JEDDAH: Mukbang is an internet phenomenon that has been steadily gaining popularity over the past few years. The eating broadcast originating in South Korea and quickly circulated the globe. It is now gaining popularity in Saudi Arabia with the rise of influencers.
Among Arab YouTubers who regularly upload Mukbang videos are Moe ASMR, with 188,000 subscribers; S7S, with 6.85 million subscribers; and Ameer Bros, with 7.08 million subscribers. Their content revolves around finding new food places in their countries that reflect their typical cuisine. S7S, for example, is known for trying out different restaurants in Jeddah and eating large meals.
The concept of the mukbang originated in South Korea and was intended to bring people together virtually over a meal, as eating is seen as a social activity and doing so alone is considered depressing. The word is a combination of “muknun,” meaning eating, and “bangsung,” which is the Korean word for a broadcast; together, they form a word that translates to “eating show.” The trend started in 2010 on the streaming platform AfreecaTV and was intended to be a subset of the popular content known as ASMR. The acronym stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” and videos featuring ASMR aim to elicit this pleasant sensation. When it comes to mukbang videos, the sounds of eating paired with the large amounts of food are found relaxing by some people.
These videos are rather simple, but they boast a huge viewership. The broadcaster eats large amounts of food while chatting to his or her viewers. Sometimes, this involves eating single food items, such as ramen or fried chicken, for the duration of the video. Other challenges involve consuming thousands of calories worth of junk foods, like chips or donuts.
However, the trend has health experts concerned, considering that healthy eating and portion control are essential to maintain optimal health and weight. Consuming large amounts of food can lead to a range of health problems, and studies have shown that the trend promotes disordered eating: Many broadcasters will eat abnormally large portions of food only to severely restrict their intake while off-camera.
Dr. Ruwaida Idrees, a nutritionist in Jeddah, told Arab News that such yo-yo diets can have grave consequences. “A slim and muscular body usually signifies that a person is physically fit. However, if this person is eating lots of unhealthy food and burning calories with a severe exercise regime to maintain their weight, that may not be an indicator of good health.
“The burn-and-refuel mentality is dangerous. If you burn 600-800 calories boxing, in a HIIT session, or while running then treat yourself to a double cheeseburger, then your fat loss has just become a Herculean struggle,” she said.
Idrees explained that eating should be planned according to the needs of one’s body — factoring in age, sex and physical activity — and that while the number of calories should be taken into consideration, it is equally important to consider the source of the calories.
“What you eat signals your hormones to store or burn fat, boost or crash metabolism, and build or break down muscle. Not all calories are created equally. You’d never say that the calories in spinach are the same as the ones in a pint of ice cream, right? The calories in spinach trigger different reactions in your body.”
Eating unhealthy food and burning it in the short term contributes to stress and fatigue and depletes the energy needed for normal activities, like work. In the longer term, it can contribute to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, eating disorders and depression.
The physical effects on the broadcasters are alarming, but mukbang shows also trigger eating disorders in viewers. Mattias Strand, a senior consultant psychiatrist from the Stockholm Centre for Eating Disorders, has conducted the first-ever study into mukbang shows and eating disorders and has said that these videos can be a destructive force.
“We found that watching mukbang could certainly be problematic for people who already suffer from disordered eating, in that it could trigger binge eating or serve as an inspiration for eating too little,” the psychiatrist explained. “Some people seem to keep coming back for more, and some of them probably have their own issues around eating.”
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