If you’re on TikTok (and, let’s be honest, who isn’t?) you’ve most likely noticed the social platform is rife with young influencers showcasing their healthy eating habits, including daily meals and recipes, to help inspire and inform their followers how to eat like them.
All you have to do is a quick search of various hashtags, including #healthyeating, #foodporn, #vegan, and you’ll find a ton of TikTok videos with some healthy and maybe some not-so-healthy ideas.
“TikTok can be entertaining, and many of the hashtags around food may provide you with some meal inspiration. Still, it’s important to remember to use the app solely for entertainment purposes,” says Jillian Walsh, RD, RP(Q). “It is not a place to get nutrition advice, and we have to remember that not everything that comes up in the algorithm will be a positive influence.”
But how do you do which ideas are worth trying, and which ones you should definitely skip? We asked the experts to weigh in on some of these “healthy eating” hacks.
#Healthyfood — Worth a cautious click
“Although this may seem like a harmless hashtag inspiring people to cook balanced meals, what we see from this is highly varied,” says Walsh. “Often, what comes up on TikTok with this hashtag are things like, ‘What I eat in a day,’ with photos of extremely thin or athletic girls emphasizing diet culture, society’s thin ideals, and the idea that if we eat certain foods, we will look a certain way.”
Maritza Worthington, a functional Nutritionist and GI & Hormone Specialist, says while “What I Eat in A Day” reels can be useful to obtain a new recipe inspiration, it’s important to not overlook our own bio-individuality. “There can be an obsession over what influencers and celebrities eat within a 24-hour period, but just because someone you admire eats certain foods, or restricts calories, doesn’t mean it’s ideal for your metabolism and overall health.”
It’s not all bad advice. Walsh points out that there are some positive things that are also trending with this hashtag, including “Foods that I used to think are healthy vs. what I know is healthy now.”
“This sounds negative and diet culture-related, but many of the posts show plain, restrictive meals as the ‘used to’ category and a variety of adequate nourishing meals for the ‘now’ category, which is refreshing to see. In addition, some videos from dietitians sharing fun, flavourful, nourishing foods and other videos sharing meal inspiration have a positive impact.”
#Healthy — Buyer Beware
The trouble with this hashtag, says Walsh, is we often see videos with the theme of “how to have a body like me,” “habits to help you lose weight,” and “foods that are making you fat.”
“These are extremely triggering for anyone watching, especially in our younger populations, which may be more susceptible to this messaging. There are even videos making fun of people trying to lose weight but ‘can’t’ by demonizing foods like avocado and peanut butter! This is definitely not the message that we dietitians want to see out there.”
According to Brittany Lubeck, MS, RD, nutritional consultant at Oh So Spotless, labeling foods as “good” and “bad” once again feeds into the diet industry narrative and can be destructive. “It could twist the way we view food and how we feed and take care of our bodies. When you tell yourself that certain foods are bad or off-limits, that makes you only want to eat those foods more,” she says. “Chronic dieters know that when they avoid foods or food groups when they are on a diet, they desire those foods even more as soon as they are off the diet. This starts a vicious cycle called yo-yo dieting that may be worse for your health than being obese, as seen by recent research.”
Walsh says it’s also important to be aware of who is reviewing others’ eating habits and dispensing nutritional information.
“It’s crucial that people looking for nutrition information get it from a credible source and recognize that people offering advice on TikTok are likely not qualified in any way. A few, however, expose diet culture and mention that health and weight loss do not go hand in hand, providing us with a better message, but it all depends on your curated feed and who you are being exposed to based on the algorithm.”
#Vegan — Be cautious
Most people think eating vegan food is always super healthy, right? Wrong.
“This hashtag is all over the place,” says Walsh. “Everything from vegan meal inspiration to making fun of choosing to eat vegan to why you should eat vegan.”
When searching the hashtag, Worthington says she came across a reel claiming that meat eaters had a greater chance of developing heart disease.
“Oftentimes, many vague and over-simplified claims like this are made in order to sway a person to fit in a box and eat a certain way. However, context and quality matters greatly! For instance, I run a micronutrient panel on many of my clients and have found that those who were overly restrictive with their meat intake had a greater chance of having iron, selenium, zinc, and vitamin B imbalances. Afterall we are what we eat, and don’t eat!
#Healthyeating — Be mindful of what and who you’re watching
“Again, this hashtag brings up a lot of different themes,” says Walsh. “What to eat, what not to eat, what people are eating in a very low-calorie deficit, and unsolicited and uninformed nutrition advice.”
Lubeck agrees. “An overarching theme I witnessed on TikTok was non-dietitians providing blanket nutrition advice. The way I need to feed and nourish my body may be completely different from how you need to feed and nourish your body. That is okay and perfectly normal. By taking nutrition advice that has been made for the masses and is not backed by science, you could do more harm than good.”
For example, both Walsh and Lubeck mention spotting videos telling viewers they need to eat 1,400 calories per day to be “healthy”, which they say, is potentially destructive to some.
“The message should never be ‘this is how you have to eat to be healthy’ because health looks in hundreds of different ways,” says Lubeck. “Not fully nourishing your body and trying to emulate someone else’s daily food intake that has completely different needs than you can lead to very disordered eating habits and potentially full-blown eating disorders. There is no one way to eat, and there are numerous ways to make a nutritious meal.”
If you’re looking to get some recipe inspo for meals, then Walsh says TikTok may do a great job at providing that, but she recommends seeing a dietitian in your area if you are looking for nutrition advice. “It’s imperative to remember that diet culture is heavily present on social media, especially on TikTok, and we need to be mindful of how we are taking in what we are seeing. All foods serve a purpose, and weight is not an indicator of health. When looking for nutrition information, a dietitian is the best person to speak to and will provide safe, evidence-based information. Additionally, it’s not up to TikTok to tell you what you can and cannot eat!”
Before you go, check out our favorite quotes to encourage healthy attitudes about food and bodies: