TikTok and Instagram are brimming with suggestions on how to eat well. However, some of these tips may lead to unhealthy eating habits. Credit: Mashable Composite; Delmaine Donson / E + / getty

Various influencers and content creators on TikTok and Instagram believe they have the key to a healthy diet for you.

This becomes more evident in January and February, when people are looking for ways to lose weight, get fit, and eat healthily due to New Year’s resolutions. Food and wellness content flood social media during this time. Many of these trending tips aim to provide a purportedly foolproof way to reach health goals.

Registered dietitian Whitney Trotter, who previously served as a program committee manager at Project HEAL, highlights that these popular diets often lack scientific backing and may potentially lead to disordered eating.

“We’re bombarded with quick fixes… This is why people are drawn to some of these diets,” Trotter explains.

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Mashable consulted Trotter and Rachel Engelhart, a registered dietitian, licensed therapist, and clinical director of the Eating Recovery Center, to highlight diet fads circulating on TikTok and Instagram that individuals should steer clear of and signs indicating negative influences of such content.

Here’s a breakdown of their insights:

Seed cycling

Seed cycling involves consuming specific seeds and nuts according to the menstrual cycle to positively impact hormone levels. While this eating method may seem attractive to those suffering from severe premenstrual symptoms, Trotter expresses skepticism about its effectiveness. While a varied diet incorporating seeds and nuts can be beneficial overall, alternating foods based on the menstrual cycle lacks scientific support in altering hormone levels or well-being.

Gut health

Social media influencers often claim that an unhappy gut equals an unhappy individual. Although diet can influence mood and well-being through the gut-brain connection, there is no assurance that supplements or “gut health” diets endorsed by creators can cure chronic illnesses.

Trotter warns that individuals adhering to gut-related dietary advice from social media may unknowingly worsen their health conditions or develop disordered eating habits.

Individuals may start with good intentions to “reset” their gut by avoiding foods believed to irritate the stomach and intestines. However, neglecting consistent nourishment for the gut can exacerbate symptoms like brain fog and fatigue. This may lead to increased food restrictions in a bid to pinpoint the trigger food causing discomfort, ultimately worsening the individual’s well-being.

Trotter advises seeking guidance from qualified professionals who offer ethical, evidence-based care if experiencing gut-related symptoms.

Processed foods and “clean” ingredients

Engelhart and Trotter both critique the emphasis on processed foods and “clean” ingredients on social media. Engelhart notes that this trend often promotes an aesthetic associated with affluence, where individuals opt for luxurious or high-quality foods.

Engelhart argues that there is insufficient evidence to support the idea that a typical serving of processed food is detrimental to one’s health. Moreover, the context is crucial. For instance, a refined carbohydrate may be a better choice than a fiber-rich meal for someone experiencing nausea. She cautions against dichotomizing foods into “good” and “bad” categories, as this labeling can fuel disordered eating habits rooted in fear of certain foods.

75 Hard

The 75 Hard program, a fitness and wellness trend resurfacing on social media, requires strict adherence to a 75-day diet plan, two daily 45-minute workouts, abstaining from alcohol and “cheat” meals, daily reading, and progress photos. Deviation from the regimen restarts the 75-day cycle.

Engelhart acknowledges the empowerment aspect of aspects like daily self-assessment in 75 Hard but warns against its overall unforgiving nature. The program can promote punitive behavior and foster an all-or-nothing mindset, common in disordered eating patterns.

Engelhart emphasizes the importance of assessing whether a diet trend benefits or harms individuals. Self-reflection is crucial in evaluating the impact of these patterns.

When gauging the helpfulness of an eating plan, watch out for the following warning signs:

Self-proclaimed health gurus

Be cautious of individuals on social media positioning themselves as experts without verifiable credentials or framing food discussions in absolutes of good versus bad. Similarly, scrutinize advice from those proclaiming universal truths about certain foods’ health effects.

Trotter advises skepticism toward claims promising to emulate a specific influencer’s physique through dieting.

Fear tactics

Creators and influencers may oversimplify the effects of consuming specific foods, promoting either positive or negative outcomes. However, food impact is multifaceted, and fear-based narratives should be approached critically.

Anxiety, shame, and guilt

Engelhart underscores the importance of disengaging from food-related social media content if feelings of anxiety, shame, or guilt arise. Likewise, if consuming content influences negative emotions associated with eating certain foods, it signifies an unhealthy pattern.

Engelhart remarks that experiencing anxiety or guilt triggered by food content is alarming.

Food restriction and rules

Establishing rules that designate certain foods as off-limits, despite adverse effects on body and mind, is characteristic of disordered eating. Avoid content promoting food restrictions or strict dietary regulations as these limitations can deprive individuals of essential nutrients.

If concerns of disordered eating arise or social media content influences eating behavior negatively, seek assistance from healthcare professionals, including therapists or dietitians specializing in eating disorders.

Engelhart emphasizes that fixating on food consumption excessively is cause for concern, warranting intervention.

If you require support regarding your eating habits, text “NEDA” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 for connection with a trained volunteer or visit the National Eating Disorder Association website for additional resources. Project HEAL provides complimentary phone evaluations for individuals struggling with eating disorders, including parents seeking assessments for their children.

Topics Social Good Social Media

Rebecca Ruiz
Rebecca Ruiz

Rebecca Ruiz is a Senior Reporter at Mashable. She frequently covers mental health, digital culture, and technology. Her areas of expertise include suicide prevention, screen use and mental health, parenting, youth well-being, and meditation and mindfulness. Prior to Mashable, Rebecca was a staff writer, reporter, and editor at NBC News Digital, special reports project director at The American Prospect, and staff writer at Forbes. Rebecca has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a Master’s in Journalism from U.C. Berkeley. In her free time, she enjoys playing soccer, watching movie trailers, traveling to places where she can’t get cell service, and hiking with her border collie.


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