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Does Social Media Have an Effect on Eating Disorders?

There’s no doubt that social media use continues to have an influence on Americans year after year. According to Pew Research Center, as of 2019, 69% of US adults use Facebook (that’s roughly seven in 10 adults). Among different age groups, however, those in the 18-29 range reported more prevalent use of Snapchat and Instagram (62% and 67%, respectively). Meanwhile, another report has shown that TikTok, despite all the warnings and conspiracy theories, continues to be the fastest rising social media platform with nearly 38 million users in the US as of 2019. That number is expected to rise by at least 22% this year.

Social media isn’t going to go away soon. Yet despite all the fun things you can do on these platforms, from connecting with friends from all over to sharing dank memes and participating in fun dance challenges, too much use of social media also has an impact on one’s mental health. This is especially true for people who are vulnerable to developing eating disorders.

Effects on Body Image of Young Women

Young women are at higher risk of developing eating disorders more than men. Sadly, this is a fact that has been true for many years, and with the onset of social media, many experts fear that more women will develop an eating disorder. Some experts believe that social media is particularly dangerous for young women primarily because it is interactive.

The content around these sites is usually very personal and curated, as well. Take, for example, the rise of “fitspiration” profiles and videos on Instagram. While they are, in essence, created to help people live healthier lives, more often than not, these profiles are of young, sexy Caucasian women. In some cases, they are not even the main drivers of their channel. Instead, these women are hired by teams behind the channel and the profile who turn the “fitspiration” movement into a money-making scheme, inadvertently adding to the negative body perception of some women.

Minimize Your Risk

Girl with eating disorder

Frequently, women find themselves comparing their bodies to those of their social media peers. Sometimes, social media influencers can trigger regression when a follower is already on a treatment plan for anorexia nervosa, for example. Merely unfollowing individual social media accounts could’ve easily solved both cases.

Don’t be afraid to unfollow accounts that you feel gives you negative ideas about your body and eating behavior. Yes, even if that person is a personal friend of yours in real life. In fact, why not use that friendship to help them post more positive influences? Since social media is interactive, you have just as much influence on the influencer on the kinds of content they post on their feed.

Encourage your friends to do the same. It might also help if you “unplug” from social media from time to time so you can mitigate its effects on your body perception. Take charge of your mental health and be more mindful about how certain people make you feel about your body and your life.


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