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As one of the greatest communication tools to ever exist, social media has undoubtedly changed the way people engage with one another. This platform allows them to connect or communicate with anyone at any place. Whether you send a tweet, post a picture, or update your status, your life is on display as little or as much as you choose.

While social media has brought numerous benefits that have potentially eased modern life, it also possesses the power to wreak havoc on someone battling an eating disorder. It can also be even more detrimental to those in the recovery phase. While social media alone is never the cause of acquiring an eating disorder, it plays an important trigger for susceptible individuals.

Does social media cause eating disorders? How does it do it, and what can you do to minimise this risk? This article will explain everything in depth.

Research has shown that using certain social media platforms has increased body image concerns and self-objectification. This is particularly true for those who frequently visit fitspiration pages. With most Britishers spending around 108 minutes on social media every day, exposing themselves to unrealistic beauty ideals, body shaming, weight loss products, thinspiration, weight loss teas and pills, and more becomes easier. Besides, excessive use of social media has also been associated with eating disorders through the following factors.

Body Objectification

Pictures on social media, most of which are digitally altered, play a significant role in how a person seeks validation and determines their worth by the number of comments and likes they receive. Posting a selfie on a social media platform can signal to others that your beauty determines your body and your worth, a message with which many people with eating disorders struggle.

Comparison

With an increasing number of people turning towards social media usage, comparisons are at an all-time high. It is common for people to judge themselves against others based on what they post and how happy they “seem” on social media. These comparisons can prove toxic for a person in the depths of an eating disorder as they are likely to compare themselves with celebrities and models. What’s worse, most models, celebrities, and fitness enthusiasts on social media routinely post altered images of themselves, painting an unrealistic picture of how we must look.

Triggers

People recovering from eating disorders can expose themselves to potential triggers through excessive use of social media. These triggers may appear in the form of workout routines, posts about weight loss, images of unrealistic body shapes and sizes, and dieting. For example, someone in recovery may come across a “before and after” transformative picture of a celebrity that may trigger an urge in their mind to lose weight by any means mandatory.

Peer pressure

Friends’ opinions and judgements of family members can significantly impact an individual’s feelings, behaviours, and thoughts. These voices may seem even more powerful if you are in the formative years of adolescence or in early adulthood. Cyberbullying, a typical example of peer pressure, is a type of ugly offshoot of social media websites, and this type of bullying often targets a person’s appearance.

The best thing you can do to keep yourself away from developing an eating disorder is by observing media self-care. The following tips can come in handy for this purpose:

Use social media mindfully.

Be extremely careful and selective about your social media usage. Only follow the platforms that support your values and help you develop stronger self-esteem and higher body confidence.

Limit your social networking and screen time.

Experts exploring body concern issues believe that the more time someone spends on social media, the more they are exposed to the perfect body image. Consequently, such people are at a higher risk of comparing their appearance to unrealistic body standards shown on the internet, which may eventually shatter their self-image. To protect your self-image, monitor the quantity and quality of your social media time.

Test every message for body positivity

Make use of media literacy strategies and think critically about every content you create and every message you consume on social media. Test everything for body positivity by raising the following questions:

  • What does the message truly mean?
  • Are the body standards realistic or altered?
  • How can it affect body acceptance?
  • Who created this content and profits from it?

Before texting, posting comments, tweeting, or sharing a photo or a video, ask yourself why you are doing it, who you wish to reach out it, and analyse how body positive it is.

Voice your opinions

Consider explicitly explaining to people profiting from media what you do or do not like about their body representations. Take some time out to explain why you feel this particular way and how you plan to tackle it. Take a stand for yourself and refuse to read, view, or listen to anything that promotes fabricated body standards until healthy changes are made.

Become an advocate for body positivity

Use your social media platform to reach out to others, inspire them to spread authentic body messages, be critical of unrealistic body ideals, and bash body shaming. Shout out to social media retailers, media outlets, advertisers, and celebrity product endorsers who promote healthy body sizes, natural looks, and diverse body shapes while calling out the ones that promote unhealthy body norms.

When you spend more time than ever using media, you will eventually come across lots of messages telling how you should look that can easily make you feel less confident and worried about your appearance. While the best way to tackle these messages is by reducing social media use, many people cannot do so. In such circumstances, an alternative solution is to protect your self-image and body confidence from unrealistically narrow media ideals.

The messages on the media about body size and shape do not necessarily need to affect how you feel about your body. One of the best ways to protect your body image and self-esteem from them is to become a critical viewer of social media content. When you learn how to effectively identify and analyse media messages that influence you on a day-to-day basis, it becomes easier to remind yourself how its definitions of beauty don’t have to define your self-image.

To become a critic of social media content, keep the following pointers in mind:

  • All media messages and images are merely constructions and do not reflect reality. Advertisements and other messages on media platforms are carefully crafted to send out a specific message.
  • Almost every advertisement on social media is created to convince you to buy a specific product or support a particular service. Advertisers can go to any lengths to create an emotional experience close enough to reality to make you do this. When you see such ads, remind yourself that you only see what advertisers want you to see.
  • Most advertisers create ads and messages based on what they think people want to see and believe will compel them to buy their product. Just because these advertisers think their approach will work for people generally does not mean it has to work with you as an individual.
  • As individuals, you have the power to decide how to experience the media messages we encounter. You can always choose to take help from a filter that helps you understand what an advertiser wants you to believe or think. Then, you can choose whether you wish to accept that message.

If you feel like the excessive use of social media is triggering or exacerbating an eating disorder in you or a loved one, it is crucial to seek professional help as soon as possible. Dedicated rehabs extend support and help for such people through programs that exclusively focus on vulnerable individuals. Care at these facilities is collaborative and relationship-based, and all efforts are focused on assisting clients to achieve long-term recovery without any risk of relapses.

Some of the most common elements of a standard eating disorder treatment program in a high-quality rehab include:

  • Individual therapy sessions in a one-to-one setting with the primary therapist, family therapist, clinical director, dietitian, and psychiatrist 
  • Weekly family therapy sessions
  • Daily group therapy, including special sessions on body image, interpersonal relationships, art therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and other creative expressive therapies
  • Like skills development
  • Custom-tailored treatment or therapy for all co-occurring disorders, such as substance abuse or trauma
  • Exposure therapy, including restaurant outings and food challenges every week
  • Reintegration support
  • Exercise and movement therapy

No matter where you are in the process of joining an eating disorder treatment centre, there is always some kind of help available for you.

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