When I open my TikTok and start scrolling on my phone, the last thing I want to think about are my health habits and lifestyle choices. My goal is to relax for a few minutes and to get my mind away from everyday concerns like school and work.
Unfortunately, most of the videos I see tell me my eating habits are messing up my body, and consist of “experts” giving unwarranted recommendations on how to live a healthier life. It’s incredibly overwhelming to constantly see new health trends I will never be able to follow. Instead of finding the instant relief I hope to attain on social media, I end up stressing about how “healthy” I am.
The pressure of being “healthy” is getting out of control as more health influencers populate social media. There are approximately 50,000 health influencers on Instagram, and nearly two-thirds have given misleading advice at some point, The New York Times reported.
Overexposure to health advice on social media can make people believe they have to follow every new trend to be “healthy.” However, not all recommendations are fact-based, and health is an intricate matter that should not be handled so carelessly. It’s okay to not be 100 percent “healthy” all of the time, and people should be able to live according to their own definition of health without feeling pressured by social media content.
“Healthy” is portrayed on social media as someone who eats clean, exercises daily, takes supplements and uses expensive skincare products. Viewers are exposed to people who claim to be living a healthier lifestyle by using products, like supplementary green powders, or practicing intermittent fasting. However, people should manage their own health personally and follow advice from health professionals, instead of being pressured by social media.
It can be overwhelming to keep up with content creators’ everchanging advice for what is “healthy,” while their definition of “health” is unattainable for the average person.
“We’ve known since before the advent of X and Instagram and TikTok that if we are exposed to repeated images of idealized versions of physical attractiveness, we feel worse about ourselves,” said David Sarwer, the associate dean for research and director of Temple’s Center for Obesity and Education.
Additionally, a constant overexposure to health advice or misleading tips can lead to the development of eating disorders. People can also develop disorders like orthorexia, compulsive health-related behaviors, due to online health trends, according to Gundersen Health System. It is especially important for people to rely on experts to create daily habits that are appropriate for them and fit their lifestyle.
More health influencers have surfaced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, recommending expensive supplements or extreme diets and promising viewers that if they listen to them their lives will be changed.
Kennedy Dupree, a senior finance major, often feels pressured to be “healthy” when she sees videos of influences promoting health standards online, she said.
“It can definitely be overwhelming, especially for people like me, who are a little bigger on that scale, it can be traumatizing sometimes,” Dupree said.
While doctors, registered dieticians and workout coaches have started giving health advice on social media, influencers without any qualifications are also sharing their health secrets regardless if they’re scientifically proven or not, contributing to the spread of misinformation.
“We as consumers of social media are being bombarded by scientific and health-based information and as a result, it can be really hard for people to figure out who are the reputable sources and what’s the evidence-based information, as opposed to somebody who’s on social media looking to make money off consumers,” Sarwer said.
College students are especially vulnerable to health trends because they spend a lot of time online. On average, college students spend between one and three hours on social media a day, according to a July 2022 study by the National Institutes of Health. The amount of time students spend online exposes them to an overflow of information about health habits.
It might be stressful for young people to see various tips that promise to improve their health, especially because social media has a great influence on self image and can promote dangerous beauty standards. This could result in people developing unhealthy fitness habits in the process, like excessively working out every day or taking expensive supplements without consulting with a specialist first.
Pressure on social media influenced Sakiyah Allen-Sheffey, a junior criminal justice major, to change her eating and exercise habits, but realized popular trends, like fancy green powders and complicated workout routines, don’t work for her and her lifestyle, she said.
“I feel inclined to start a healthier life sometimes, like you see [influencers] going to the gym, eating this and doing that and it’s like should I be doing this?” Allen-Sheffey said. “ That’s not realistic for me, I can’t do those things or some of those things are not for me.”
The growing health trends on social media are exhausting and it’s time to normalize that being healthy doesn’t look the same for everyone. It’s okay to not follow all the advice we are bombarded with online and it’s okay to eat a full meal, drink carbonated drinks and enjoy life without trying to follow unattainable standards of health.