The truth about TikTok nutrition
Your FYP might be feeding you false food facts...
Listen, we love TikTok as much as anyone. Where else can you find cute puppies, nifty fashion hacks and amaze book recommendations (that TBR list has never looked better) all in one place? But much like a lot of the info you find on the internet, not everything the app should be taken at face value—especially nutrition videos.
Over the last year, the wellness community on TikTok has exploded. From health grocery guides to protein powder advice, there's no shortage of content under the nutrition hashtag (which has picked up over 3 billion views).
No doubt this wealth of virtual info has its benefits. For one, it's easier than ever to find inspiration and motivation for eating better and moving more (and a big yes to that!). TikTok also gives doctors and other health professionals a way to speak directly to teens who otherwise might not be able to access a wide range of experts.
But the ease of creating content on the app also allows unqualified individuals to make false (and sometimes dangerous) claims about nutrition. Case in point: When an influencer with no medical background (you know who you are) suggests that consuming only green juice for a week is the key to optimal wellness. (Spoiler alert: It's not.)
Misleading advice like that can lead to unhealthy relationships with food. "Many popular social media accounts focus on restrictive diets and grossly underestimate the amount of food teens need," explains Dr. Lauren Muhlheim, owner of Eating Disorder Therapy LA. "This portrayal can trigger an eating disorder."
Alicia T., 13, says "What I Eat in a Day" videos on TikTok often make her feel self-conscious and guilty about the amount of food she eats. "I know it's dangerous to cut calories, but when I see other girls doing it, it makes me wonder if I should try it, too," she shares. And Alicia certainly isn't alone. There are millions of girls like her who are falling victim to that dangerous comparison trap on social media. The habit can wreak havoc on your mindset—and your physical health.
Of course, this isn't to say that every single food-centric TikTok is harmful, but you have to be smart about what you, well, consume.
So how do you separate fact from fiction on your feed? We've got a few solutions to make sure you're only getting the best advice.
Check (and double check) credentials
The first thing you should do when you land on a nutrition video? Question the user's qualifications. "Always do your research and figure out who the information is coming from," advises clinical dietitian Steph Grasso, who posts on TikTok as @stephgrassodietitian. "Just because a video has a lot of views doesn't mean it's from a licensed professional."
To make sure you're getting accurate advice, look for letters like MD (medical doctor), RD (registered dietitian) or LPN (licensed practical nurse) next to their username. No credentials? Swipe on by.
Beware of viral videos
You're searching for an easy breakfast to fight early a.m. fatigue and stumble across a so-called "detox smoothie" with 1.2 million likes. Amazing, right?
Wrong. "A lot of viral TikToks promise fast results or magical solutions," says Grasso. "These types of videos tend to get tons of engagement, because who doesn't love a quick fix?"
The problem is that the information in them isn't always legit. Some content creators post fake advice because, sadly, they know it will get them more views and likes. And as obvious as it sounds, it's important to consider that the TikToker you're viewing might not have your best interests at heart. Plus, they have no way to know what's best for your unique exercise and nutrition needs.
This doesn't mean that *all* popular nutrition TikToks are bad (we love a veggie-forward variation of baked feta pasta). Just make sure to evaluate viral vids with a critical eye. And if you're thinking about making a shift in what you eat? Talk to people you know and trust IRL first (like your parents or doctor). Because if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Engage with body-positive accounts
Without a doubt, the TikTok algorithm just gets you at times (like how it knows you can watch closet organization vids pretty much endlessly) but is way off-base at others (how did liking one post about hummus toast turn your entire feed into a kale salad cookbook?). And if you've engaged with any nutrition content lately, it's v. possible that your homepage has shifted in favor of health hacks and fitness influencers.
"The TikTok algorithm reinforces the false idea that thinner bodies are better, especially for people interested in wellness content," notes Dr. Muhlheim. "But there is no best body type. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes—and different bodies have different nutritional needs."
An easy way to fix your FYP? Start liking and commenting on body-positive content. "Engaging with self-love videos changed my FYP—and my perspective," shares Caitlyn S., 16. "I began seeing all different body types show up on my feed. I feel much more included and valued on social media."
By adding new content to your usual mix (including nutrition advice from real dietitians), the algorithm will start to recognize that you don't vibe with toxic or fake food claims. Your feed (and your mind) will thank you.
CONFIDENCE LOOKS REALLY GOOD ON YOU TBH!!!♬ Lofi - Domknowz
Talk to a pro if you have major Q's
TikTok can be a good place to gather info about general nutrition, but it's not the definitive health advice hub (not to mention that it's hard to fit all the necessary details into a quick clip). "You shouldn't approach nutrition with a one-size-fits-all perspective," Grasso says.
Think about it: Your daily diet needs are likely way different than your mom's, your big sister's, and yep, even your BFF's. That's why it's best to talk directly with an expert when you have serious questions, like how many calories to consume per day or how to add more nutrient-dense meals to your menu. A doctor or dietitian can evaluate all the personal factors at play and help create a plan that's tailored specifically to you.
Remember: Balance is key
Variation is super important—both in terms of what you eat *and* what you watch. Sure, the endless buffet of nutrition TikToks is intriguing, but don't forget about the other great content out there (yep, those cute puppy videos).
While it's OK to occasionally consult the app for after-school snack inspo or fresh workout combos, keep engaging with other videos, too. Not only will it keep your feed fresh and fun, but it'll keep your body and mind happy and healthy. Because isn't that the point?
TikTok nutrition trends we heart and hate
The content we love...and what we're scrolling straight past.
✅ The balanced babe
Nutritionists who help you craft fresh twists on classic salads—but also brag on the benefits of biting into a burger? Yes, pls. We're here for TikTokers who keep it real and know that enjoying everything in moderation is essential fuel for a happy life.
❌ The supplement solution
Pills and powders can seem like instant fixes, but many of them are sponsored scams. Always talk to a doc before starting a new supplement—and be cautious of claims from companies that just want to sell their product.
✅ The dinner-for-two
"Let's Eat Together" videos provide mealtime company and encouragement to those trying to repair their relationships with food—we're so here for these virtual dinner dates.
❌ The calorie counter
"What I Eat in a Day" videos might be aesthetically pleasing (we see you, smoothie bowls), but be wary of videos that promote consuming a set number of calories per day. Saying it again: Everyone's needs are different.
✅ Do's for dining out
Yes, you *can* eat healthy at restaurants. We appreciate content creators who show us how to build a balanced plate at our fave spots.
❌ The elimination game
Unless you have an allergy or medical condition, you probably don't need to cut whole categories of food out of your diet. Stay far away from accounts that promote exclusively consuming one or two food groups.
Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our October/November 2021 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.