The health and fitness industry and social influencers are a perfect social media match, as we know. Studies have proved that people think they can apply the concepts that influencers talk about to their own life (Noonan, 2018). In this way, the promotion of lifestyles through everyday social media content, which people can be inspired and motivated by, has been working and bringing millions of followers to many YouTubers. Presenting diets, what they eat on a normal day, recipes, exercises and also frequent updates on how their bodies look are the main topics in healthy lifestyle videos on Youtube.
To get more attention, most influencers often create their own challenges or ask their followers what they want to see in their next video. The fitness lifestyle content turns out to be a reflection of the relationship between what people want to see and the YouTubers' response to that.
Followers' opinion and requests have become so important on social media that some influencers' profiles have begun to change their videos in order to get their attention. Indeed, some changes on healthy lifestyle profiles question the real purpose of those channels.
Who is Stephanie Buttermore?
Stephanie Buttermore is a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, Pathology & Cell Biology from South Florida University and also a fitness YouTuber with 634,125 subscribers. In her channel, Stephanie defines "Science, fitness and lifestyle" as her main topics. Her videos vary from "What I eat in a day", "What I Eat Pre & Post Workout", "New training goals" to Physique updates. In most of them, Stephanie shows her followers what she is eating, which workouts she is doing, how to do them and how all this is changing her body. There are also some videos about her Ph.D.; however, the number of views on these is much lower in comparison to her channel's other contents.
It is also known that most modern structures have body image as their main point. It's all about the way you look and how to get there, and social media has been playing quite an important role in promoting this idea. Having the perfect body is not enough anymore because you also have to share it: with pictures on Instagram or Facebook and videos on Youtube. A person that achieves the perfect body, becomes the modern influencer, telling others how to get the same body, eating the same things they did and doing the same exercises. However, influencers like Stephanie are about combining extreme body control, with the right food and the perfect workout, with some transgressions in eating behavior, mostly known to us as "cheat days".
Fantasy Cheat Day
From cancer research scientist to fitness educator, Stephanie's website promotes her Women’s Specialization Program, which is designed for women who wish to maximize their overall muscular development and shape. The Program consists of one ebook, written by her and Jeff Nippard, which can be bought on her website, and which promises to increase overall strength, focusing on developing the glutes, shoulders, abs and back for an aesthetic, balanced physique. As she herself puts it, through her social media use she wants to entertain her followers, "but most importantly, educate on the scientific principles of training and nutrition". Her channel on YouTube is also responsible for demonstrating the importance of balance for a happier life.
Even though being famous for the fitness lifestyle, diets, workout videos, and all the body pictures on Instagram, the Most Popular tool on YouTube makes Stephanie's channel show content which is completely different to what she describes in her bio: the Fantasy Cheat Day.
On her channel, Stephanie promotes a healthy lifestyle and uses her body to demonstrate the results of hard workouts and healthy diets. Nevertheless, at predetermined times she also enjoys fast food and candy, just like other people do. Once a month, she uploads a Fantasy Cheat Day video in which she eats everything she wants and as much as she can, all day long. It is no surprise that the food appearing in these videos is indeed what most people would consider unhealthy.
The trend has been inspired by a previous one which originated in 2014 in South Korea. Mukbang, as it was originally called, is an online broadcast by ordinary people who film themselves eating massive amounts of food while talking about all the things they have in mind.
On 14 of December 2017, Stephanie uploaded her first Fantasy Cheat Day video claiming that she just wants to eat everything she wants because tracking what she eats for the healthy diets felt exhausting. The total focus of the video is on the food. Where she is getting it from, what it is and how it tastes. In the majority of the video, we see her eating and enjoying the food, while also adding the number of calories every time she eats something.
With time, the Fantasy Cheat Day developed into a challenge of eating 10,000 calories in a day, which is mostly possible to achieve by eating fast food and processed food. This is in strong contrast to the main topic of her channel, which makes us wonder what the content on her channel really is about. Since she is the creator of the channel, she gives it a name: "Science, Fitness, Lifestyle".
What is the Topic?
Stephanie obtained a Ph.D. in Pathology and Cell Biology, so it is to be expected that she would have some videos regarding the matter. Sadly, these are not as well viewed as videos on other topics and this may also be the reason why there are just a few videos on that. Still, it is clear that she is very proud of her Ph.D. and she brings it up even in the channel description. What may be surmised from this is that her degree makes her content more reliable especially because it is in the are of biology. People would tend to trust someone who creates content about fitness and a healthy lifestyle more, solely because the creator has knowledge in biology. Her body is the alleged proof of that.
Fitness seems indeed to be the main subject she is focusing on. There are plenty of videos about workouts, how to grow muscles and what type of training you can try out. She often follows some trends in the exercise community to show how they work for her and if this may be fitting for others.
Finally, there are the food videos, the Fantasy Cheat Day, which according to Youtube are her most popular videos. Some of her food videos are about what she eats in a day while others help viewers stay fit and support muscle growth. The best and most viewed of her food videos are the Fantasy Cheat Day ones. People seem to enjoy them and even give recommendations on what else she could eat. It seems like the people watching these videos aim to see how other people eat things which they wouldn’t or couldn’t eat themselves. A replacement for their own deprivation. It leads us to the question, why someone who supposedly aims to promote a fit and healthy lifestyle is trying to eat 10.000 calories in a day and is satisfying such desires.
On the photo above we can see Stephanie Buttermore's YouTube channel sorted by most popular videos. Evidently, 11 out of her 12 most popular videos are about the Cheat Day.
Obviously, it is about the views. Those videos are the most viewed and often recommended, and also attract new subscribers to see her other content. But what was that content again? Food, fitness and a bit of science, all the good things which are creating her appearance to the outside world, but show very less of who Stephanie Buttermore, the person, is. There are almost no "follow me around" or personal talk videos. Maybe she prefers to keep it more professional. But since she is promoting her Ph.D., it is strange that there is a lack of information about nutrition and deeper explanations about the body, fitness and health on her channel.
A look on her other social media gives us better insight into what might really be driving Stephanie. On Instagram, she has two accounts. On one (her main account) she presents herself and her body but not fitness, while on the second one she shows every "unhealthy" thing she eats. On this account, we can only see pictures of food. It is hard for us not to get the idea that she is in conflict with herself. There is a continuous pressure on her from her subscribers to stay put and to look a certain way. The Fantasy Cheat Day allows her to escape and promote her channel at the same time. The enigma is what kind of audience she is actually attracting with this content.
Fitness or unhealthy content?
Cheat days can have a positive or a negative effect on the human mind as well, not just on the body. Just like the process itself, the impact is mostly dependent on the individual that takes part in the process. Many people perceive consuming food in different ways, which would indicate that they also perceive cheat days differently. Some state that cheat days help them with following their strict diet because it makes it easier for them to stop food craving on other days. Nonetheless, others consider cheat days as more harmful rather than beneficial. When we think about it, the term "cheat" itself has a negative connotation which instantly makes us think of it as a bad thing to do. It makes people focus more on the cheat day rather than the diet they are following, so the only thing they can think about is when their next cheat day is going to be. This unhealthy behavior can ultimately lead to an eating disorder.
On the other hand, if we consider experts and their opinions on cheat days, we may see some contrasting opinions. Some experts claim that cheat days are necessary for a person to maintain sanity, while others think that they are not as necessary and lead to the destruction of the fitness goals or the whole healthy mindset the individuals are trying to achieve. Consuming large amounts of foods which are known as unhealthy may be satisfying the moment you are doing it, but the feeling of guilt or regret are most often present after this "cheating" is over.
If you tell someone they can’t have something, they want it even more. Especially if they consider it a reward for their healthy eating, they tend to binge with the feeling that they deserve it.
Cheat days becoming a trend
Taking into consideration the workings of the internet and social media platforms such as YouTube, a thing such as the "cheat day" can escalate really quickly and turn into a trend. At that point, something that is mostly seen as an "offline thing" turns into a spectacle in the online world, which people enjoy watching and participating in.
Cheat days have been taken as the basis or excuse for creating trends such as the "Fantasy Cheat Day", the "10.000 calorie challenge" etc. Many YouTube channels focus solely on creating this kind of content, while others use these trends as a way to gain more views and popularity, even though their channel is not based primarily on this sort of content. They use the benefits of a current trend in order to enlarge their audience on social media. Most of them find it easy to create these videos because they consist of filming yourself while eating large amounts of junk food. By doing this, they do not just feed themselves, but they feed the needs of their audience as well.
Even though such a trend is at times considered bizarre, it stills creates an audience which keeps it alive. In this way, the trend creates a new group of people that base their connection on their enjoyment of the same trend. A niche based on the trend is thus created.
Buttermore, S. (2019). Personal Webpage
Buttermore, S. (2019). YouTube Channel Stephanie Buttermore, (2019, May 17).
Groome, I. (2017, January 12). Mukbangs show vloggers feasting on screen – but do they help or trigger people with eating problems?
Groome, I. (2017, February 2). What is the 10,000 calorie challenge? Fanatics film themselves gorging on food.
Mr Porter. (2019). How Do Trends Happen?
Nelson, J. (2016, Oktober 31). YouTubers Are Recording Themselves Eating 10,000 Calories And We Can’t Look Away.
Noona, M. (2018). Social Media Fitness Influencers: Innovators and Motivators. Thesis, University of Iowa
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