Content Warning: This blog post discusses dieting and body image issues.

Toxic mindsets surrounding dieting have been around for many years, and TikTok is making sure that these ideas are instilled into the minds of the younger generations. The internet has become a place for the promotion of diet culture. ‘Diet culture’ has become a ubiquitous phrase online, but what exactly does it mean? Diet culture consists of a set of beliefs that our bodies must look a certain way and that we must value having this look over a healthy lifestyle. It promotes weight loss as the ultimate way to be healthy, and makes us believe that being thinner will lead to a better life. There is nothing wrong with speaking about weight loss online and promoting healthy ways to achieve it. It becomes a problem when the unhealthy and dangerous methods are being promoted to impressionable audiences. 

Online diet culture equates thinness with beauty and health. Unhealthy methods to achieve these standards and toxic mindsets around food and body image are often promoted on TikTok and they can be hard to avoid. Before TikTok, if someone online was seeking weight loss tips or content about eating they would have to seek it out. With the way that TikTok’s for you page works, this content can come up on your feed without warning. TikTok allows any video to go viral no matter how many followers someone has. As long as people continue to interact with the video, it will end up on more peoples personalized for you pages. This can have multiple issues. One of these problems is that someone attempting to avoid this harmful content may have no choice but to view it if TikTok’s algorithm assumes that this is content that they would enjoy. TikTok does have an option to say that you are not interested in certain videos, but this doesn’t guarantee that no videos of similar content will show up on your for you page again. This is why trigger warnings can be important. Another issue with the way that the for you page is set up is that these videos can end up on the feed of young, impressionable people that are at risk of developing these unhealthy habits. Young people may see these videos from older users and immediately believe them to be true. If a young person who is already struggling with body image issues sees a video on TikTok claiming that they have found a hack to quick weight loss, they may try it without fact checking or ensuring that what they are being told is safe. Unfortunately, people online are quick to believe everything they see without questioning it. This naivety online can quickly cause young people to be caught up in harmful areas of the internet.

Something about TikTok diet culture that is so toxic is the way that false tips and hacks are being promoted in order to lose weight or fit the beauty standard that they have created. By titling videos things like “How to Lose 10 Pounds in a Week” or “Tips for Fast Weight Loss” people will immediately be intrigued. Almost all of these influencers giving unsolicited advice have no actual training to be a dietician or health coach. They are likely just spreading ideas that they heard from other influencers who also have no way to back up their ‘facts’. It’s an endless cycle of misinformation. My mind is always blown at the bizarre hacks that I see trending every once in a while. Every few months, someone will come onto TikTok claiming they have discovered a new life hack for weight loss, and then this trends for a bit until everyone forgets about it or realizes that it doesn’t actually work. 

More evidence of toxic diet culture being present on TikTok is the trend of “What I Eat in a Day” videos. Now, not all of these videos are harmful. Plenty of these videos are helpful in sharing recipes with users and giving ideas for foods to try. There are even some of these videos that are specifically about what people are eating for weight loss. This isn’t an issue in itself. They become problematic when they turn into a way for people to compare themselves to one another, whether that’s the food that they are eating, the amount that they are eating, or how the influencer looks. Often, these videos begin with a video of the influencer’s body, insinuating that if you eat just like this influencer that you can look like them too. Many influencer’s have attempted to defend themselves and say that this is not what they meant by the shot of their body in the video, but then what is the point of posting your body in a video meant to be about food? Social media has become a toxic place for comparison in general, but comparing the way that you eat to another person can become so unhealthy and dangerous for young, impressionable audiences. It is important for these viewers to understand that everybody’s body is different, and that even if you eat the exact same way as the person in the video, you may never look like them. This is the message that influencers should be spreading instead of forcing their viewers to compare themselves to them. 

A way that TikTok has attempted to counteract the toxic diet culture present on the app is through the promotion of the body positive movement. This is a movement that includes loving yourself in spite of any flaws that the media tells you that you have, developing a healthy relationship with food, and promoting healthy habits. This movement strives for happiness over perfection, and learning to develop a healthy and balanced lifestyle. This positive side of TikTok has been gaining attention in recent years, and it is important that they continue to be promoted in order to diminish the attention that the toxic dieting videos receive. 

About the Author

Hi! I'm Megan and I'm a fourth year English major. This is my first year writing for WEW and I'm really excited about it! Some of my favourite things to do in my free time are watching movies, reading, and baking. My favourite movies are La La Land (2016) and Little Women (2019) and my favourite book is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I'm looking forward to sharing my ideas with everyone and also learning about new topics from the other writers!