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Social Media & Eating Disorders

This week we continue our look at eating disorders.

There has been some discussion among diet research groups that social media may have a strong influence on a person’s relationship with food and fear of gaining weight. Many social media influencers are chronicling their body changes, food choices, and exercise regimes. For anyone struggling with an eating disorder, the constant stream of body and food conscious posts may cause h

Social Media & Eating Disorders

eightened levels of stress and anxiety surrounding the ‘perfect body image’.

Social media has effectively made its way into every workplace, classroom and dinner table. With a wide range of social media platforms used among all age groups including Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter, it can be increasingly difficult to escape the pressures and influences of social media.

Understanding how social media plays a role in the development and influence of eating disorders can help you or someone you love seek effective treatment.

In 2014, a research team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine analyzed 1,765 American adults aged 19 and 32 years old. They asked the participants to answer a series of questionnaires to describe their social media usage and also to determine their risk of developing eating disordered symptoms. Their findings revealed that the subjects who spent the most time engaged with social media each day had 2.2 times the risk of developing eating disorders. Additionally, those who most frequently checked their social media feeds weekly carried 2.6 times the risk.

Causes of Eating Disorders

With the multitude of environmental stressors already influencing disordered eating habits, social media has now been added to the list. Now more than ever, since individuals of all ages and backgrounds use social media, it has begun to play a larger role in the influence and development of eating disorders.

Pictures are everywhere, perhaps airbrushed, filtered, and set at flattering angles. You can use tools to make yourself appear thinner, make your nose smaller or your waist slightly tighter. It is so important to keep reminding yourself that profiles are tailored and presented in a certain way. Everyone has the means to create a facade of themselves and often any cracks underneath are concealed from view. Australian Instagram star Essena O’Neil quit the website, with the parting message that social media is full of “contrived perfection to get attention.”

Social Media’s Effect on Eating Disorders

Although social media itself is not the sole cause of an eating disorder, it has fuelled engagement in disordered eating patterns. According to US medical research in 2004, media is a causal risk factor for the development of eating disorders and has a strong influence on a person’s body dissatisfaction, eating patterns, and poor self-concept. You might begin to constantly compare yourself to thin models, peers and famous social media users and begin to feel inadequate.

Social media’s presence in everyday life is so large that individuals now care about the opinions of people that they have never met before. With the increased use of social media it is extremely difficult to avoid the constant peer pressure surrounding the ‘ideal body type’.

In addition to being a general source of distress due to comparisons, social media can also be home for toxic communities. Pro-anorexia (“pro-ana”) and pro-bulimia websites and online forums are publicly available; they are interactive and promote starvation. Users can swap “inspirational” pictures of extremely thin bodies and compare body measurements and stats.

Another concern is that such online communities can be a hotbed for bullying as hurtful words are far easier to spout from behind a laptop screen and veil of anonymity.


Body shamers use social media as a platform to talk negatively about someone’s image and it strongly affects the emotional well-being of individuals who already struggle with their relationship with food.

The social media platform has also made it easier for bullying to infiltrate an individual’s daily life, beyond the parameters of the school day. According to the National Eating Disorders Association “as many as 65% of people with eating disorders say bullying contributed to their condition.” According to the US National Institute of Mental Health, “about 3% of American adolescents are affected by an eating disorder. The obsession over self-image and fitting peer and societal expectations in the social media world has also opened the door for body shamers and bullying to occur more frequently.

Bullying has massive influence on behaviours. Individuals who experience bullying often times show signs of skipping meals more often or binge eating to cope with the pain. Different types of social media channels have made it difficult to escape the stressors that make young people feel unworthy and inadequate. It is time to start the conversation about social media and use it as a tool for empowerment instead of discouragement and shame.

Becoming informed on the effects that social media can have on all ages can help you or someone you love begin the conversation and take action against the negativity on social media.

Use Social Media for Empowerment

The most important rule is to be mindful and aware of the composed nature of social media. 

The following are useful ways to escape the negative effects of social media and use it as a tool for self-empowerment.

1. Unplug. Go outside, call a friend, or practice meditation. Whatever you want to do, make sure you put your phone or computer away. Engage in activities that allow you to be free from the digital world. Sign off from your accounts, deactivate them, or put them away when you are experiencing a moment of difficulty or stress. Do something enjoyable with supportive friends and family, and then you will forget the digital world ever existed.

2. Unfollow. If you are following individuals who are obsessed over posting their food, image, and exercise regimes, unfollow them and be free. Block unfriendly social media users and body shamers and only use the digital world to celebrate friends and family. Escape from the constant images of thin models and diet fads by not engaging in those accounts. You should only follow the accounts that are inspiring and motivational and encourage you to love and respect yourself for who you are.

3. Unwind. Live in the present moment and release yourself from the stress caused by the digital world. Put away your phone and engage in mindful eating behaviors. Focus on your food and the loved ones you are surrounded by during meal times. Replace time on social media with mindfulness techniques such as yoga, meditation, or cooking healthy meals. When you unwind from the day’s events without always checking social media, it will allow you to be present in the moment.

Begin the Healing Process

Beginning the healing process is essential for individuals struggling with an eating disorder. The only way to defeat the online trolls is to take charge of your online account and not allow people to make you or someone you love feel inferior or unworthy. To help establish mindfulness and self-confidence, seeking treatment for an eating disorder that specializes in whole person care will help you gain the strength needed to battle the body shamers and defeat your disorder.

Despite the downsides, for people suffering from mental health problems generally and eating disorders specifically, appropriate online connections can be hugely helpful and valuable. There are also many ways social media can be used in an affirmative way. Online campaigns and twitter backlashes against sexism and body shaming are becoming more and more common. In addition, targeted criticism over the use of unrealistic model images in our everyday sources of media occurs more frequently. 

There are ways that a hypnotherapist can help individuals establish self-soothing techniques, meal plans, and personalized coping mechanisms learned through methods such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to best treat any eating disorder. With an emphasis on cultivating self-compassion and feeding the mind, body, and spirit with healthful nutrients, individuals will build the resiliency needed to fully recover from their eating disorder.

Are you concerned about a teenager with an eating disorder? Do you yourself need help breaking out of a self-hate cycle? Call Jarvis Hyptnotherapy today for an obligation-free quote and start setting yourself free.

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