By Christa Banister
The barrage of advertising from the diet and fitness industries used to coincide primarily with the arrival of a new year.
Each January, commercials beckon you to sign up for the latest, greatest ways to shed pounds. The pleas to join a gym, buy this shake, sign up for a fitness trainer, or some “miracle” cure ensuring super speedy results are practically nonstop.
But now with social media and its many users and influencers, not feeling good about your body isn’t relegated to the new year. With people spending more than two hours and 20 minutes a day on social media platforms worldwide according to recent statistics, it’s probably never been more important to talk about eating disorders.
Signs of Eating Disorder Issues
Before a conversation can begin, it’s important to know the signs. What are some of the commonalities between those who may be struggling with an eating disorder? There are a few important signs to watch for:
While there is definitely more information about eating disorders available … some people still don’t want to — or don’t feel comfortable — talking about these issues.
- Obvious weight loss (though there can be other reasons for this)
- Frequent trips to the restroom during meals
- Poor body image, including negative self-talk about their size or eating habits
- Obsessive exercising
- Feeling self-conscious about eating in public
- Fixating on so-called “safe,” “clean,” or “healthy” foods
- Blotchy, dry, or swollen skin
During the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, eating disorders were up as much as 70-80%, according to a National Public Radio report. Many have turned to their eating habits to exercise a sense of control during an uncontrollable situation. And for those who already struggled with eating disorders, a survey in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 62% of people with anorexia experienced worsening symptoms. For those struggling with binge-eating, which affects nearly a third of Americans and is far more common, episodes also increased. While there was an uptick in telehealth appointments during the pandemic, it was estimated that 45% were left behind without care.
While there is definitely more information about eating disorders available and no demographic left untouched, some people still don’t want to — or don’t feel comfortable — talking about these issues.
If you feel like someone you love is struggling with disordered eating, it’s better to consult a treatment professional for advice than to say nothing or to only focus on their relationship with food (which can exacerbate the issues). Disordered eating always goes deeper than food, and it often takes a multi-faceted approach to help someone find the path to healing.
Effects of Social Media on Eating Disorder Development
In research conducted by ABC News, a woman details how she never had “big problems with anorexia” before she signed up for Instagram. What began as part of her professional life for work became something different altogether that was detrimental to her body.
As we initially learned from those glossy magazines, “what you see isn’t always what you get,” and this applies even more to social media. A person’s profile isn’t an accurate representation of what they look like or what their lives are actually like, in most cases it’s a carefully curated highlight reel.
We only see the perfect swimsuit shots, the fun nights out, the camera-ready meals. But if you’re struggling with disordered eating or in recovery from an eating disorder, these images can be triggering to you.
Even a seemingly healthy phenomenon like clean eating or seemingly harmless fitness craze can become an obsession. According to the Chief Executive Officer of the National Eating Disorders Association, Claire Mysko, this condition is referred to as orthorexia nervosa. While being bombarded by images of what many consider “healthy” on social media, it can be confusing to distinguish what’s real from what’s realistic.
And when such a high premium is placed upon looking, feeling, or performing a certain way, it’s easy to get caught up in something reminiscent of anorexia or bulimia and can lead to a number of serious health challenges including:
If you feel triggered or shamed when you view images or post on social media, you have options.
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk of malnutrition
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Struggles with cognition
- Challenges with fertility
But it isn’t just the misleading imagery and trendy messaging that can cause many individuals to struggle. People are often snarkier and meaner behind screens than they are in real life—one of the greatest challenges of social media culture.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, up to 65% of people who struggle with eating disorders indicated that bullying contributed to their condition. And considering so many people’s obsession with posting “perfect” images online, body shaming and full-on bullying are happening regularly.
For many young people who feel inadequate, bullying can spiral into unhealthy behaviors including skipping meals or binge eating to counteract the pain. For some, scrolling by a friend’s or celebrity’s gym selfie may seem innocuous. But for an increasing number of people, seeing images like these on a regular basis has been correlated with negative thoughts about their own bodies.
If you feel triggered or shamed when you view images or post on social media, you have options. While it’s impossible to regulate the images people are posting at any given moment, it’s important to take control over your own feed. Unfollow the people who make you feel inferior or unworthy. Band together with encouraging friends and stand up against body shaming. Have regular conservations about how certain images make you feel. Even better, limit your time on social media or forego those platforms altogether in order to connect with people face to face more often.
Help Is Here
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, The Meadows Ranch provides trusted, proven treatment for both women and girls. With our knowledgeable, caring staff and proven treatment methods, recovery is possible. Contact our team today to find out more.