Featuring every type of eating style from keto to vegan, carnivore to carb-lover, YouTube is filled with “What I Eat in a Day” videos of bubbly vloggers walking viewers through the minutiae of their daily eating habits. From their hot water-and-lemon infusions to avocado toasts, who would have thought that we would all be so enthralled with watching someone do basic cooking and talking with a mouthful of food?
Models, actors, athletes and average Joes and Janes have cottoned onto the “What I Eat in a Day”-style video, with the top video, BuzzFeed’s “We Eat Like Donald Trump for a Day,” racking up 20 million views. Why are people so drawn to this style of video?
To explore the why behind the trend, we spoke with a dietitian who reviews the genre on her own channel, as well as a professor who studies the intersection of food and pop culture, and a vlogger who’s a fitness influencer. Are these videos a symptom of our own confusion around diet culture or another example of dinnertime ennui?
People Want To Emulate The ‘Healthy’ Diets Of Their Idols
Dinnertime doldrums are a common enough dilemma, as evinced in the rise of Uber Eats and meal kit services like Blue Apron. Many of the “What I Eat in a Day” videos style themselves as fun and friendly inspiration to help solve some of our boredom.
Abbey Sharp, a dietitian, blogger and YouTuber at Abbey’s Kitchen, believes that while viewers are hopefully looking for that content, there is likely something more going on.
“YouTube has made a celebrity out of everyday people and, as a result, we want to see exactly how they’re achieving the ‘healthy lifestyle’ or amazing physique in an almost step by step ‘how-to’ format,” Sharp tells HuffPost. “Unfortunately, what we often end up seeing in the wellness YouTuber space is over-the-top, not very practical, Instagrammable ‘clean eating’ meals juxtaposed against sensationalized ‘cheat meal’ days with doughnuts, pizza, tacos and supersized portions.”
The equalizing power of YouTube and the “how-to” nature of “What I Eat in a Day” has provided everyone access to the diets of some of the most aspirational members of our society ― like Victoria’s Secret models, for example.
Romee Strijd, a VS Angel and YouTuber, has an incredibly popular video with almost 6 million views. As Sharp notes, “People often want to be walked through ‘how to eat,’ and when they see a young, fit, thin, good-looking YouTuber make claims that she eats a certain way or cuts out certain foods and looks the way she does, people want a ‘sample menu,’ so to speak, on how they too can achieve that look. What they don’t realize, however, is that YouTube is largely staged and fake.” The idea being that perhaps you, too, will achieve Strijd’s physique ― minus the cheekbones and preternaturally long limbs ― if you just follow her simple diet.
It’s A Way For Influencers To Make More Money
Introducing viewers to quirkily perfect lives and thoughtfully curated meals could be about more than adding a few ideas to their dinner repertoire, at least according to Fabio Parasecoli, professor of food studies at New York University.
Influencer marketing was worth an estimated $8 billion in 2019, according to Mediakix data, and building brand loyalty and recognition with the end goal of creating external revenue sources could be an essential driver behind the making of this style of video. As Parasecoli says, “The fact that these women (and also their male equivalents) are in workout gear, showing their fit body, aims to show that what they preach works ― and so they are worth following.”
Indeed, many vloggers have come out with their own supplement lines or workout gear, including Sarah’s Day and Blogilates’ Popflex, or have sponsorships with meal kits like YouTuber Candace Lowry’s with Green Chef.
Whether it’s focused on YouTube’s own celebrities or revealing a glimpse at a bona fide celebrity’s life, the common denominator is our shared need to eat.
Cassey Ho, YouTuber and entrepreneur, adds to that sentiment, telling HuffPost, “People are obsessed with food. Whether it’s mukbang videos that show pretty girls stuffing their faces with food or ‘What I Eat in a Day’ videos that show fit girls sharing their total caloric intake for the day, watching how people eat is like getting an intimate peek into someone’s life.”
If not to push a side hustle, “What I Eat in a Day” speaks to a larger trend of eschewing expert opinion in favor of following how we feel or wish we feel.
Evidenced in the varied and extreme diets exhibited on many channels, Parasecoli notes that “there is an element of sharing one’s solution, especially for diets that are somewhat outside the mainstream. As food increasingly becomes an identity marker (socially, politically, culturally), more individuals feel they need to embrace what feels good and works for them, rather than embracing established customs.”
For now, YouTubers like Sharp try to offset the culture of “What I Eat in a Day” videos by decrying some of the rampant misinformation in so many of them. But that’s not to say we’ll all stop indulging in the posts of the strange, the curated and the extreme, if not only for the “what’s going to happen next?” factor. Isn’t that why we watch most things, anyway?