TikTok is known for its viral challenges, but the so-called “fear food” challenges are unique. Unlike other trends, these are not for emulation but meant to support those in or interested in eating disorder recovery.

In these videos, creators in recovery draw from a jar filled with scraps of paper, each labeled with a fear food. Whether it’s a “cheeseburger,” “candy bar,” or another anxiety-inducing item, they proceed to prepare, buy, and consume it on camera. Surprisingly, these fear food challenge videos garner millions of views, with the hashtag #fearfoodchallenge amassing over 470 million views collectively.

The supportive comments are abundant, but there are instances of viewers not understanding the fear associated with certain foods during recovery, leading to insensitive remarks—highlighting the potential risks of these videos reaching audiences without context.

1. What’s Involved in a TikTok Fear Food Challenge?

While everyone’s eating disorder recovery journey is unique, facing a fear food is often a crucial aspect of treatment, says Dr. Jason Nagata, an adolescent medicine specialist. Those with eating disorders can develop anxiety or fear related to specific foods, and part of recovery involves gradually overcoming these fears, usually with the guidance of a therapist.

On TikTok, this recovery exercise has become a “challenge.” Creators, often without a therapist, select their fear food, showcasing themselves ordering, preparing, or buying the item. The videos sometimes show mild discomfort, but creators usually finish what they’ve chosen, aiming to show their audience that they can enjoy the food.

Despite the absence of links to TikTok’s resources on eating disorders and their treatment, the platform generally won’t remove these videos unless they violate community guidelines.

2. Assessing Risks and Benefits

While these challenges can help normalize the recovery process and foster supportive communities, there are concerns. Dr. Nagata warns of the potential for misinformation and unintentionally triggering negative comparisons or unrealistic recovery expectations. Furthermore, the algorithm’s role in perpetuating and rewarding this content can inadvertently have a negative impact on both creators and viewers.

The lack of context about the creator’s recovery and the absence of information about their actual treatment setting can lead to misunderstandings about the recovery process, potentially creating unrealistic expectations for viewers.

3. Exploring Other Options

Jessica Flint, founder of the eating disorder support system Recovery Warriors, acknowledges the motivation behind fear food challenges while noting their potential adverse effects, especially the focus on body size comparisons. She suggests alternative support systems, like the Recovery Warriors Courage Club, which encourages gradual, personalized challenges in a text-based format, providing a more supportive environment for those in recovery.

Recognizing that recovery varies for everyone, it’s crucial for viewers and creators to seek support and acknowledge the individuality of recovery journeys.



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