Tommy Winkler spends a lot of his time chewing.
Exactly what he’s chewing — and notably, how much of it — has earned him more than 3 million followers on TikTok.
The 19-year-old Madison, Wisc., native has a page unlike anything else you’ll see on the app. His most viral videos follow a simple, but endlessly fascinating format: Commenters tell him what to eat for a day, and he does it.
Despite his skepticism, the teenager proceeds to spend an entire day surviving on only gas station snacks — including a donut, chocolate milk, a waffle sandwich, a cereal bar, some taquitos, a few Cheetos, iced coffee and, for dinner, a large hot dog. The clip, shared in late January, has almost 15 million views.
“I saw TikTok as such a huge opportunity for me to be innovative again,” Winkler said. “I saw how quickly some people were growing, and just how pages were blowing up.”
Winkler started out with a totally different type of content, though. His early videos featured what he called “relatable” comedy bits and observational jokes about life. The idea was successful, too: By July 2020, he’d gained 100,000 followers. Then, one day, he hit a wall.
“I kind of ran out of ideas, so I was just like, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna record myself and what I eat in a day,’” he said.
That decision turned out to be a good one. Winkler’s videos, where he showed users his daily diet, blew up unlike anything he’d ever posted. Eventually, he started letting his followers tell him what to eat.
Thanks to some creative suggestions, Winkler has spent an entire day eating Panda Express, Shake Shake and even Lunchables. Another time, he lived off nothing but fruit. For Valentine’s Day, he ate exclusively heart-shaped foods.
There are a few secrets to Winkler’s success, but of course, an obvious one his metabolism. The teen admits he’s been “blessed” with good genetics on that front, but he’s also quick to point out that he doesn’t just roll out of bed and eat 5,000 calories worth of Shake Shack.
Winkler has played sports his entire life. He’s a collegiate golfer at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, Wisc., and in his free time, he skis and plays plenty of soccer. He’s also — and the irony of this isn’t lost on him — a huge health nut.
“I’m big into nutrition … I’ve always been interested in that — like, what’s in food and how it benefits you versus what’s bad for you,” he said. “Even though in my videos now, you see me eating McDonald’s or Taco Bell for a day, it kind of contradicts that.”
That mindset helps keep Winkler healthy on his “off-days” — where his videos focus on his routine, not on some extreme eating challenge. Those days, he eats a balanced diet and tries to work out as much as he can.
It’s a lifestyle that makes his wilder food videos possible, albeit not always easy. According to Winker, his most difficult challenge came when he committed to eating 10,000 calories in a day. The video itself is remarkable, but the effort it took from Winkler is even crazier.
“I really underestimated it,” Winkler told In The Know. “I was working out, and I had a box of chicken tenders from Culver’s. So I was working out, and I’d go over and eat the tenders. It was gross, but I was determined to do it.”
Needless to say, TikTok users were blown away. The video has more than 6 million views, and drew comments like, “I can’t believe you did it” and, “How do you eat that much?”
Eating that much regularly is, obviously, not sustainable. But in Winkler’s mind, none of what he’s doing is. Calorie intake aside, he sees TikTok as having a short shelf life. Someday, he figures, the app’s popularity will cool down — his videos with it.
Still, Winkler also knows he doesn’t need to plan too much. He’s just grateful that he’s been able to gain such a huge following in the first place — let alone for something so simple.
“I’ve learned not to really plan so much in the future, because I never expected to get into this food stuff,” he said. “I never thought I’d go viral for eating.”
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