Why Dietitians Are Concerned About the Popularity of Mukbang Videos
Fact checked by Nick Blackmer
Mukbang videos—videos of solo content creators eating large portions of food in one sitting—continue to be popular on internet platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.
Often, the creators making these videos are women, and it's unclear whether they're consuming all the food or spitting out bites in between takes.
Experts warn viewers of certain triggers these videos may provide, generally regarding binge-eating or other disordered eating habits.
Mukbang videos—videos of content creators (often women) eating large amounts of food for the camera—continue to pop up on the internet.
If you’re a TikTok or YouTube user, you may have come across a category of videos known as mukbang, a term that combines the Korean words for “eating” and “broadcast.” True to its name, mukbang involves watching a single host eat copious amounts of food. Think: an entire buffet of fried foods, a dozen full-size lobsters, or a grocery cart’s worth of ramen.
While the videos may hold a certain fascination for those scrolling past, health experts note that frequently watching videos like this may have a damaging impact on your mindset toward food—especially if you have an eating disorder or an already fraught relationship with diet.
From presenting unrealistic portions to promoting food waste, eating disorder specialists see major red flags in this form of “eatertainment.”
What Is Mukbang?
Though the mukbang genre may currently be trending in the U.S., it’s been around in South Korea since at least the early 2010s. Its exact origins are unclear, but some have speculated that it sprang from a desire to depart from the communal eating traditions of Southeast Asia.
These days, millions around the globe participate vicariously in solo feasting via Youtube, Tiktok, and Instagram. Streamers themselves are also now not only from Asia—folks from various food cultures, including Germany, Brazil, and the American South have gotten in on the online action.
The content of mukbang videos can vary. Typically, a video is themed around a certain type of food, such as sushi, pasta, or items from a specific fast food restaurant. Some streamers may use unusual or extravagant cooking preparations, like creating a batter of crushed Hot Cheetos for frying corn dogs or melting cheese with a blowtorch. Others incorporate elements of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), amplifying the sights and sounds of every bite.
One thing remains consistent, however: the videos feature a single host consuming (and usually enjoying with great gusto) a pile of food that few people could reasonably eat in one sitting. The foods featured tend to be high-fat, high-sugar, or ultra-processed.
Mukbang and Eating Disorders
There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure in food, or even watching someone else eat. But according to registered dietitians, mukbang takes a perfectly natural pleasure and tweaks it into something potentially problematic.
“Mukbang videos provide viewers with audiovisual clips of people consuming typically binge-like quantities of food,” Shelby Becker, RD, who specializes in treating patients with eating disorders, told Health. “The normalization of these behaviors can impact people with eating disorders or disordered eating, as it can be viewed as an acceptable form of consumption.”
Becker also pointed out that when mukbang hosts have smaller, more “desirable” body types, it can add to confusion and shame for people who may have gained weight as a result of binge eating.
Meanwhile, mukbang videos don’t show the unpleasant realities of overloading your system with too much food.
“These videos encourage overconsumption in an almost romanticized manner by not addressing potential consequences such as upset stomach, nausea, increased emotional eating, etc.,” Becker explained.
Watching mukbang could also negatively impact people on the other side of the disordered eating spectrum—those with a tendency to under-consume, as is the case with anorexia nervosa.
“Some people use these videos as a way to simulate the experience of eating without consuming any food,” Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, a northern Virginia-based dietitian, told Health. “Someone with an eating disorder might be living vicariously through watching someone eat large quantities of food despite not nourishing themselves in real life.”
The Problem with Mukbang
Even if you don’t have a disordered relationship with food, a mukbang viewing habit could still come with unfortunate consequences.
Tuning into the Tiktok videos definitely doesn’t encourage tuning into your own physical cues of hunger and fullness. According to Thomason, engaging with this content too often could disrupt your idea of what realistic food portions look like or what qualifies as a binge eating episode.
Becker agreed that frequent viewing could be a slippery slope toward disordered eating. “Many people do not know that binge eating is an eating disorder and that the behaviors in some of these videos closely mimic that eating disorder, so people may unknowingly begin to regularly overconsume,” she said.
Additionally, given the vast quantities of food depicted, it’s nearly guaranteed that most mukbangers are spitting out food between takes—which in itself isn’t an eating behavior to model.
“Spitting out your food qualifies as a disordered behavior and a form of restriction,” Thomason noted. “If influencers online are not being transparent about whether or not they spit food out between scenes, they could be perpetuating a misinformed view of how much food someone can realistically eat in one sitting.”
Related:What Is Binge Eating Disorder? Here's What You Should Know About It
Is There Any Benefit to Mukbang?
There has not been a lot of research on mukbang’s long-term impact on our food psyche. However, one intriguing 2020 study in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry analyzed viewer comments on mukbang videos and discussions on Reddit to determine whether regular viewing was a net positive or negative.
The researchers concluded that, though mukbang was often a driver of disordered eating habits (like binge eating and restriction), some people experienced it as a helpful tool. Specifically, some commenters shared that watching helped them prevent bingeing or even reduced their sense of loneliness.
That said, watching mukbang isn’t a recommended coping strategy for disordered eating or feelings of isolation.
“While this may create some feel-good emotions to begin with, deeper change is needed to truly recover from binge eating,” Thomason concluded. “Working with a dietitian, a therapist, and creating a support system in real life are proven ways to help recover from an eating disorder.”
Related:12 Best Eating Disorder Therapy Services You Can Find Online
For more Health news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on Health.