Published: 26 January 2022. Written by: Rebecca Denne.
As our social feeds become awash with posts of people’s days on a plate, we speak to Nutritionist Rebecca Bell, and Eating Psychology Coach Rachel Foy on how to navigate diet culture and live well your own way.
This feature contains content relating to eating disorders, which some people may find triggering. If you need additional support or information on eating disorders, please visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk and speak to your GP.
If you’re not already familiar with the #whatieatinaday trend that’s flooding social media, then strap in. The craze, which shows followers what (allegedly) the poster eats in one day, has amassed more than 10 billion views on TikTok and 600k posts on Instagram, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
So, what’s all the fuss about? In a world where we’re led to believe we are moving away from diet culture, could the #whatieatinaday hashtag just be another fad that is unwittingly encouraging restrictive or distorted eating behaviours?
Exploring the ‘my day of eating’ trend
‘The trend has definitely caught the attention of health professionals,’ says Rebecca Bell, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Specialist Weight Management Practitioner. ‘There is a danger from these sorts of posts and how they could potentially encourage disordered eating habits. They can lead people down the path of a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to eating, which isn’t realistic or healthy.’
Hop onto your social channels and you’ll see a mix of posts from qualified personal trainers through to wellness influencers, sharing their ‘full day of eating’. Some menus are labelled with calories, others are promising to ‘build muscle’ or ‘aid recovery’, often with no background knowledge to support them. ‘Our calorific and nutritional needs are very bespoke and should be tailored to every individual. That said, I think some influencers do have a genuine desire to help people develop healthier relationships with food,’ says Bell.
In fact, this is something Bell works closely on with some of her clients who need support on meal plans and inspiration. ‘Patients often ask me, “What are you having for lunch today?” or “What sort of things do you have for breakfast?”, so for some people, there’s a gap in their knowledge and these posts can actually provide inspiration if done in the right way,’ she says.
The dangers of diet culture
So why can this fascination for what friends, colleagues and even strangers have on their plate be problematic? ‘Not everyone is interested in what others eat in a day. However, for people who are very conscious of their own relationship to food, they can find these kinds of posts far too influential,’ says Rachel Foy, Eating Psychology Coach, Founder of Soul Fed Woman and author of The Hungry Soul.
If we look back at diet culture over the years, whether it’s the idea of replacing meals with shakes or the ‘no carbs before Marbs’ mentality (for the record, some carbs are good for you), external factors can certainly have a role when it comes to what we put on our plates, explains Foy. ‘Diet culture has created a distortion around food, resulting in eating becoming a challenge for many, and it shouldn’t be. There is no “perfect” way of eating, it’s different for everyone and when people are striving for perfectionism around what they are eating, it can be because they don’t feel enough or they have control issues. It’s not always about food,’ Foy adds.
With the pandemic seeing a spike in people being hospitalised with or awaiting treatment for eating disorders, how can people take positive steps to create a healthier relationship and behaviours around food if they are in a situation where they need to?
Firstly, Foy suggests hitting unfollow. ‘If someone is noticing they are being triggered by diet culture or social posts, it’s an indicator that something might not be quite right with their own relationship to food. I would encourage people to be really mindful of what content they are consuming, unfollow or unsubscribe from accounts that create discomfort, and reach out for help, especially if their behaviour shows a dysfunctional relationship to food (such as binge eating, restrictions or losing control with food).’
Secondly, shifting your mindset away from the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods can be empowering, advises Foy: ‘Practise giving yourself permission around food. So many people have food rules, which can create obsessions and feelings of inadequacy. Food is just food. If you fancy some bread and don’t usually have it as you think it’s “bad”, give yourself permission to have some and stay curious as to how you feel.’
Finally, know that reframing your attitude to food can take time. ‘Be patient,’ Foy suggests. ‘Start practising tuning into your body. I call this body wisdom. Every day, keep checking in to see what your body might be needing or asking for, and when/if your body is hungry. Finding your own way of eating and your own rhythm can take a little time, but it’s the most empowering and liberating thing you can do for yourself,’ Foy adds.
A positive mindset at mealtimes
So, what lies ahead for the #whatieatinaday posts? Bell believes there is scope for them to be reframed in a healthier, more helpful way. ‘Meal inspirational posts can genuinely be useful for people who are lacking knowledge or are perhaps stuck for ideas, so instead of “my full day of eating”, a selection of plant-based meal ideas, protein-based breakfasts or quick and easy snack suggestions could be a better approach. That way, it moves away from being a prescriptive way of eating, and becomes inspiration for those who need it.
‘Food should be about embracing variety and eating in a way that works for you. No single food or meal can make us healthy, just as no single meal or food can make us unhealthy. Be open-minded in allowing all foods to have an equal value in your diet and remove any restriction or guilt,’ she adds.
So, how do we start tapping into that mentality? ‘When I first start working with clients, I often encourage them to write down a preference sheet – a list of not just the foods they enjoy, but also the flavours, cuisines, textures, temperatures, and so on. It’s a way of engaging with and tuning in to the foods that they enjoy to eat and what makes them feel good, as well as a bit of a cheat sheet for the future to ensure they’re not having the same meals day in, day out,’ Bell says.
Making food work for you
When it comes to tailoring our own nutrition, it’s important to remember that we are all different and have different needs depending on all sorts of aspects involving our bodies. ‘Everyone is different and the way our bodies absorb certain vitamins, minerals and macronutrients, and so on, differs. Your body is a complex tool, after all. So just because one person’s body is allowing them to lose weight by eating X, it doesn’t mean that’s going to be the same for you,’ advises nutritionist Bell.
‘And remember, it’s not just about losing weight, it’s about the way what you eat makes you feel, how it fuels you and the energy that you get from it,’ she adds.
So while #whatieatinaday might be here to stay for a while yet, tapping into what’s right for you is the most important thing. ‘When someone starts listening to their body and trusting themselves around food and the choices they make, this becomes a very powerful and empowering experience,’ adds Foy.
If you need additional support or information on eating disorders, please visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk and speak to your GP.