Image Credit: YouTube: Saffron Barker
Content warning: eating disorders.
“Hey everyone and welcome back to my channel! Today I am going to be doing a ‘What I Eat in a Day’ video as they are so highly requested on my channel and you all want to know what I eat!”
I would put money on this being the beginning to 90 percent of YouTube ‘What I Eat in a Day’ videos. But why are we so obsessed with knowing what other people eat? Or more specifically, with what influencers are eating? I would never phone up my friend and ask her to recite to me everything she has eaten that day, yet it’s an extension of influencer culture and the rise of Instagram. We want to know where our favourite influencers shop, we want to see their apartment tours, their skincare routines, and now we must know what they eat.
For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘What I Eat in a Day’ trend, it pretty much does what it says on the tin. It charts an influencer’s meals, snacks and drinks all day and typically features protein powder, smashed avo on toast and any kind of dairy free milk. From Molly-Mae Hague to Saffron Barker and Emily Canham, you will struggle to find an influencer that hasn’t partaken in the trend and subsequently fed into its potentially problematic issues.
In a society obsessed with body image and having the ‘perfect’ physique, whether intentionally or unintentionally, these videos will feed directly into the narrative of ‘you are what you eat’. And sadly, many are marketed in this way. After typing ‘what I eat in a day’ into YouTube, the majority of results exhibit thumbnail images containing sculpted bikini body images, as well as titles featuring the phrases “to stay in shape,” “calorie counting,” “for weight loss,” or “easy healthy ideas”. They are clearly promoting an image that suggests “if you eat like this, you’ll look like this” – and this simply isn’t true.
Blaming influencers for these videos isn’t the answer. We live in an image obsessed society, and therefore influencers cannot be held accountable for the impact this trend can have on influential followers. YouTube sensation Saffron Barker has 2.5 million subscribers, and her “HONEST what I eat in a day.. to stay in shape!” video uploaded in the summer has received over 652,000 views. Whilst a percentage of this huge figure may watch for meal ideas or out of genuine curiosity, the reality is another percentage watch for tips and tricks on how to be Saffron – or the Saffron she presents to the world online. She explains: “I have put off doing this video for so long, because honestly when it comes to food people are so judgemental…I feel like if I go through stages where I eat really clean people are really triggered by it and also if I ate really unhealthy people would get triggered by it.” However, she then goes on to detail how gaining weight at the start of lockdown led to her feeling “insecure” and “disgusting” inside and out.
According to statistics, by the time girls reach 17 years old, 80 percent are reported to be unhappy with their body, with 80 percent of young teenage girls fearing becoming fat. Assuming Saffron’s target audience is probably teenage or young girls, how many of her followers are looking at their bodies feeling dissatisfied, and deciding they will follow Saffron’s diet to “fix” themselves? Influencers are in a challenging position, and at least Saffron addresses the difficult topic of food and how it can be triggering for many, but it raises the question of whether influencers should be creating these videos in the first place and whether they are responsible for their impact.
Davina McCall is the latest celebrity to contribute to the trend, with her recent video highlighting the guilt she feels after eating a half a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Despite describing a Lotus Biscoff Krispy Kreme as “orgasmic”, she then expresses her annoyance at herself: “I do enjoy it, but I didn’t even really enjoy it, I ate it because it was there.” Whether she would normally eat a doughnut or not, surely she should realise the effect this could have on others? Whilst some comments praise her for her wit and relatability, others take the opposite approach. One woman wrote “You are so harsh on yourself Davina! There is nothing wrong with having half a doughnut haha.. and your lunch was so small.” Another stated “that looks like a calorie deficit meal plan to me,” and another accuses the video of screaming disordered eating; “something I hope your young fans don’t take too much from.”
Alternatively, there is a more positive side to ‘What I Eat in a Day’ culture. Some share new recipes, a rare few provide an actual realistic insight, and others can provide support for those recovering from eating disorders. YouTuber Anna Saccone’s ‘What I Ate Wednesday’ videos show how she has recovered from her eating disorder and now eats intuitively. After suffering with bulimia for almost a decade, Anna has now reached a point of recovery and uses her channel to show how she has developed a healthy attitude to eating and now enjoys her food. Anna’s videos show that recovery is possible, yet they still have the potential to trigger those still suffering. Despite trigger warnings, ultimately influencers cannot control who is viewing their videos and the negative effects it could be having.
Clearly there is a fine line on these issues and of course you are never going to please everyone. The main thing to remember is that food is so subjective. Everyone eats differently. Everyone has different bodies and therefore different calorie intakes. Everyone does different amounts of activity, has different muscle mass and different metabolic rates. What works for one person will not work for another and following an influencer’s ‘What I Eat in a Day’ diet won’t result in the same body transformation. In a world obsessed with comparisons, I urge you not to feel guilty for eating a doughnut or not putting protein powder in your porridge, but instead enjoy the food you're eating. And remember, if you do find yourself sucked into the aesthetic foodie trend, it is one day, not every day.