Social Media and Eating Disorders: What You Need to Know

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social media and eating disorders
Social media can be both a boon and a bane for today’s young people.

Nobody envisioned social media to be addictive and dangerous, and yet it is.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers from all the likes and comments that you could collect. And by putting a number to interactions, social media makes it easy to feel the need to compare one person with another.

Social media’s main purpose is to connect people online, but its content and its design can have a negative influence on people’s mental health and self-esteem.

One alarming trend we’re seeing more is of social media users experiencing eating disorders because it has changed their perception of their body.

The main thing to note, however, is that while these conditions can be difficult, they are not impossible to manage. You can get your loved one — or yourself — towards recovery by recognizing how social media can affect our perception and how we can help.

Defining Eating Disorders

An eating disorder causes negative eating behaviors and mental health problems because of one’s fixation on their shape and weight. These individuals experience body dissatisfaction, making them feel the need to limit their body weight and food consumption.

For example, individuals with anorexia nervosa do extreme efforts to restrict their bodies’ daily food intake.

Those with bulimia nervosa binge on food before getting rid of what they were eating in dangerous manners through extreme dieting or excessive exercising. Finally, those with binge-eating disorder experience extreme guilt or shame whenever they’re eating food.

There is no single cause of eating disorders, but more and more studies are pointing to social media as a major factor.

Correlation of Social Media and Eating Disorders

There is a wide age range of people among the 3.6 billion users of social media, but a huge bulk of this number are children and adolescents. This raises many concerns because of social media’s influence on one’s body image and health.

In fact, a study conducted by a Flinders University research fellow found out that social media use was especially correlated among people who had thoughts and behaviors associated with eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship with food and dieting.

The researcher, Simon Wilksch, discovered that around 70% of the correspondents had social media accounts and around 52% of the adolescent girls and 45% of the adolescent boys skipped meals, exercised strictly, and showed other symptoms of eating disorders centered around an obsession with weight loss.

Though the study did not directly conclude that social media will definitely change one’s self-image, its findings still raise concerns on the significant influence of social media.

The study, which was conducted on young students, showed that a significant number of social media users are altering their bodies through extreme exercise and other disordered eating behaviors to achieve weight loss.

Filters Create Unrealistic Beauty Expectations
Social media use has disrupted users’ self-image.

Social media apps have integrated features to increase people’s social media use for a significant number of hours. Many people use social media for camera filters, which edit your photos through different settings.

Filters allow people to share funny images of themselves, but there are also beauty filters that alter one’s image by smoothing over their skin, making their eyes bigger, or giving them fuller lips.

These filters can be used for fun, but they have also made a negative impact among individuals who think of their altered virtual images as their ideal appearance. According to a research study from the Boston University School of Medicine, plastic surgeons are becoming especially concerned because of the connection between beauty filters and their patient’s ideal image.

Before, their patients would point to pictures of celebrities from magazines and other media sources during consultations. But nowadays, patients are more likely to want their appearance to match their images on filtered photos made possible by social media.

This phenomenon is concerning, especially since social media filters often create unrealistic looks by distorting the shape of people’s features.

People are becoming unsatisfied with their bodies because of an unattainable, computer-enhanced version of their own self. These filters on social media are creating an impact on people’s health by separating users’ self-image farther from the reality.

Social Media’s Influence on One’s Body Image
Unrealistic expectations have decreased people’s body satisfaction.

It’s difficult not to feel pressure when you are often bombarded with posts about the ideal, perfect life during the majority of your time spent on social media. Indeed, Dr. Mariea Snell points out how social media is rife with images, videos, and articles about what our lives should be like — what diet we should be following, what size or body type to aspire for, and also how happy one could be once they’re thin and beautiful.

This has all the makings for a negative body image,” she says in an article published on Forbes. “Not allowing young people to consider who they really are and having this unrealistic expectation of who they should be has significantly contributed to the increase in eating disorders.

Dr. Snell, a family nurse practitioner teaching at Maryville University’s online RN to BSN program and serving as vice president of the Missouri State Board of Nursing, points to the ubiquitous and immediate nature of social media as part of the problem.

Unlike magazines and other media formats, social media is present all the time because we’re always on our phones. Aside from exposing us to all these ideas of what our lives should be like daily, social media also compels us to share details of our lives often in ways that can match those expectations.

his often forces a lot of users to succumb to the pressure and sacrifice their health by changing their looks, weight, and lifestyle just to be similar to other users on different social media platforms.

For another resource on social media and self esteem, check out D’Amore’s Mental Health article here.

Healthy Habits on Social Media Platforms

Eating disorders and mental health problems concerning weight are becoming associated with social media exposure, prompting social media CEOs to address this concern by updating their apps.
This change is significant because users will only see the like counts in their own posts, but not on others’ posts.

Mosseri believes that this development will make Instagram a less pressurized environment. Indeed, social media should be an outlet for users to share their creativity instead of one which makes people feel the need to be perfect or thin. 

Healthy Social Media Usage

If you think social media has a negative effect on your body and health, then try limiting your consumption. Cutting back from several hours of exposure into a few minutes of use a day can very likely help.

Parents and guardians of children and adolescent girls and boys experiencing eating disorders should also supervise whenever they use social media.

Recovering from Eating Disorders

Most of all, do not hesitate to seek professional help if you think you have an eating disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a treatment that helps prevent and cure depression, phobias, and eating disorders like anorexia by studying the connection between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Individuals experiencing eating disorders and body image issues can recover through this treatment, which will help them overcome their fears and change their eating behaviors in healthy ways.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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