Calorie challenges, in which anything 5-20k calories are consumed in a single day, are becoming increasingly popular on YouTube. It seems to have become a ‘rite of passage’ for fitness Youtubers to do a calorie challenge – some have even started eating it all in a single meal. It’s easy to see why they do these videos – they rack up crazy amounts of views, and subscribers love watching them. It’s just harmless entertainment, right?
Firstly, these challenges promote a poor relationship with food. The only difference between these calorie challenges and a binge eating episode is that instead of feeling guilt or shame about eating in this way, it is celebrated. If someone engaged in this kind of eating without the camera on them, it’d certainly be concerning. Let’s look at the DSM V criteria for a binge eating episode:
Binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
- Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
These calorie challenges certainly tick the first three boxes. Am I saying these YouTubers have binge eating disorder? No, that’s obviously not a diagnosis one can give based on a single video. I do find it concerning, however, that these challenges turn potentially disordered behaviours into entertainment. Binge eating, and binge eating disorder are very real problems for many people – and these challenges make a mockery of them. Binge eating is something that can control people’s lives, and wreck havoc on mental health. Yet here we have people voluntarily eating in a similar fashion for the sake of entertainment. Yeah, I have issues with that.
Aside from the similarities to binge eating, these challenges still promote a pretty terrible approach to eating. Most YouTubers will restrict their calorie intake in the days before and after the filming of the video, so their weekly calorie intake remains similar, and they therefore don’t gain weight. This cycle of restriction followed by overeating is not something we should be promoting.
These calorie challenges are also distasteful from a social justice point of view. There are still places in the world where people struggle to have enough to eat. It is estimated that 795 million, or 1 in 9 of the world’s population, suffer from chronic undernourishment. Undernourishment caused 45% of all childhood deaths in 2011. And yet here we are watching people overeat for the purposes of entertainment. Is that not a little fucked up?
I just find it strange that it’s ‘fitness’ YouTubers that do these challenges – how did stuffing yourself with food become associated with fitness? I thought the whole ‘fitness’ thing was about becoming healthier, and feeling good in your body – this is literally the opposite. Ignoring your body’s fullness cues and gorging on Ben and Jerry’s, pancakes and doughnuts all for the entertainment of others is not doing your health any favours. And yet, these people claim they are promoting a healthy lifestyle? This shit isn’t healthy, even if you manage to keep your abs.
Let’s be real, it’s only because they have abs they can get away with doing these videos. If a fat person released a video of themself doing the exact same challenge, there’d be uproar. We’d all suddenly be ‘concerned’ about their health, and talk about how it glorifies overeating. The eating behaviours highlighted in these challenges are not healthy, regardless of a person’s weight. We just choose to overlook them when someone has a lower body fat percentage.
The sad reality is that a healthy approach to eating isn’t sexy or entertaining. A video showing sensible approach to food, and eating everything in moderation probably isn’t going to go viral. We can all play a part in changing this culture, however. The next time your favourite Youtuber does a calorie challenge, don’t watch it. Give it a thumbs down. Leave a comment explaining why find it distasteful. Find yourself something more entertaining to watch that someone gorging on food. You can do better.