Disordered eating habits gain traction through new influencer trend

Madison Goerl, Reporter

Social media influencers are spreading a new health trend that shows the ideal life of “that girl.”

“That girl” is a hyper-productive woman who lives an aesthetic and accomplished lifestyle.

She starts her day at 5 a.m. with a green juice before completing her morning journal entry and meditation. From there, she puts on a matching workout set and heads to a cycling or pilates class.

Once she gets home, she cracks open a Celsius energy drink and prepares a breakfast of egg whites and fruit. At first glance, she appears to be healthy and productive, an ideal for many college students.

“It shows an ideal life. It shows something that everyone wants to strive for,” sophomore public relations major Aislinn Foran said. “If they can’t get it all now, they make it an inspiration to get to later.”

The trend has continued to grow since its start in 2021, and the hashtag, “that girl,” on TikTok has 3.9 billion views. More influencers are creating the content, leaving some dietitians concerned that this health trend may have gone too far.

“I think people, especially young people, really follow social media and they see the visual success of these trends,” associate professor and registered and licensed dietitian Natalie Caine-Bish said. “Unfortunately, much of what we consider healthy is what we see n the outside and not what is going on metabolically on the inside.”

Social media plays a large role in body standards and self-comparison, she said.

“We are looking for a particular ideal, and social media has really spiked that image of ‘what is the ideal body, what is the ideal looking person?'” Caine-Bish said. “It’s because we see it over and over again, it never goes away. It’s repetitive [and] that is really damaging to the psychology of eating and eating behaviors.”

A 2011 study found a strong correlation between high school media usage and negative body image and disordered eating behavior.

“That girl” influencers often share what they eat in a day. One showed her typical day: an egg white omelet for breakfast, a yogurt and almonds for lunch and a salad with no protein for dinner.

To avoid under-eating, Caine-Bish recommends a minimum of 1,200 calories per day to get the necessary macro and micronutrients. This can vary form person to person, depending on age and physical activity levels, she said.

“That’s definitely not a 1,200 calorie diet. It’s a good foundation. each of those foods are good choices, but it’s not enough,” she said. “We really need to add, especially to the lack of protein in the dinner meal. We want to try to eat macro nutrients — that means a carbohydrate, fat or protein — at each meal.”

Influencers are also promoting greens powders and other dietary supplements. These supplements aren’t necessary to be healthy, Caine-Bish said.

“We actually recommend not using supplements to be healthy, we recommend food,” she said. “Most of those supplements they are advertising show no physiological benefit, no long-term health benefits. They are just extremely expensive, and honestly most of the time if it’s excess. we just excrete it. It becomes expensive excretions.”

Long term, she said, this lifestyle can become dangerous and have damaging effects.

“You can actually go too far in the health perspectives, as much as you can go too far in the unhealthy behaviors. That kind of lifestyle is not moderation,” she said. “A lot of times what happens when individuals pigeonhole themselves into extremely healthy behaviors is they tend to withdraw socially. They tend to become even stricter, which moves them more towards not only disordered eating behaviors, but actual eating disorders, which are psychological manifestations related to food.”

Social interaction is also important to Foran, the PR major.

“I definitely think social life is important. I had a hard time balancing it, but I think I’m kind of getting the hang of it. Especially in college it’s hard because you want to get good grades, but you also want to hang out with friends because the whole point of college is finding yourself,” she said. “I definitely think you can’t be successful without a group of friends, because if you don’t have a group of friends, you don’t have anyone to tell your successes to.” 

Socialization is crucial to development and overall health, Caine-Bish said.

“We are social beings. We know especially with food and activities, we do them better when we are working with other people. If we think culturally how we think of food, most of the time we don’t typically eat alone. By pulling ourselves away from that natural social environment, we are not going to grow,” she said. 

To get the best nutrition information, she suggested moving away from influencers and leaning on the nutrition experts: dietitians. 

“The dietitian’s perspective is there is no unhealthy food. Everything in moderation,” she said. “Everybody is going to have days of celebration where we eat certain things, and a lot of that is cultural. If you go to a wedding and eat a wedding meal and have a piece of cake, that doesn’t mean the next day you need to make up for it. Enjoy that meal and have that cultural experience.”

Monitoring social media allows us to live a healthy lifestyle, Caine-Bish said. 

“One of the things that we talk about with health and moderation is moderating your social media usage,” she said. “If we continue to inundate ourselves with negative thoughts, we are going to start rewiring our brain to those negative thoughts and ideas. We start feeling bad about ourselves, and when we feel this way, we are not going to go out and do the healthy things.”

For Foran, a big part of health is paying attention to who she follows.

“I think it’s good to do little checkups on who you are following. If something doesn’t make you happy, get rid of it. If you are scrolling through Instagram and someone’s account is making you compare yourself to them, you shouldn’t be following it,” she said. 

Madison Goerl is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].