By Anna McKenzie
Every summer, temperatures are at their hottest while clothing is at its scarcest. People everywhere flock to the pool, the beach, or the lake to swim and enjoy the sun. As a result, social media is flooded with pictures that may invite body comparison. For anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder, the temptation to resort to old habits can be triggered by certain imagery, from swimsuit photos to “thinspiration,” and even “fitspiration” posts. We can all become more aware of how the images we post affect others, and those in recovery need to know what to avoid as they go online this summer.
Eating Disorder Relapse Triggers
Around 65% of people who suffer from eating disorders also meet the criteria for at least one anxiety disorder.
Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are complicated mental health conditions that have to do with much more than weight. They are connected to self-image and control, and people may turn to disordered eating in an effort to manage this part of their lives. Among other things, engaging in disordered eating can be a way of self-medicating trauma, seeking to please others, or trying to manage negative thoughts and feelings.
In general, people with eating disorders tend to be more sensitive to social media attention than others. They also spend a lot of time on social sites which affects their perception of themselves and others. In a systemic review of 20 studies, the Journal of Eating Disorders (JoED) found overall time spent on social networking sites is associated with body image disturbances and disordered eating.
In addition, heavy social media use can perpetuate feelings of anxiety, often stemming from FOMO (“fear of missing out”). Anxiety and eating disorders regularly go hand in hand. Around 65% of people who suffer from eating disorders also meet the criteria for at least one anxiety disorder.
Individuals with anorexia tend to focus on a certain ideal weight or self-image that does not correspond with their health. Those with bulimia or binge eating disorder wrestle with their eating habits and may deal with excessive guilt and shame as a result. The distorted view of self and comparison of their own bodies with others’ bodies can be triggered by idealistic imagery on social media. These posts may be tagged as “thinspiration” or “fitspiration.” While “fitspiration” is often less extreme in its depiction of objectified bodies, according to JoED, “[fitspiration] still endorses problematic attitudes towards fitness, body image, and restrictive eating in pursuit of a fit-and-thin body ideal.”
The more these images are viewed by those who struggle (or struggled) with disordered eating, the greater their risk is to return to old habits of trying to control weight and food intake in unhealthy ways.
The Journal of Eating Disorders (JoED) found overall time spent on social networking sites is associated with body image disturbances and disordered eating.
Keys to Summer Relapse Prevention
There are a few ways you can help prevent eating disorder relapse. For those who have never experienced an eating disorder, the first step is to become more aware of what youpost and your attitude toward body image. Try to steer clear of these behaviors that can negatively affect a person in recovery from an eating disorder:
- Making derogatory comments about your body or weight (or others’)
- Posting filtered or idealistic body photos (of you or a model or celebrity)
- Pining over someone else’s ideal image
Think about what you’re posting, why, and how it might negatively alter another person’s perspective before you publish it.
Those in recovery from eating disorders can do the following to help prevent a relapse:
- Take regular breaks from social media, or even stay off social media during the summer
- Engage in body affirmative self-talk
- Reach out to a friend, parent, or counselor when you’re feeling negative about your body or self-image
- Connect with a circleof friends who can commit to be body-positive all summer
- Focus on self-care activities that you enjoy like going for a walk, coloring, meditation, listening to your favorite album, putting together a puzzle, woodworking, or crafts
- Seek out help from a treatment professional when you feel at risk of a relapse
Put your recovery first and invest in a community that will strengthen your sense of body positivity. Never hesitate to reach out to others you trust to gain support when you’re feeling tempted to resume old patterns, especially if you’re dealing with stressful circumstances.
Eating Disorder Risk Factors
Approximately 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Eating disorder risk factors are varied: Eating disorders can be caused by everything from genetic predisposition to environment, family history, personal history, personality, cultural background, and social influence. The presence of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, and trauma exposure can also play a significant role in the development of an eating disorder.
If you’re considering whether you or someone you love is at risk of an eating disorder, pay close attention to media use and exposure. Heavy use of social media is connected to negative perception of body image, and high exposure to mass media (via TV and the web) can adversely influence an individual’s sense of self-worth and appearance— especially in children and adolescents.
Eating Disorder Treatment at The Meadows Ranch
At The Meadows Ranch, we have deep-seated experience and expertise in treating eating disorders and any co-occurring conditions an individual may have. Our research-backed program includes a mix of individual, group, and experiential therapies alongside intentional family involvement for the best chance at total, long-term recovery. If you or a loved one is dealing with an eating disorder, contact our team today. Our caring staff is standing by to answer your questions and help you get started on the road to recovery.