We all wish we could be on our phones less. People on the internet are obsessed with cute animal videos. Certain types of social media content can be highly triggering when you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder.
These are the inalienable truths that apply in this modern, technological age. And I know what you’re thinking: “ANOTHER blog post about social media and eating disorders?” I know, I know. But this isn’t just your average blog article- this article will give you specific information about what types of content can be most harmful when in recovery, and some personally tried-and-true pages whose content I’ve been viewing for years and who I can vouch for.
When it comes to what we think is normal in our world, we look around us. We look at our friends, family, TV shows, and social media. There are now (fortunately!) movements to increase representation and visibility in all forms of media for people of color and other minority groups who historically haven’t gotten to see themselves portrayed in the media around them. We’ve increasingly seen TV shows featuring non-white lead characters, rather than only seeing a person of color as a sidekick or other secondary character in a TV show. And guess what? This same principle applies when it comes to seeing different size bodies! If we only ever see thin bodies, then this is what we think is “normal.” If we only ever see fitness and diet videos, we think this is normal too. It’s NOT! It’s more often than not disordered at best, and actively harmful at worst.
Some research to prove this point: A meta-analysis of 25 studies involving female subjects, examined the effect of exposure to media images of the slender body ideal. Body image was significantly more negative after viewing thin media images than after viewing images of either average size models, plus size models or inanimate objects. This effect was found to be stronger in women younger than 19 years of age. In another study, 44% of adolescent girls believed they were overweight and 60% were actively trying to lose weight even though the majority of these young girls were within normal weight ranges. This research demonstrates the dire need for individuals to see real bodies, and avoid seeing content that sets unrealistic standards.
The following tips are for those in recovery from an eating disorder, but they apply generally to anyone who is looking to improve their relationship with food and their body!
Pages to avoid/unfollow when recovering from an eating disorder:
- “What I Eat in a Day” videos- These kinds of videos might not register as problematic at first- what’s so bad about someone showing what they eat in a day? Well, I’m glad you asked! The problem is that for many people with disordered eating, comparison often reigns supreme. They might look at this videos and think “Oh, I should be eating those kinds of foods in those quantities.” This does not take into account the highly individualized and ever-changing needs of our own specific bodies!
- Any pages recommending a specific diet- If there was a pill prescribed to patients that failed to achieve the desired outcome 95% of the time, would you take it and feel personally responsible when it didn’t work? Of course not! Well, that’s what we do with diets- because 95% of diets fail. Yes, you heard that right. It’s a radical idea at first, but moving away from dieting is the only way to truly recover from an eating disorder and move to food and body freedom. This point alone will rule out many pages on Instagram. Unfortunately, in the age of influencer culture, any average person online has started offering diet or exercise advice to us- nevermind the fact that they have no credentials, training, or qualifications to do so!
- Fitness pages- Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for joyful movement and moving our bodies in ways that feel good to us. However, that approach is few and far between when it comes to most fitness pages. Plus, the false advertising (“Do this exercise and get a flat tummy in three weeks!”) lures people in and often sets them up for disappointment and self-criticism. Especially if your eating disorder tends to involve compulsive exercise, these kinds of pages can be particularly insidious!
- Pages that use filters/editing and don’t disclose this upfront- A little touch up might not seem so bad, but in reality, these kinds of unethical edits (especially when applied to before and after pictures) set people up for unrealistic expectations. When influences are airbrushing out their stretch marks, skin imperfections, cellulite, and more (all of which are completely normal in healthy bodies, by the way!) they are setting unattainable standards for the average person. Green flags to look for in pages: pages that highlight how certain poses, lighting, or angles can drastically alter a body’s appearance in photos (@breeelenehan does a great job with content like this!)
Instagram pages to follow when recovering from an eating disorder:
- @fitfatandallthat- She is recovered from an eating disorder, she posts great thoughtful captions, and she normalizes what a real body looks like! She posts in all kinds of outfits, including lingerie and bathing suits, and has a badass attitude toward her body. She makes you also want to be a “soft body baddie” like her!
- @thenutritiontea- Shana is a registered dietician who uses her knowledge to spread information about a “non-diet approach” to nutrition and health. Her posts include videos of herself talking about different topics, including debunking food myths that she was taught growing up (like most of us were), normalizing cultural foods, as well as lots and lots of hilarious, food-related memes.
- @donuteatingdietician- Ashley is also a registered dietician, has a masters in nutritional science, and works with clients with eating disorders to achieve food freedom. Her page is a mixture of powerful short images (“Craving sugary foods doesn’t mean you are a failure. It’s means you’re human.”) with long, information-filled captions as well as pictures of delicious, varied meals that she makes for herself! She normalizes things like “convenience foods” and honoring cravings. We love a dietician like her (and even have one at Integrated Care Clinic, Joy Metevier!)
- @justconfidentlyme- Not only does Samyra preach body love and have a great weekly video called “This is just what the f**k my body looks like today”, she does a fantastic job of normalizing other things about female bodies- periods, pleasure, masturbation, and sex positivity!
- @diets_dont_work_haes1– HAES stands for Health at Every Size- it’s a fantastic evidence-based movement and you should google it to learn more! Debbie is recovered from anorexia herself and posts a variety of content, from statistics, to educational information about disordered eating, knowledge on the subject from other trusted HAES-informed physicians, dieticians, and advocates, and more.
- Bonus points: follow @akprzy- Think of Anna as your own personal hype woman and cheerleader. While this page isn’t body-image specific, she posts great reminders about self compassion, having realistic expectations of ourselves, and following our own paths to happiness, not what others want for us. She’s also darn funny!
Just like we all clean out our closets (and hopefully get rid of the clothes that no longer fit our current bodies and needs), I hope this post will encourage you to clean out your social media feeds. It really can make the difference in recovery and improving our relationships with our bodies. So get scrolling, and don’t be shy about smashing that unfollow button for anything that doesn’t serve you!
If you struggle with your relationship with social media or negative body image and you would like to start your journey to developing a more neutral or positive body image please consider scheduling an appointment with Dr. Samantha Turetsky. Working with an eating disorder and body image psychologist will be able to help you develop new ways to view yourself and the world around you.