With the substantial role of technology in our daily lives, social media can have a profound impact on our mental and physical well-being. The constant barrage of articles, images, and comments online may trigger individuals in eating disorder recovery as they try hard to reframe the dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors accompanying their disorder. Knowing the various hazards of social media can be helpful in determining the time, energy, and attention someone might invest in their online activity while trying to recover.
Prevalence of Diet Mentality
Whether you are searching for it or not, chances are you will come across an advertisement for a type of diet or nutritional lifestyle you should adopt. Diet mentality is so ingrained in our culture and social media has made spreading this mindset easier. There is a shaming cultural agreement that losing weight is something that most should strive for and that some foods are “good” versus “bad.” Accordingly, social media easily helps spread the word about fad diets or nutritional lifestyles that are often uninvestigated, unsustainable, and dangerous, and that don’t consider various complex factors contributing to a person’s body type. For someone in recovery who is trying hard to stray away from a diet approach and the idea that they should lose weight, being constantly bombarded which such pro-diet messages can tighten the eating disorder’s grip.
Shaming Culture of Exercise/Fitness
The way social media portrays exercise can also be triggering for those in recovery. A majority of posts about exercise encourages others to work out to change their body “flaws.” Before and after photos demonstrate the weight loss benefits of exercise. Although exercising undoubtedly has physical and mental health benefits, social media helps underscore its role in moving closer to one’s desired weight or size, whether or not this is a healthy place for one’s body. Social media also illustrates exercise as a means to compensate or punish yourself for what you have eaten, rather than a way to nurture and care for your body. Individuals in recovery may be triggered by such messages as they try to develop a healthier relationship with exercise, rather than one that is shaming in order to fuel motivation.
Lack of Body Diversity
Fortunately, with the advent of social media, there has been an increased effort to represent various body sizes, shapes, and abilities. However, for the most part, only culturally “ideal” body types are represented, such as thin women, or lean and muscular men. As we are constantly bombarded with images of these body prototypes, we may feel convinced that our bodies should look that way. For individuals in eating disorder recovery, this can be extremely harmful as they, who might already have body dissatisfaction, are being told from external sources that their body is not okay as it is, and should look a certain way.
Lack of Realism
Lastly, a big danger of social media is that it creates a harmful world of fantasy. For instance, online features can help us present ourselves inauthentically to the world, such as by editing photos to make us look unrealistically attractive. Individuals with eating disorders already experience body image concerns and distortions – these unattainable and unrealistic body types that are portrayed can exacerbate their distress.
Social media also clouds reality as individuals can present only the highlight reels of their lives (the “best” of their appearance, successes, and quality of life). However, these do not accurately reflect people’s reality, and for those who are struggling with eating disorders and have seen various parts of their life suffer, such inauthentic portrayals can trigger feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and shame.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate and registered psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She provides individual and group psychotherapy to adults and adolescents presenting with disordered eating, negative body image, and cormorbid disorders. Bahar has offered mentorship to individuals in eating disorder recovery and facilitated support groups on enhancing one’s body image and relationship with food. Contact us today to make an appointment with one of our eating disorder specialist!