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How Does Social Media Cause Eating Disorders

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Eating Disorders Body Imageand Social Media

Influence of social media in eating disorders | Ana María . | TEDxYouth@InternationalSchoolAndalucia

Social medias impact on self-image and self-esteem, especially among young people, can hardly be overstated. While social media can certainly help people connect with new friends and old, it can also be a source of harassment, pressure, and bullying, as well as unrealistic depictions of others lifestyles and bodies. Through the use of social media, young people can reach out for support and make new connections.

Its even more dangerous than the traditional media in promoting a thinness narrative which can influence eating disorders because someone like an Instagram model can interact with the person being mediated. Because our entire lives are now lived online, treatment for eating disorders must take this into account as well. Bulimia nervosa treatment has been honed for decades, and the needs of clients at a treatment center go beyond medical and psychiatric therapy, but also must include psychosocial aspects as well.

The successful treatment of bulimia nervosa disorder is easiest to achieve when early intervention is made when bulimia nervosa symptoms appear so that a proper diagnosis and treatment plan can be begun. During this treatment, body image distortions, anxiety, depression or other co-occurring issues can also be addressed.

The Media’s Influence On Eating Disorders

If you pay attention to mainstream media, you’ll undoubtedly find that it often sends a strong message that thin, white, and able bodies are the most desirable and, by extension, that all other bodies have less value. Furthermore, beauty products and diets are marketed, especially to women, as a way to achieve that so-called desired body.

In fact, millions of dollars are spent each year marketing both the beauty and diet industries. This results in a constant barrage of images and messages discouraging men and women from being satisfied with their bodies and encouraging them to change their appearance.

How does this messaging affect us? Does it cause or influence eating disorders or other similar dangerous behaviors? The answer is complicated.

Research supports the idea that there is a familial, genetic component to eating disorders, but it also indicates that the current socio-cultural environment plays a role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders.

It can certainly be harder to recover from an eating disorder when you’re faced with constant media images of very thin people or television shows putting people with larger bodies through intense and sometimes torturous routines in order to lose weight.

How Can Treatment Help With Eating Disorders

If you think you, or someone you know, may have an eating disorder, please call 0800 691 1490 or to submit an enquiry form. Arthur House provides an alternative to traditional hospital treatment, within a comfortable residential centre focused on compassion and support. The Arthur House therapeutic programme looks at the psychological causes of eating disorders, helping you to break negative beliefs and thought patterns. Practical exposure work, such as supervised shopping and cooking, also helps you to gain the confidence to move forward with your future goals, without the pain of damaged self-esteem holding you back.

For professionals looking to make a referral, please .

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding eating disorder treatment, please call 0800 840 3219 or . For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

Blog reviewed by Steve Clarke ), Hospital Director at Priorys Life Works and Arthur House,

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The Role Of The Media In The Treatment And Prevention Of Eating Disorders

Much of the literature on the role of the media in the treatment and prevention of eating disorders has focused on media literacy, activism, and advocacy . Media literacy training involves teaching people to think critically about different forms of the media, increasing awareness of media use, and analyzing the content and intentions of the media producers. Through media literacy, adolescent girls learn how to decode and discuss the visual images and the messages in the media they learn that all media images are constructed, that what they see is not necessarily reality, and that all media creations represent a point of view . Media literacy usually emphasizes that all forms of media are created through very deliberate, well-researched processes that are primarily profit-driven .

Researchers have also focused on ways to combat the risk factors that make certain individuals more vulnerable to the medias negative effects. It has been suggested that treatment programs for eating disorders will be most effective when they incorporate media literacy with strategies to help address the patients deficits in self-esteem and social skills .

/11 Conspiracies Continue To Live On Via Social Media


âThe more pictures we post of our event, activities, new haircuts, and vacations on social media, the more time we spend looking at ourselves through the eyes of other people,â Sylvester explained.

Never before has it been so easy to take pictures of oneâs self and share them for the world to see. This constant need to share however comes at a price. People like compliments but are rarely ready for the criticism that invariably comes.

âMost people are a few pounds overweight, have the wrong hair style or the wrong clothes, but like the proverbial fairy tale, mirrors lie and the old cliché âa picture is worth a thousand wordsâ sometimes can amplify flaws and more importantly reveal how others see us,â added Sylvester.

Raw Feed

Unlike celebrities or influencers, who can take the time to âeditâ their appearance or are professionally photographed to appear picture perfect every time, the average user relies on selfies from a smartphone and simply hits post. One bad photo can truly be worth more than thousand words, especially if the comments are negative in the least.

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Social Media And Eating Disorders

Yes, and no. To put it in perspective, social media causes eating disorders in the same way low temperatures cause colds. Being cold doesnt make you sick, but it does lower your resistance to the viruses trying to get inside of you. Social media is the method by which ideas are transmitted.

With that said, social media has made it possible to spread eating disorder gospel to a larger audience, and that appears to be having some genuinely negative effects.

According to the Huffington Post, as far back as 2012, hospital admissions were spiking for eating disorders like anorexia. The victims were largely young girls, aged 15 and under, which was a disturbing trend since eating disorders are the mental disorders that have the highest mortality rate among sufferers. When researchers tried to find a cause to attribute the increase in eating disorder cases, social media was put under the microscope. What the research found was that social media users experience an increased awareness of their bodies and weight, which can lead to being extremely self-conscious regarding how that body is treated and presented.

While that might sound like an open and shut case, the facts behind eating disorders are a lot more complicated.

Social Media And Unrealistic Expectations Of Body Image

Social media networking sites offer users the opportunity to post pictures of themselves, their friends and family, and what theyre doing. However, the constant availability of these pictures often leaves viewers feeling more negatively about themselves. After seeing photos of others, they may feel envious or discontent with their own lives or appearances and develop low self-esteem.

Theres also constant pressure to present a perfect image through profile pictures and social media posts. When social media users compare their own photos with those of others, they may feel a sense of shame if their photo doesnt align with the image they wish to present to their friends. This shame leads to a decline in self-image, increased social anxiety, and potential mental health problems.

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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Bulimia Nervosa

Although its relatively well-known, its important to outline the signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa. In some situations, people might be confused about the difference between bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Some aspects of bulimia nervosa may be present in other eating disorders, such as binge eating episodes, which of course are found in binge eating disorder.

For an eating disorder to be classified as bulimia nervosa, the DSM-5 requires certain criteria. The most prominent behavioral symptom is repeated and regular binge eating episodes, usually in secret, and often accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame about the caloric intake. This is coupled with a lack of control concerning being able to stop or control how much or what is being eaten.

Binge eating episodes are followed by purging. Purging methods, such as calorie restriction or fasting after a binge eating episode, self-induced vomiting , excessive exercise, or the misuse of diuretics, laxatives, and other purging medicines, are used as a way to offset the potential weight gain. These behaviors must both occur at least once a week for three months, on average.

Another symptom that relates to bulimia nervosa is a poor, negative, or distorted body image thinking they are fat or ugly. As weve seen, this directly relates to social media in many cases.

Eating Disorders And Social Media Prove Difficult To Untangle

Could social media impact eating disorders?

Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram try to monitor for content related to the problem, but it is not always clear what to do about it.

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A 27-year-old YouTube star, prodded by her millions of followers with concerns about her health. A 19-year-old TikTok creator who features posts about being skinny. Teen communities throughout the internet, cleverly naming and culling their discussions to avoid detection.

They present a nearly intractable problem for social media companies under pressure to do something about material on their services that many people believe is causing harm, particularly to teenagers.

Those concerns came into sharp focus in recent weeks in a pair of Senate subcommittee hearings: the first featuring , and the second featuring a former employee turned whistle-blower who bluntly argued that her former employers products drove some young people toward eating disorders.

The hearings were prompted in part by a Wall Street Journal article that detailed how internal research showed Instagram, which is owned by , can make body image issues worse for some young people.

The association advises social media companies to remove content that explicitly promotes eating disorders and to offer help to users who seek it out.

Sheera Frenkel contributed reporting.

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Media And Poor Body Image In Adolescents

One of the first eating disorder symptoms is to manifest a poor body image. From a young age, we are bombarded with media images and messages suggesting that we must be thin if we are to be happy and successful in life.

According to data from 25 studies involving females, it was proven that body image was significantly more negative after viewing media images of a slender body than after viewing images of average and plus sized models. This negative effect was stronger in females younger than 19 years old .

In an attempt to emulate media images, girls will often take drastic measures. These images tend to cause low self-esteem in young girls consequently, they will proactively attempt to change their bodies into what they perceive to be desirable jeopardizing their natural, healthy state. This skewed reality of what a healthy body size and shape is for their specific body type can result in the development of harmful weight loss behaviors.

The Role Of The Media In The Maintenance Of Eating Disorders

Just as young women with weight and shape preoccupation, body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and tendency for social comparison are most influenced by the media, so are they also more likely to use the media. Women with anorexia nervosa engage in heavy media use and describe their consumption of fashion magazines as an addiction, with many saying that their greatest media dependency occurred after their eating disorders had begun to take control of their lives . Qualitative results supported this suggestion by demonstrating that the relationships were consistent with an interactive, circular model as used to explain other compulsive and addictive processes . Beauty magazines become how-to manuals to help women suffering from eating disorders in their attempts to obtain an elusive and impossible standard of physical thinness . Fashion magazines support the anorexic desire to restrict, and counterbalance dissonance-creating comments from friends and family by promoting and endorsing messages that encourage thinness and dieting .

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Body Image And Eating Disorders

Poor body-image leaves someone more likely to develop an eating disorder . In fact, some eating disorders are in direct response to a fear of becoming fat. This is true for people with anorexia. People who struggle with this eating disorder severely restrict due to an intense phobia of gaining weight or being fat.

This phobia can certainly be a factor in other types of eating disorders, but it is a hallmark feature of anorexia. If being fat is so terrible in this culture that someone is willing to starve themselves to avoid it, this points to a broader societal issue that desperately needs to be addressed. Americas obsession with thin bodies and beauty is a health crisis.

How Social Media Affects Body Image And Eating Disorders

Can Social Media Feed Eating Disorders? [Infographic]

The media puts a large amount of pressure on females to meet a certain social and cultural standard of beauty, which can inevitably lead to poor body image and eating disorders. The more an individual is exposed to this unrealistic standard, the more they find it is reflective of how they should look.

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Social Media Can Increase Risk Of Eating Disorders And Negative Body Image

It is import to consider the role that social media can player in the rise of eating disorders and … negative body image


“Research indicates a correlation between time spent on social media and increased risk for eating disorders exists however, it is hard to conclude that social media directly causes eating disorders,” said Allison Forti, Ph.D., LCMHC, NCC, associate teaching professor and associate director of the Department of Counseling Online Programs at Wake Forest University.

“The intersection of social media and eating disorders is complicated,” Forti added. “On the one hand, it serves as an outlet to mask, cultivate, or inspire eating disorders.”

One example of this is in how social media platforms promote wellness or healthy eating, for some, are also the precipice for orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with healthy eating that can lead to emotional distress and physical problems, suggested Forti.

“Studies have found a link between greater social media use and negative body issues, particularly among young people,” added Dr. Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, assistant professor for the Online Masters of Nursing at Duquesne University. “These individuals may be comparing their bodies to those they see on social media and feeling like they don’t live up to that image.”

The Influence Of Influencers

This idealized image can also lend itself to online bullying and even body shaming of others.

The Positive Side Of Social Media

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Community Discussion Share Your Thoughts Here

What are your thoughts on the relationship between social media and eating disorders in youth? What advice would you give to parents concerned about their childrens online activity?

About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

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Impulsiveness As A Moderator

Does the relation between social media dependence and eating disorders risk have something to do with impulsivity? Impulsiveness is defined as action without good planning and with little consideration of the consequences. Self-control can be defined as the choice of a larger, more delayed reinforcer over a smaller, less delayed reinforcer, and impulsiveness as the opposite . Acting impulsively is an action based on the impulse to express a desire . Acting impulsively also means acting without thinking about the action first, a behavior that wants to get immediate feedback from the environment, or impatient behavior to delay its desire. The cause of a person behaving impulsively is a case related to attention and active behavior, so there is no definite cause. According to experts, there are many factors that encourage a person to behave impulsively, such as the nature that tends to hyperactive, temperamental, environment influences. The message that thinness is beauty circulated in social media environments, attracts expanding research attention and growing interests. Impulsivity was regarded as a multi-dimensional construct. Historically, research on impulsivity in eating disorders has been primarily focused on individuals with bulimic-spectrum disorders .

Using Social Media Positively

The impact of social media on eating disorders

Social media can be detrimental, but it also gives us a place to be a voice of change and to advocate. We can transform social media from a triggering, toxic space to that of encouragement, learning, and support. Online campaigns and backlashes against sexism and body shaming are becoming more common. Social media can promote a sense of community to those suffering from an eating disorder by simply posting an inspirational message related to body image, a recovery-oriented blog, or an article related to eating disorder education.

Things are changing and we are beginning to see people take the step to help change the conversations on social media. One hashtag that is making the rounds is #NEDAselfie. Individuals are posting unfiltered selfies with a caption about what makes them feel confident in their own skin. Another hashtag that is redefining how women see themselves and their bodies is #WomenEatingFood. This brainchild of a registered dietitian and a body coach came about to help start the conversation around women eating real food without it being labeled as good food or bad food. Women can eat all sorts of food without criticism or remarks about their bodies.

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