'TikTok said it would crackdown on eating disorder content. So why is my feed full of it?'

This article includes descriptions of disordered eating that may be distressing to some readers.

A year ago this month, TikTok announced it was cracking down on content that promoted disordered eating after countless reports proved that the previous policy (which already banned the direct promotion of eating disorders) clearly wasn’t working. 

But an entire calendar year later, I find myself navigating a digital minefield of potentially triggering content – despite doing everything in my power to avoid this sort of content.

As a teenager of the Tumblr generation, where pro-ana (pro-anorexia) and, later, fitspo microblogs that promoted restrictive eating, starvation and cringe-worthy mottos like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” were all the rage, it is no surprise that my own eating disorder story is intrinsically connected to the internet.

And while I am, thankfully, now a mentally and physically healthy 24-year-old who has largely recovered from my disordered eating past, I know that this is a lifelong battle that requires ongoing management.

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For me, I make the active choice not to follow influencers in the health and wellness space. This isn’t to say they all promote toxic habits, but this blanket rule helps me to avoid falling into the comparison spiral or picking up new habits that I may take to an extreme. It is nothing against any individual influencers, it is simply about protecting my own peace. 


And that’s why it took me by such a surprise when the TikTok algorithm started serving me straight-up trigger fuel on the regular. On a good day, it’s a video about counting macros, but on a bad day, it’s a video of a young girl who is promoting literal starvation.

Despite spending my life trying to do everything in my power to avoid everything from workout routines to 'what I eat in a day' videos, and following precisely zero influencers in this space, the dreaded TikTok algorithm served me a series of videos promoting a new diet trend that suggested eating less than 500 calories per day.

The worst video I was served depicted a woman showing “what I eat in a day” on this diet, with a calorie breakdown that saw her eating just 51 calories throughout the day.

And sure, on most days I wake up feeling okay and of sound enough mind to understand that these diets are deeply damaging to your body and can scroll past without much of a second thought. But the problem with eating disorders is that no matter how good you get at drowning out that voice that wants to spiral back into dangerous and unhealthy ways, it always exists – and in moments of struggle, these videos can serve as the trigger to catapult you back into the spiral.

But it’s not so much the content that upset me, but the response I received. Obviously, things will slip through the cracks and although we should do everything possible to prevent that, machine learning will always make mistakes.


But according to TikTok, this wasn’t a mistake. No.

I reported every video on an account solely dedicated to the promotion of this 50-500 calorie per day diet, and not a single one of them was found to have violated the rules, despite TikTok announcing a year ago that it would properly crack down on this content.

“While we already remove content that promotes eating disorders, we’ll start to also remove the promotion of disordered eating. We’re making this change, in consultation with eating disorders experts, researchers, and physicians, as we understand that people can struggle with unhealthy eating patterns and behaviour without having an eating disorder diagnosis,” a statement from TikTok said last year.

“Our aim is to acknowledge more symptoms, such as overexercise or short-term fasting, that are frequently under-recognised signs of a potential problem. This is an incredibly nuanced area that’s difficult to consistently get right, and we’re working to train our teams to remain alert to a broader scope of content."

Despite claiming to understand the complexity of the issue, TikTok did not remove the videos when reported, and the account still exists (albeit on private), now with a self-confessing disclaimer that it promotes eating disorder content.

This content is very triggering for viewers, but it is also deeply concerning for the creator. And by failing to remove this content, and further promoting it to more eyes, TikTok is reinforcing dangerous habits in impressionable, often young people without offering any support.

The fact that this content not only exists, but is promoted by the algorithm to demographics that we already know are more susceptible to developing eating disorders is terrifying.


Young people – AKA the same demographic that are most well known for spending hours scrolling on TikTok – are particularly prone to eating disorders, so it is deeply disturbing that TikTok continues to miss the mark when it comes to protecting its audience from content that could have fatal consequences.

Instead of learning the lessons from the Tumblr era, the problem has grown even worse. Despite the dozens of articles that were written about how deeply problematic Tumblr’s eating disorder content was, and the dozens more than have already called out TikTok for following suit, this dangerous niche continues to thrive on the platform – even after multiple supposed attempts at regulation.

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As someone whose formative teenage years were spent re-blogging fitspo content and tips on how to suppress your appetite, I know first-hand just how dangerous having this content shoved down your throat can be, and I can’t help but wonder what can be done at this point to protect vulnerable, young people from this poison.

How many times does TikTok need to release a statement saying it will do better? How long until the next youth-centric social media platform develops its own eating disorder problem? How much worse does this problem need to get before we start regulating it properly?

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation’s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673).

Feature Image: Supplied