Platforms like TikTok, Youtube, and Instagram are easily accessible and seemingly endless streams of lifestyle and wellness advice. Our social feeds can’t always filter out fact from fiction, so it’s important to know the limits and dangers of the self-help content available online.
Some of the latest wellness trends include becoming #thatgirl, building gut health, and hormone balancing—and usually involve rigid lifestyle and diet changes. These changes are touted as miracle hacks, but they often have little research backing them.
In fact, many cultural critics and health experts will call these fads what they are: disguised manifestations of diet culture. TikTokers in the 2020s telling their followers to eat raw carrots every morning to “counteract estrogen-dominance” is just a new version of the Tumblr girls in the 2010s curating #thinspiration blogs or magazine writers in the 2000s writing tips on losing belly fat. The language has evolved, but the message is the same: you must change to fit the mould.
While gurus and content creators online might not have ill intent, the cumulative impact of encouraging people to follow their very restrictive notions of “wellness” is harmful. At best, their content is generalized for the masses so doesn’t always apply to every individual’s life circumstances. At worst, it can promote body image distress and eating disorders.
How an over-emphasis on wellness can fuel disordered eating
The #thatgirl trend for example might seem like harmless inspirational videos of young women trying to build healthier and more productive daily routines. And the trend of focusing on gut health and hormone balancing might just be a call for people to eat more beneficial foods. But scroll through enough self-help content online, and you’ll notice some troubling patterns.
These videos warp the definition of wellness so that the focus is disproportionately on aesthetics (read: thinness). Moreover, these trends often moralize foods by labelling them as “good” or “bad.”
They promote a search for “optimal health” and the “perfect diet,” involving constant self-monitoring of steps taken, nutrients consumed, and calories burned.
This content also promotes a never-ending list of dos and don'ts that leaves little room for pleasure and play. Wellness gets framed as a solely individual struggle rather than something that can come from social activities, relationships, and balance.
Under the #thatgirl hashtag on Tiktok, for example, all you’ll ever see is people presenting an unrealistically disciplined version of themselves—perfectly clean rooms, visually-pleasing meals, and matching workout sets. Essentially, being #thatgirl doesn’t leave room to have a bad day or spend unstructured time with family and friends. The whole project of “becoming one’s best self” can quickly devolve into an unhealthy search for perfection, over-exercise, and restrictive eating habits.
These signs of perfectionism, social isolation, and malnutrition are associated with the spectrum of eating disorders, specifically, orthorexia nervosa. It’s characterized by an unhealthy and unsafe need to eat “clean” or “pure” foods to the point that it interferes with daily life.
Although orthorexia is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it is still recognized by many experts as a serious eating disorder that can lead to significant, life-threatening health problems. It’s also something that can be treated with appropriate clinical intervention.
The harms of collecting wellness wisdom online
Despite the dangers, it’s unrealistic to say that everyone should (or can) avoid wellness and lifestyle advice online. To many, the internet is a safe and private way to learn how to improve their sense of wellbeing. But it must be consumed critically, and its scope only goes so far. Even at their best, wellness content creators can only spread general information, provide motivation, and foster dialogue.
The value of qualified healthcare professionals remains paramount—especially when the impact of online content moves from awareness and inspiration to negative self-talk, harmful comparisons, and altered eating habits. If you or someone you know are feeling the negative impacts of wellness trends and diet culture online, seeking clinically sound treatment could be a helpful next step.
A note from our team
It’s never too early to seek help if you’re feeling significant distress around food and about your body. We invite you to reach out to us to ask questions, share part of your story, and determine if the Kyla Fox Centre is the right place for support.
Sources and additional reading:
Sharma, R. (2021). Who Is ‘That Girl’ & Why Is TikTok Obsessed With Her? https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2021/07/10551994/tiktok-obsession-with-that-girl
Esposito, R. (2022). When Does "Healthy" Eating Become Dangerous? https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/when-does-healthy-eating-become-dangerous
Harding, R. (2022). Wellness coaches on TikTok promise to fix ‘hormonal imbalance’ — but gynaecologists say it’s more complicated than that. https://www.sheknows.com/health-and-wellness/articles/2413104/tiktok-wellness-hormone-imbalance-gynecologists/