The Incitement of Diet Culture and Disordered Eating through TikTok

Contributed By: Janelle Polanco

Today, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps. The app is known to contain various forms of enjoyable content, from comedy and dancing, to fitness and food related videos. As of recently, more attention has been brought to the app with rising concern related to circulating videos that are promoting eating disorder behaviors. 

One article, written by Mark Wright on the Telegraph, discusses these issues and what further investigation into the app found. The telegraph launched an investigation four months after tiktoks announcement in December of 2020. Tiktok previously announced that they were launching an investigation to take a closer look at the pro anorexia content found on the app and claimed to put a ban on any eating disorder related hashtags. The telegraphs investigation found a lot of content still remaining on the app, that was both shocking and disturbing. The content included promotion of anorexia coaches, prolonged fasts and “meanspo” comments. Anorexia coaches, along with prolonged fasts that could last for days, were used as a way to lose weight by teaching others how to eat less. “Meanspo'' comments included shameful comments on an individual's appearance, so that it could be used as “motivation” to eat less or not at all, to lose weight. What was even more disturbing, was that this content was deemed appropriate for an audience of 13 years of age and older. After these findings surfaced, the charities Beat and Anorexia and Bulimia Care, called for TikTok to take immediate and further action to prevent this content from continuing to remain on the app, as well as providing support services and guidance/tips.

Since, TikTok has said these hashtags related to this type of content have already been banned, blocked and deleted. A spokesperson also stated they would be including a ban on ads and promotions for fasting apps and weight loss supplements, increased restriction on promotion of harmful or negative body image, and introducing permanent public service announcements on other hashtags like #whatIeatinaday to spread awareness and increase support for their users. 

For some, these issues come as a huge surprise, for others, maybe not. Social media may be a great place to seek helpful, evidence based information and advice related to nutrition from qualified professionals, but it is also important to be aware of the complete opposite being present. The unfortunate reality is that anyone can post freely on social media without having the proper credentials, knowledge or appropriate research to support their methods and claims. It is also important to note that those who may be suffering from an eating disorder or disordered eating, may be unknowingly and unintentionally promoting these harmful behaviors to their viewers.

According to, eating disorders affect about 9% of the population, which is about 28.8 million Americans. Eating disorders have now been on the rise due to an increase in stress and anxiety, as a result of the isolation and hardships that have been brought on following the COVID-19 pandemic. In July of 2020, the International Journal of eating disorders conducted a survey that found the prevalence, worsening and an increase in symptoms of eating disorders was being reported, following the start of the pandemic. On top of that, think about how we are online and using social media now more than ever, because of school from home, work from home, staying in touch with loved ones via these services or maybe just because we have more free time to use our phones and computers, while being stuck at home. Eating disorders already affect a great amount of people in the U.S, and due to current living situations following the pandemic, the number of those being affected seems to be rising. Social media may be playing a significant role in making this situation worse.

Diet culture has been heavily ingrained into our minds through advertising and social media for many years. Most of us may not even realize how much this has come to affect our daily lives. As a nutrition and dietetics student, I must admit I have been previously affected by the toxicity of diet culture too! Nobody is immune to these behaviors, but becoming more aware, gaining knowledge and seeking methods to cope with this topic may be helpful. The dangers of the content we are continuing to see or post, could be passed on to an even larger, younger and more impressionable audience. This may include “what I eat in a day” videos, promotion of detoxes and cleanses, encouragement of food rules or “earning” our food and more. All of this content saturates our feeds, in support of the value society has placed on our body image and the need to become thin. The truth is, food has no moral value, we are more than what our bodies look like and we do not need to earn our food. In fact, we NEED it for energy and to continue to be alive. Spreading more awareness and providing the appropriate resources within these platforms could have a major impact on preventing these disordered eating and pro anorexia behaviors from being spread. It is clear that this could not only benefit these apps, but could be the reason positive changes are made in the lives of many, especially those that are suffering!  

So, It is not only Tiktok’s responsibility, but all social media platforms' responsibility to take more steps towards monitoring and censoring the content being posted within their communities. Tiktok is working towards making the appropriate changes and that is an amazing step in the right direction! It is vital that these platforms continue or start to provide the proper resources and information, for those that are posting and/or viewing this content, to seek the proper help and support. Please contact the national eating disorder helpline for resources, support, and treatment information for yourself or a loved one at via chat, call or text.