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What's a mukbang?

13 May 2024

It's Nikocado Avocado's birthday this week.

Happy birthday, Nikocado - I'm glad you made it to 32!

Have you heard about this guy? My WCC students enlightened me. He is a Ukranian-American performer best known for his YouTube mukbangs. This was the first I heard about Mr. Avocado or the idea of a mukbang.

A MUKBANG (Korean: 먹방) is an eating show, an online AV broadcast where a host consumes [typically, a ridiculously large amount of] food while interacting with the audience [for money]. Per Wikipedia, “there has been growing criticism of mukbang's promotion of unhealthy eating habits, particularly eating disorders, animal cruelty and food waste.”

Apparently Nick's been MIA for a couple of years. After gaining over 200 lbs from his shows, losing mobility, and experiencing a lot of pain from his weight and inflammation, he said he was going to give up the mukbangs when he turned 30, and that's exactly what he did. Rumor had it he lost 89 pounds, just by stopping this unhealthy behavior.

But now he's posted some videos of “cheats”, “falling off” or whatever you want to call the other extreme of the high protein, carb restricted diet he's trying to follow. He has gone on camera to talk about how bad he feels about himself and the fact that he still weighs 330 lbs and is morbidly obese (although sources are conflicted about his actual weight) - commenters have variously encouraged and praised him or called him out on posting an old video and just going for clickbait.

As horrifying as it was to me to learn that people will watch [and pay money to see] a person struggle with disordered eating, it would seem the relationship goes both ways. Nikocado may have discovered that he can't continue his weight loss journey because he's lost the audience [and the income]. I'm not sure how much of it is just an act, but I do feel sorry for him.

Nikocado Avocado speaks openly about his unhealthy relationship with food (even when he was a vegan teenager, his habits sounded pretty extreme), and perhaps he is so popular because many people can relate. In a YouTube documentary about him, the progression from chatty, healthy, balanced young man to morbidly obese, dramatic and sometimes-unhinged adult seems driven by attention-seeking behavior that stemmed from his childhood.

As a Registered Dietitian who understands the power of food, it's not confusing to me (as Nick “claims” it is to him) how he ended up that way, both physically and emotionally. But we are talking about someone who is literally dying for attention. As far as I'm concerned, the only difference between this and snuff videos is that it's the victim's own choice and a much slower death. Some people watch mukbangs to experience eating without consuming food, but I wonder if it encourages others to copy-cado.

Personally, I don't care what he weighs, but the focus on ultra processed foods is an issue. I'm not saying the occasional ramen noodles - or even Takis - is the end of the world (I've even made enhanced versions of ramen with clients in the past), but living on meals comprised of several thousand calories worth of them is NOT a recipe for good health.

Nikocado Avocado said he had $3 a day to buy food for himself in NYC, before he started mukbangs. Would it make sense for him to spend it on 3-4 apples or two dozen servings of ramen noodles? Our food decisions are the result of factors both within and outside our control. But I can see why food manufacturers would want to advertise on a YouTube channel that promotes overeating…

What do you think? Should we have laws about hosting - and advertising on - mukbangs? Does it normalize overeating behavior? Should more help and resources be available for people like Nikocado Avocado and his followers?

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