah's posted her own "What I Eat in a Day" video, showing nonrestrictive eating.
"Hi, besties. I don't believe in dieting at all," she says in the video. She then proceeds to eat varied and delicious-looking foods.
"I wanted to make a difference and wanted to show that it's possible that even after recovery, and after you've struggled with food for so long, that it's possible to have a normal relationship with food and no longer moralize food as good or as bad," she told me.
Sarrah said she wanted to provide an alternative to diet-focused videos, which she said can be very harmful and addictive.
"I hope by using certain language that people will potentially click on one of my videos and realize that this body that they're in right now is beautiful, and it is perfect, and hopefully feel influenced to not partake in diet culture."
Al Carty, 28, shared a similar sentiment. They made a video titled "What I eat in a day as a fat person not interested in weight loss” and told me they wanted to make it after seeing so many diet-focused ones on their For You page on TikTok.
"I spent many valuable years of my life obsessed with my weight. Literally all I thought about was food and my weight. I missed out on so many opportunities because I was so uncomfortable with other people seeing my body," they said. Other fat folks on social media helped them love themselves as they are.
"I feel like I’m passing on the favor from the fat creators who helped me when I was younger," they said.
They were a bit nervous, though. As much as these videos bring out tons of supportive comments, there are plenty of people ready to tell others that they're unhealthy or doing something wrong.
"They come with an inherently ableist notion that if they can prove that I’m unhealthy, then their harassment is warranted, if not deserved," they said. "But since when does someone being unhealthy give you a free pass to harass them?"
I had the same anxiety as I filmed myself eating throughout the day. I wanted to make my own video to add to the positivity, but really, it was a challenge to myself. Had I come far enough in my own journey that I could share my eating habits without judging myself?
The answer that came to me, pretty quickly, was maybe not. I really did try to show what I genuinely ate in a day, but I found myself quickly curating a particular type of day. I started with yogurt with granola and strawberries, then a salad for lunch, grapes as a snack, and dinner from the meal box subscription my partner and I get. Then I tossed in an ice cream sandwich, you know, for authenticity.
Is it how I might eat on a random day? Totally. But a random day might also include stress-snacking, or some beers, or takeout. It wasn't a coincidence that I had chosen a particularly healthy-sounding "random" day to share.
Jennifer Buckingham, a 31-year-old influencer from LA, posted a TikTok of a day of intuitive eating. Like me, she's used intuitive eating to heal from a history of disordered eating, but she told me making the video also made her feel self-conscious.
"I definitely did have some of those feelings come up about, Oh, should I show everything?" she said. "As a plus-size persona and someone who identifies as a woman, there’s a lot of things about what we should and shouldn't eat."
Ultimately, she decided to just go for it.
"Talking about food in this positive or even neutral way is just really empowering," she said. "It’s taking away the fear of food, or the fear of eating certain things, which is really really good."
I felt good after filming myself eating my lunch, but then it quickly came crashing down. I searched "what I eat in a day" on Twitter to see how the conversation had translated to that platform, and the results were horrifying. The most popular results were from "pro–eating disorder" accounts who reposted the TikToks as "fatspo," sometimes even estimating the calories consumed in plus-size creators’ videos so they could revel in their disgust.
This was all very familiar to me. As a teenager, starting on LiveJournal, I consumed hours of this content. Seeing it again was immediately triggering, pulling me right back to the mentality of my teenage self, absolutely loathing my body.
Chelsea Kronengold, associate director of communications at the National Eating Disorders Association, told me that even videos that are anti-diet can be potentially problematic.
"Even though the content creator has good intentions and the foods they’re showing are in theory a 'normal diet,' it can still be triggering for someone who struggles with food," she said.
"If you find that these videos are triggering, it’s best to not watch them even if it is ones that are promoting positive food messages."
She said it would be better to see videos that focus on the mentality of how we eat, rather than the actual food itself. But still, she sees why I, and others, enjoy watching them.
"Nothing is all good or all bad, so while I believe most of these videos are potentially problematic, I can see how people, especially people who are getting into intuitive eating or are in early stages of recovery and are figuring out how to incorporate new foods into their meal plan, would enjoy them," she said.
“Each person is going to be different.”
That made something click for me. It was clear that my obsession with these videos, even though they made me feel safe, and comforted, and less judgmental of myself, was still tied into my lifelong preoccupation with food and how I eat it.
Ultimately, I decided to keep my TikTok in my drafts. If the challenge was to prove to myself that my food issues were gone, I completely failed, but that’s probably a good thing. I was also worried about someone turning me into “fatspo,” if I’m being honest.
But that being said, I am grateful to people like Sarrah, Carty, and Buckingham. The absolute glut of diet-centric content on social media needs a counterbalance. Eating in a way that’s nourishing, pleasurable, and unpoliced needs to be normalized. I need it to be normalized. And maybe, one day, my TikTok will come out of the draft folder.
The National Eating Disorders Association helpline is 1-800-931-2237; for 24/7 crisis support, text “NEDA” to 741741.