Eating Disorders and Social Media

Social media is the go-to connection point for many people. Initially seen as something trivial, it is an instrumental tool in life, business, politics, entertainment and more. What began as a novelty is now the place many people:

  • reconnect with former acquaintances
  • keep up with family who live far away
  • do business,
  • find recommendations and reviews
  • keep up with the latest news
  • get style tips, recipes and find lifestyle hacks

Social media is the little engine that could and DID. For all its attributes, there are also unintended consequences.

Early reports show the mental health and wellbeing for many users has changed. Multiple demographics are affected by continued social media exposure, especially the estimated 30 million Americans who live with eating disorders.

Social media is made of highlights

Many moments on social media timelines are celebrations, life-changing events or moments staged “for the ‘Gram.” Businesses are on social with their sleek images and models, so are celebrities and influencers. The last group are people who have been steadily building communities through blogs, pictures, designs, gaming and many other skills and hobbies. The pressure to fit the mold can be overwhelming, even when you know much of this is manufactured. It can be difficult not to compare.

Disordered eating

There are a number of specific eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and orthorexia. However all fall under the category in the DSM-V known as disordered eating.

“A wide range of disordered eating behaviors that do warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder”

A person’s body image may be what leads them to have an eating disorder, their attempt to achieve an ideal weight or look; but this is not always the case. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), risk factors for disordered eating are rooted in a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural issues. And contrary to belief, both women and men deal with eating disorders.

Social media and eating disorders

It’s estimated the average person spends approximately two hours on social media per day. The engagements there, especially when compounded with other media influences, have an impact on a person’s mental health. In addition to the manufactured images and styles, there’s a consistent stream of news. In addition, today there is a great deal of satire and completely false news stories to weed out.

Taking all of this in can trigger a person’s eating disorder. Bullying at one point was something, it seemed, was limited to grade school, but cyberbullying affects students and adults. NEDA says approximately 65 percent of people with eating disorders, attribute their issues to bullying.

Social media use can compound stress, which can lead to negative actions for those with eating disorders. Although many times stories and posts serve as a source of hope and motivation, there are times it is detrimental.

Overcoming the issues

There is help and hope. Holiner Psychiatric Group provides treatment for specific eating disorders through medical treatment and therapy. Below are some ways to mindfully engage in social media with concern for mental health  

  • Keep it simple. Connect to the people you care about most and those who build you up. Although having many friends and followers seems like “the point” of social media, it is not. Meaningful connections matter.
  • Limit yourself. If you want to spend time on social media, set a timer and do so with intention. Check in on what you’ve deemed safe and then leave it alone.
  • Protect yourself. Social media is meant to be fun. If there are friends or groups that don’t contribute to that for you, leave the group and unfriend and unfollow toxic individuals. If necessary, stop visiting particular platforms. Make your profiles private and make sure you’re taking in good, truthful information.
  • Be social IRL. Try stepping away from the phone or the computer and socializing in public with friends and family. Social media is not a replacement for real social interaction, although it can enhance an experience.


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