Mukbang: Uncovering the Internet fad where people livestream themselves eating junk food

Mukbang videos are going viral [Photo: Getty]

A bizarre trend that sees people videoing themselves bingeing on junk food in front of total strangers is taking YouTube by storm.

Known as mukbang (pronounced “mook-bong”) videos, the viral clips show people gobbling enormous meals online. The phrase comes from combining the Korean words for eating (muok-da) and broadcast (bang song).

Strange as it may sound, a whole slew of mukbang stars are springing up across the globe, some of whom are making thousands every month from fan donations, adverts that play before videos and corporate sponsors.

Dishes mukbang-ers gorge on range from spicy noodles, pizzas, burgers, fried chicken, seafood and fast food.

The Internet fad actually originated in 2011 in South Korea, but is still relatively unknown elsewhere in the world. Only now does it have a growing fanbase in the UK and the United States.

A quick scroll of Instagram throws up more than 1,246,097 posts of people sharing their own mukbang clips. 

Fans of the movement claim the food-binge clips help relieve stress, but could also be seen as a way of combatting loneliness.

“In Korea, it’s not common for people to go out to eat by themselves,” Candian blogger Simon Stawski, who co-founded “Eat Your Kimchi” and lived in South Korea, told the TODAY show.

“Dining is a social activity, and you don’t sit and eat alone. For those that can’t eat with others, they’ll more than likely stay home to eat alone, but they’ll still have the urge to socialise while eating, which is what I think mukbangers replicate.”

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But what about the health implications of scoffing up to 4,000 calories in one sitting?

You don’t have to be a medical expert to know that consuming obscene amounts of junk food in one sitting doesn’t seem like a good idea.

“Binging on large amounts of food can be classified as a type of ‘disordered eating,'” Dr. Aria Campbell Danesh, Clinical Psychologist and Behaviour Change Expert told Yahoo UK. “Mukbang videos could contribute to the growing normalisation of binge eating in Western cultures.”  

Dr Aria goes on to say that one of the psychological risks with mukbang videos is that they can promote an  extreme relationship with food.

“The human appetite system has been designed  to regulate the amount of food that our bodies need. However, in a society  in which we’re bombarded with food advertising and videos of people  overeating massive amounts of high-sugar, high-fat foods, we’re off-kilter.” 

The cycle of bingeing then fasting, which many mukbang-ers often practice, could confuse the body.

“We’re overriding our body’s own signals of hunger and fullness. The danger  is that we’ll lose touch with a balanced way of eating.” 

There’s also the risk of weight gain and ultimately obesity.

“Research shows that binge eating is linked to weight gain,” Dr Aria continues. “In turn,  unwanted weight gain can hit an individual’s self-esteem and lead to  obesity, which increases your risk of depression, cardiovascular diseases,  Type II diabetes and certain cancers.”

According to experts even mukbang stars who don’t find themselves putting on weight could develop issues often found in obese adults, like difficulty managing their sugar levels.

There are other health risks associated with the trend too.

“Our bodies are designed to process food intake at a certain rate, proteins, starches and complex carbohydrates take a lot longer to digest than sugars or simple carbohydrates,” psychotherapist and hypnotherapist Nick Davis told Yahoo UK.

“However, when we gorge on food like ‘Mukbanging’, it stimulates our sympathetic nervous system and the ‘stress response’ (fight or flight), it’s like a caveman catching a deer but worried he was being pursued by hungry lions so he would have to eat quickly and escape to survive.  

“The problem with the Mukbang trend is that, not only will it create digestive issues as our system struggles to pull the nutrients out of the food and pass it through our digestive system, but it also puts a strain on our stress response which inhibits our immune systems ability to keep us healthy too keeping the individual in state of “fight or flight”.”

But despite the risks the popularity of the videos doesn’t show signs of slowing any time soon.

Nikocado Avocado, told Men’s Health that despite suffering problems sleeping and with his digestion, he can’t see himself giving up YouTube.

Instead, the mukbanger says he might document a weight loss journey once he’s hung up his binge eating napkin.

READ MORE: Could this latest social media trend be affecting your mental health?

Mukbanging isn’t the only strange trend to take the Internet by storm. People have been enjoying pimple popping for years, but ‘dandruff scraping’ has also become popular in the world of bizarre fascinations. 

Every bit as icky as it sounds, dandruff scraping is essentially videos of people using a fine-tooth comb, metal instrument (or even their long nails) to scratch or pick the flacks of dandruff off their head.

A quick scroll of ‘dandruff scraping’ on YouTube throws up more than 2K can’t-look-away videos of people hacking at their heads to remove their flakes. Bleugh!

Slightly less gross, but equally as fascinating, the Microwave challenge has recently been going viral on social media site TikTok.