Social networks are always a good place to convey and promote many positive things in society, but along with it, there are still many negative effects. This time, the topic is about eating disorders. This is not only a physical problem, but it also stems from mental issues. So, the question is whether social media is related to eating disorders? Does it actually have an impact on our eating habits?

Before discussing how social media could impact our eating disorders, it is crucial to have an idea of this term first. 

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can be understood as both complex mental and physical illnesses. People with eating disorders have abnormal eating habits that can cause serious health problems. 

These kinds of behaviors usually come from their inner psychological issues. The most common signs are when people are obsessed with the food they take in, their body shape, weight and physique. That is why they often mistake this disorder with a lifestyle choice. Instead, it should be one of the most dangerous and fatal illnesses when it comes to different types of disorders.  

3 common types of eating disorders

There are three common types of eating disorders happening in most people. They are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa:

This is the condition when people refuse or try not to take in food, or just eat a small quantity of food when they need it. In some cases, they also limit their consumption to only some particular types of food. These people are extremely strict with the amount and type of food they put in their bodies. 

This eating behavior can be a high risk of fatality if the person maintains it for a long time. They can be dying because of complications from starvation and possible suicide efforts. 

Some symptoms of a person with this eating disorder are:

  • Restricted eating, emaciation, overly body thinness, bodyweight at an alarming rate.
  • Afraid of gaining weight and denying to maintain a healthy body.
  • Signs through time: osteopenia (bones getting thinner), hair loss, anemia (low hemoglobin leads to weakness), yellowish skin, constipation, low blood pressure, heart disease, brain damage, etc. [1]
Bulimia nervosa:

This is a condition in which people consume an excessive amount of food without being able to control themselves. Afterward, they will try to get rid of the excess calories by purging in unhealthy ways. 

Similar to anorexia nervosa, these people are also obsessed with gaining weight and body shape. However, instead of avoiding eating, they often self-induce vomiting, misuse weight-loss supplements, diuretics or enemas to eliminate calories after over-eating. Sometimes, they also apply some other ways to purging like fasting, excessive exercising, etc. 

Some signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa people:

  • Fear of being fat, eating uncontrollably in one sitting, strict dieting/ fasting/ exercising, going to the bathroom during meals (for vomiting)
  • Signs through time: chronic sore throat and inflammation, swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area, intestinal distress, severe dehydration because of purging, damaged teeth and gums, etc. [2]
Binge-eating disorder:

This is the other condition that people just take in an uncontrollably large amount of food into their bodies without stopping purging like bulimia nervosa. This eating behavior, in the long run, leads to obesity and overweight. Binge-eating disorder is also one of the most common health problems in many people.

Some noticeable signs of this disorder are:

  • Eating a large amount of food in a short period of time.
  • Having another meal right away even when not hungry or completely full
  • Avoid eating in front of people due to embarrassment.
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed of eating too much, etc. [1]

Besides those above three common types of eating disorders, there are also some other symptoms of people having these eating habits. They drink more coffee and tea (as they believe it would suppress their appetite), use the scale frequently, and sleep more than ever. What’s else is that they have difficulty in focusing, mood swings (become a different person because of starvation), and always look at other people’s bodies. There are so many potential signs of those who have eating disorders. The symptoms of this disorder are so serious that they should not be taken lightly. 

stepping on scale

Possible causes of eating disorders

It can be clearly seen by normal people that the main possible cause stems from mental illnesses like thoughts, fear, stress, and embarrassment. The most common thing in people with this disorder is that they are stressed about their weight and body shape. 

For those that avoid eating and always try to purge out, they are afraid of being fat and not skinny enough as their friends. The profound cause could be they used to be bullied and abused about their body. In some cases, they can be obsessed with someone else’s perfect body proportions on the Internet. They consider it the standard body to follow. Regretfully, they will try to do everything to get that perfect ratio, no matter if it is the right way or not. 

For those that have binge-eating disorders, these people possibly used to have mental problems in the past. For example, they may have gone through psychological shock and trauma. Sadness, loneliness, and stress can be the trigger that causes uncontrollable eating. Those with binge-eating tend to consume high fat and sugar foods, causing both weight gain and increased appetite. 

There can be many reasons for these serious eating behaviors from genes, abusing, bullying, dieting, life transitioning, puberty, etc. However, the root cause mostly comes from people’s mental problems. Those negative thoughts have severely damaged to their minds and their bodies.

The connection between social media and eating disorders

Eating disorders can be extremely dangerous to your health. If leave it unaware and untreated, it may lead to serious consequences. This type of disorder is increasing in many teenagers and young adults, especially in this digital age. 

According to researchers of Flinders University in Australia, there were 51.7% of girls and 45.0% of boys were reported to have eating disorders. Strict exercising and avoiding meals are the most common signs among them. Along with that, the study also showed that 75.4% of girls and 69.9% of boys had at least one social media account. The highest percentage goes to Instagram, then following by Facebook, Snapchat and Tumblr.

Even though social media was not proven to be a direct cause, they pointed out the connection between it and eating disorders in young people. Body image and the impact of social media influencers are the two main sources. Thus, it is still important to be aware of it and take prevention.

Besides, a recent study by National Eating Disorder Association also revealed that young women aged 18 to 25 showed a stronger link between Instagram and self-objectification. There have been increasing concerns about body image among them. Most notably, those who are bombarded with unrealistic ideals of beauty, diet advice, body shaming, and weight-loss posts on social media. 

hate eating

5 influences of social media on eating problems

Whether directly or indirectly, social media still contributes to some degree of influence on people’s psyche and gradually leads them to suffer from eating disorders. Here are some common impacts that are most likely to be the source of people’s eating problems.

Triggers to an unrealistic perception of body image

Image-driven social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat are feeding their users everyday with endlessly unrealistic ideals of beauty. Teens and young adults are bombarded with tons of information about what diets they should take, what sizes they should be to have a perfect thin and beautiful body like others. 

What’s else is that, young girls nowadays really admire influencers on social networks. They idolize the healthy lifestyle and the perfect body ratio of these “models”. Then, standardize their beauty definition and try to achieve that impossible goals. What they do not know is that many of those pictures were edited and photoshopped beforehand. So, these celebrities and influencers can always look pretty and perfect in front of everyone’s eyes. 

Research has shown that reasoning and good decision-making skills aren’t fully developed until the early twenties. That’s why girls are prone to believing what they see on social media are all real. Thereby, it gradually forms in their mind a new standard of beauty, shame and hatred towards their own body images. Eating disorders are also born from that when they force themselves to be the standard.

Cyberbullying:

Social media bullying about someone’s body shape is not a new thing anymore. When you are posting your photos on social platforms, there is always somebody ready to comment and judge your appearance. Especially, when your face and body shape are having something different to their beauty standards. 

Bodyshaming issues have become more sensitive and acute than ever. Though, those sayings that disparage others’ appearances still existed. “This person looks too fat; Why she is so thin?”, etc. It is these seemingly harmless statements that cause them to have negative views of their bodies and result in eating disorders.

Peer pressure

Negative body image can also come from friends and family members when they share opinions about the person’s appearance. It might be more pressured for people when they think others – especially their close ones – do not like their looks. These opinions can somehow impact on their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Not like mature adults, teenagers, adolescence and younger adults are more likely to be influenced. They can’t properly discern and reason if this is really good advice for them. External impact can contribute to their concerned eating behaviors.

Feeling of exclusion:

Eating disorders can happen and be triggered again. Especially when the person has a feeling of exclusion. A research has proven the connection between a person with successful recovery from eating disorders and the support from their social circles. 

Have you ever seen your friends hanging out together without you and posting their pictures on Instagram? Did this make you feel left out? For teenagers & young adult, who are psychologically susceptible, they can easily experience these emotions. 

They start questioning about why they cannot going out with these friends. Tons of thoughts will appear like “Maybe they are too pretty and perfect for me, so they do not want to invite me.” Then, they will try to fit in with these people and force themselves to be like them. Fasting, skipping meals, strict exercising, etc. They will do anything until they think they look better.

Comparison:

Comparison is always a potential reason behind the above impacts. Social media is a great place for this. As stated earlier, stunning photos on social platforms of celebrities, idols and influencers, or even of your pretty friends are enough for you to make a comparison with yourself. “Why their body shapes are so perfect?”, “why they are so thin?”, “I’m not pretty as others?”, etc. 

It is these things that cause pressure in them and force them to become somebody’s beauty standards. When having anxiety and mental issues about their body images, they can start binge-eating (cannot control over their consumption), or they can force themselves to starve and skip meals. 

Recovery from eating disorder‌

There are many questions from people with this disorder whether they can have a normal eating habit again and recover from this. The answer would be yes. However, it can take time and patience. As you can see, most of the reasons behind this eating disorder are about the feeling of embarrassment and self-deprecation of one self about their body image. It’s always a matter of their mentality. If they can overcome this barrier, they can control and normalize their eating habits. Gradually, they can become more comfortable with their eating.

Advice for yourself

If you or your friends are currently having eating disorders that could somehow be related to social media, it is advisable to help them with these things.

  • Learn to use social media mindfully and wisely:

You can decide people/ influencers to follow and unfollow if you find them deliver positive messages about body image. If they are giving out negativity which can be bad for your mental health, don’t hesitate to unfollow them. You can also limit screen time on social networks. As the more time you spend on these platforms, the higher the possibility you will see body-perfect images. This could lead you to a high chance of vulnerability and comparison to unrealistic standards.

  • Voice up about positive body image:

What you can transform a toxic social media place into a more positive one by advocating the right messages. You can do this for yourself and also for others. You can use your social media to spread and compliment authentic body messages. Criticize posts and comments that are body-shaming and praising unrealistic body images. 

Sending out the messages of loving your body, eating logically and healthily instead of encouraging improper ways to lose weight. By standing up for these positive things about your body and appearance, not only you but also others can have more motivation to recover from their disorders and be more confident.

  • Consider going to treatment:

If you experience severe eating disorders, you should consider going to doctors and professionals for timely treatment. They will help you with a treatment plan, disentangle your mental issues and support you in accepting yourself. Most plans include a combination of psychotherapy, medical care and monitoring, nutritional counseling, and medications [3].

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Advice for others

Besides, other people who have children or friends with eating disorders are advised to: 

  • Encourage them often with compliments: Let them know that positive self-esteem has nothing to do with physical appearance or body image. Make sure they know how talented and unique they are.
  • Mention often about positive body image: Tell them to love their bodies. Each person has different beauty standards with unique body ratios and appearances. Do not let others’ comments affect how special they are. 
  • Encourage more off-line interactions and hangouts: Instead of just chatting or checking social media, create more chances to go out and interact in person. It can be sport activities, extracurriculars, family gatherings, etc. This will help to distract them from online world and have better relationships with others. It also encourages better social communication, positivity and confidence in them.
Overall, eating disorders are extremely serious problems that can not be ignored, especially when influenced by social media. Those symptoms will leave behind many consequences for your mental and physical health. 
The important thing is that you notice some potential symptoms as soon as possible and find help from others. Eating disorders can be overcome with enough time and effort. Be sure to have positive mind, love your body image and stand up for the right body messages. 

A passionate content writer and social media enthusiast that loves playing around with ideas and turning them into enticing words. Delivering great and useful content to our readers is what I’m working on.