Why are healthy eating videos on TikTok so popular?

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Photo: Martin Poole/Getty Images

If your TikTok algorithm has caught wind of your resolutions like mine, you’re likely seeing a For You page filled with beautifully organized pantries, neatly labeled storage in fridges, upbeat “what I eat in a day” videos. and extravagant recipes to start the year on the right foot. It’s like having your own personal nutritionist, chef and life coach in the palm of your hand. But do these videos really help people make healthy changes in their lives?

First of all, it is important for me to say that I am a greedy TikTok user. And by that I mean, I don’t fall asleep at night unless I’ve spent a few hours scrolling through the app in bed, either giggling to myself or gasping at life hacks I never thought of. And among those videos, I see a lot of health and lifestyle content. From videos on how to spread out your workouts during the week to how to get enough protein, TikTok has become a key platform I use for health and fitness advice. And while these types of videos are by no means unique to TikTok (I’ve followed Instagram’s health influencers since I was a teenager), the video-sharing app has transformed the way we consume lifestyle content.

Whether you’re trying to cut out high-calorie foods or add more veggies to your diet, there are TikTok influencers with perfectly curated, actionable tips for your health journey, delivered in aesthetically pleasing clips. Accounts like @emilymariko, @happyhealthyhaileyand @_catben_ are famous for these. If you’ve ever watched a TikTok of ripe fruits, veggies, and organic ingredients finely chopped and turned into perfect healthy meals that have exactly the macros you need (all in a kitchen that manages to stay squeaky clean all the time ), then you know exactly what I’m talking about. But it’s not just healthy meal videos. Usually, anything about these influencers is perfectly wrapped.

As with all social media, these healthy eating videos are ambitious. But there are a few things that set them apart. While Instagram creates a clearly idealized version of reality, TikTok retains a sense of the ordinary. It’s not just influencers going viral on the app— anybody can make TikTok famous. And unlike most perfect unrealistic content on Instagram, these healthy eating videos on TikTok are meant to be explicitly educational. Recipes are advertised as easy or simple enough for “everyday,” just the sort of thing to appeal to TikTok’s extremely young audience, who may be learning to cook for themselves for the first time. Then there’s the distinctive video format, which prioritizes quick cuts and heavy editing – just the sort of thing that leaves out all the ordinary steps between pretty shots. It’s no wonder that in the end you end up with a video that bears only a passing resemblance to real life.

These accounts are also some of the most popular in the app. Creator Emily Mariko has amassed 8.8 million followers with her ASMR recipe videos. The hashtag “healthy recipes” was viewed on TikTok 4.3 billion time. Every day people watch these videos and try to emulate them, with mixed results. Yannely Navarro says they give her ideas and above all “influence me to buy things”. The 25-year-old loves clear containers that help keep her pantry organized and bought some to store loaves of bread after seeing it on the app. “These TikToks are what I imagine the kitchen should look like,” Ruby Ijaz tells me. “When I watch these videos, I feel like I should take time and do these tasks properly. But I don’t end up doing it…so I guess these TikToks are my wishes for what I should do.

Take it from someone who has struggled with this journey for years. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve set myself the goal of getting healthier, following a nutrition plan, and becoming the type of person who feels as clean and perfectly packed as the people in those videos . When my one-bedroom apartment in Newark didn’t look like the kitchens on TikTok, I got frustrated. I tried to label things, repackage my products in organized containers, and pack meals for my weeks because the people in the videos all had the bodies and lifestyles I wanted. I told myself that if I did the same, I could be like them.

Of course, life gets involved. With college, a full-time job, and side gigs as a freelancer, I didn’t have time to cook all the meals of my life. My kitchen was messy all the time. Buying organic groceries every week has become too expensive. These are all perfectly normal human things. But that didn’t stop me from feeling like a failure. When we constantly watch ordinary people editing literally every messy aspect of their lives, it makes it even harder for us to feel like we’re on the right track. Eventually I started to realize that scrolling through the pages of my favorite TikTok health gurus wasn’t really making me feel inspired, they made me feel overwhelmed by how behind I was.

Does my realization of the harmfulness of these TikTok videos mean I’m done scrolling endlessly? Of course not. But rather than mentally beat myself up over the fact that my life doesn’t look like an edited TikTok video, I accept the reality that my health journey is all I make of it. If it’s not always perfect, that’s okay. That’s why, sprawled out in my messy kitchen with a bowl of half-eaten homemade poke in my hand, I’ll keep double-tapping videos of Emily Mariko whipping up a whole stuffed chicken without getting a drop. on its perfect white counters.

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