Mukbang, #EatWithMe and eating disorders on TikTok: why online food consumption videos could fuel food fixations

You may have come across #EatWithMe videos on TikTok, which typically feature young women eating food while encouraging viewers to eat with them.

Many of these content creators say they aim to help people with eating disorders overcome their fear of food.

But some videos tagged #EatWithMe also have the hashtag “mukbang” (which are videos showing people often eating a large amount of food).

So what is the connection between #EatWithMe videos and the mukbang? And what are we to think of claims that #EatWithMe videos could help people overcome a afraid to eat?

#EatWithMe Videos

#EatWithMe videos on TikTok represent a relatively new genre that emerged during the pandemic. The creators of TikTok #EatWithMe videos generally claim to positively influence viewers’ relationship with food.

They encourage viewers to eat with them, as a way to overcome cravings for avoid food. Many say they themselves are recovering from an eating disorder.

As an expert on eating disorders, I (Vivienne Lewis) can tell you that these videos are highly unlikely to help people recover.

In fact, a fascination with eating and watching others eat can be a symptom of a restrictive eating disorder. Watching #eatwithme and mukbang content might even fuel the eating disorder.

First, recovery from eating disorders is not just about eating. It is about the perception that a person has of his body and of himself, his self-esteem, the way he manages emotions and feelings of self-esteem.

The food part of recovery from an eating disorder involves five stages called the RAVES model. This means regular food, adequate food, varied food, social food and spontaneous food.

It often takes several months or even years for a person to achieve this. It requires the encouragement and support of a registered dietitian, a registered psychologist, family, and friends.

This cannot be achieved by simply watching videos of people while eating. If so, a person would recover simply by watching their friends eat.

Eating disorders are serious mental health issues that require specialized treatment and care. Turning to untrained influencers for advice or treatment strategies carries serious risks.

Mukbang: “eating on television”

It’s worth noting that many #EatWithMe videos include “#mukbang” among the accompanying hashtags.

Videos that feature both hashtags tend not to focus on healing eating disorders, but rather the spectacle of seeing a person warmly, and often loudly, eat a big meal.

However, the fact that many videos feature both hashtags means that it would be easy for people with eating disorders to stumble upon mukbang videos.

Mukbang videos – a phenomenon that I (Sijun Shen) have studied – feature people eating large amounts of food, such as 10,000 calorie meals or nearly 50 pieces of KFC in one sitting.

Mukbang was born in Korea around 2008 and is a phonetic translation of Korean words ?? (?? means to eat and ?? means to diffuse) – it literally means to eat at diffusion.

Mukbang videos, dubbed “foodie voyeurism,” quickly became an international trend.

As anthropologist and ethnographer Crystal Abidin has observed, the ability to consume a large amount of food while looking thin has been a general theme or selling point for mukbang videos.

Many mukbang celebrities are physically thin. Their videos, while not always explicitly claiming to be therapeutic, often send the unspoken message that one can find liberating in eat too muchwhile remaining slim.

Many parts of Asia have extremely tough beauty standards that elevate thinness as a physical ideal to be pursued at all costs.

For people who starve themselves in pursuit of that goal, there can be something cathartic about watching another person eat freely and enthusiastically.

As I (Sijun Shen) discovered through my research on mubkang culture, some mukbang and “eat-streaming” communities in some countries (such as China) were formed by fans who are also active in the communities in line on eating disorders.

Less discussed are reports of hospitalized mukbang influencers, fainting or losing teeth during live streaming sessions. Mukbang and #EatWithMe videos share some common visual themes.

Both usually (but not always) use the image of a relatively thin girl eating food as a form of visual entertainment and release.

It’s not hard to see how people with eating disorders can start out watching #EatWithMe videos focused on healing eating disorders, but end up watching mukbang videos.

Given the link between the mukbang and online communities eating disorder communities, exposure to these videos seems unlikely to be helpful for someone recovering from an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are complex

Eating disorders are complex and require evidence-based treatment. This treatment can be expensive and hard to access, so it’s no surprise people are turning to TikTok for help.

But online influencers are usually not trained professionals.

While many content creators may well say there’s little evidence that watching TikTok #EatWithMe or mukbang videos can successfully treat eating disorders – and they may end up fueling food fixation among people. people with eating disorders.

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