E-news flash: We live in a digital age. People of all ages are learning to keep up with their peers and loved ones on social media.
And, most of us own at least one of the following social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.
Yes, there are many benefits to using social media — including efficient communication with friends and the ability to relay information quickly. But, we have to remember that there are also many downfalls to social media - particularly for those who struggle with eating disorders.
Social media = social pressure
In 2011, an academic study analyzing 248 girls ages 12 to 19 found this:
The “more time girls spend on Facebook, the more they suffered conditions of bulimia, anorexia, physical dissatisfaction, negative physical self-image, negative approach to eating and more of an urge to be on a weight-loss diet.”
In conjunction, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders found this:
A greater average frequency of negative self-talk “predicted greater frequency of purging, greater attempts to restrict eating… and increases in overall ED [eating disorder] severity.”
I present to you my “CliffsNotes” versions of these studies:
More time spent on social media sites is positively correlated with an increased negative body image! And, having a negative body image, or talking negatively to ourselves, is positively correlated with an increased severity of eating disorders.
This is troubling news, especially when you consider the sheer number of users of social media.
Social media sites take action
Tumblr, a blogging site, is well known for supporting the freedom of expression.
After the 2012 suicide of a British teenager who had expressed her self-loathing thoughts on her Tumblr blog, Tumblr created a powerful caveat to their content policy. They banned blogs that promoted or advocated suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.
If Tumblr sees a threat — that eating disorder-related content can lead to a negative self-image and a rise in eating disorders — perhaps the rest of us should take caution as well.
Think about it: On social media, we are infiltrated by posts hashtagged with words like “thinspiration” or “fitspiration” where many posters claim that shrinking thighs create an inspirational “thigh gap.” By clicking on hashtags like these, the user can easily be led to pro-anorexia accounts and groups.
Some accounts will even write “trigger warning” as a way to warn the reader that they may see triggering images or receive triggering content and tips that can fuel an eating disorder.
Among other social media sites, Pinterest, a photo sharing site, has made efforts to review posts with terms like “thinspiration,” monitoring them for potentially harmful content. However, the sheer amount of content posted on these social media sites cannot be monitored to the fullest extent, especially as the thin ideal continues to be prevalent within social media content.
7 ways to be a smart social media user
The benefits of social media can make it hard to stop using it altogether. So, if you can’t avoid some of the not-so-desirable content, you can at least learn how to navigate it intelligently.
Here is my list of 7 tips to help you become a discriminating and confident social media user:
- Triggers are different for everyone! Know yourself and your triggers. Unfollow accounts that may be triggering to you.
- Triggers are often unavoidable! Be sure to process what’s triggering for you with someone who is supportive to your wellbeing.
- Avoid content with the following labels: trigger warnings, thinspiration, thinspo, fitspiration, fitspo.
- Be wise with what you post: Teens (ages 13+) can create Tumblr accounts. Tumblr gives unrestricted access to all users and users cannot completely block others from seeing their account. Every post is traceable.
- Follow accounts and hashtags that promote body acceptance rather than body shaming (i.e. #HealthAtEverySize).
- Not all “pro recovery” hashtags and blogs are truly recovery focused. Be a discriminating consumer by following well-established groups like the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and Eating Recovery Center.
- Avoid blogs and posts that are related to a rigid type of eating (i.e. Paleo, “clean eating”, etc.). These can fuel rigid food rules and the idea that foods are “good” or “bad.”
Finally, I encourage you to only tell your story of eating disorder recovery on social media if and when you feel ready for unsolicited feedback from others!
Ellie Herman, MA, LPC, NCC is an Alumni Coordinator for Eating Recovery Center.