Eating Disorders in Adolescence and Social Media

Research has shown teenagers can spend up to 7.5 hour daily on their phone (not including school work)!! Let’s say your teenage is following healthy, body positive influencers (which you closely monitor), the algorithm is set up in a way that will also potentially show disordered eating or eating disorder behavior, without even flagging it as a disordered behavior.

Social Media and Body Image … – The Insight Centre

So with the combination of growing up (i.e puberty), an underdeveloped mind, and the triggers of social media, an eating disorder can potentially be triggered. Obviously, there are many other factors that could play a role here (family genetics, the way diets and weight are discussed in the home, etc.) but social media plays a very big influence.

In my own eating disorder, this was prior to the craze of social media. What did trigger was me was my classmates comments on their own body image insecurity and “health” magazines (Shape, Women’s Health, etc).

I myself was inundating myself with these images, but now with the ability to pick up a phone and look at photos of what ever shape the individuals aspires to be, they can find this shape and start to feel guilty about not being this shape. They can also quickly Google nutrition and calorie information about foods they are eating or find recipes that are support for “Pro Ana.”

You might be asking your self as well, what is ‘Pro Ana’ or ‘Pro Mia?’ These are sites and users dedicated to supporting eating disorders. They encourage the behaviors of eating disorders, and many will leave triggering photos as well as tips and tricks on how you be “better at your eating disorder.”

Young minds are also not completely developed and many of these images on social media show a reality that many will never achieve, mentally causing unrealistic expectations of beauty and health standards.

Social Media's Role in Unrealistic Beauty Standards - Infogram

Most individuals I meet with feel ashamed when speaking about their eating disorder or disordered eating pattered. Research has proven that eating disorders are a very private mental illness and hold a taboo in our society. Which in case, can cause an individual to feel excluded if they were not able to join in on the fun with their friends. This can lead to thoughts of “not being pretty/thin/ or good enough,” causing the eating disordered to be triggered once again.

Cyberbullying can cause depression, social anxiety, feelings of low or no self-worth, and fear, all things that eating disorders thrive on. Research has shown that 65% of those with an eating disodered expereinced some sort of bullying.

From my own personal case of an eating disorder I was apart of this 65%. I was bullied about my weight for several years (I remember the first time I was around 8 years old) and this continued through high school. It wasn’t until my senior of high school to my transition to college did I actually have an eating disorder.

What can you do as the parent or caregiver?

  • Really monitor their social media. Asking them who they follow, what content do they like to follow, etc.
  • Talk to them in a way about nutrition that is healthy and positive (i.e. food helps you play, helps your hair growing, etc.)
  • Be honest about social media. Explaining that it is a false reality.
  • Compliment them frequently on their personality traits rather then their appearance
  • Get them involved with things and hobbies that do not include the internet.

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