You don’t need us to tell you that having an eating disorder can be an isolating experience. You may be turning to social media to search for connection, inspiration or just a way to spend time! Social media has always had its upsides and drawbacks for any user, but let’s have a look at how social media is being used specifically in the ED recovery community.
Over the years, journaling has become a digital process and people share their lives through Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Tumblr amongst others. Users can target a certain audience with their story, and curate the narrative through the images and language that they use.
Documenting the struggles of living with and recovering from an eating disorder can be incredibly cathartic. As a form of self-expression, sharing one’s journey can also help to push mental health issues and disability into conversations, bringing it out of the shadows and reducing stigma. There are many online personalities that document recovery, a journey to wellness and exploration of body positivity in a candid yet hopeful and motivating way. Finding someone else online who is facing similar issues as you can be comforting, help you to feel less isolated and bring a sense of camaraderie to your journey.
As with all things social media related, there can also be a harmful side to unmoderated online communities.
Recovery accounts are something that are all over social media, particularly Instagram. People document their recovery journey, using hashtags that draw in a large audience, but their messaging might be hiding the reality of where they are in their wellness journey. We might see these individuals posting photos of every meal they have, doing the “what I eat in a day” trend or taking selfies with their snacks. Whilst this might be very well intentioned, there is the risk that whilst these accounts may appear like someone has freedom when it comes to food, it can often be a cover for someone still struggling with food obsession and a strong identity as someone with an eating disorder.
The “What I eat in a day” trend can be particularly challenging to navigate. Broadcasting your recovery meal plan can unintentionally influence what others think they need to be consuming more or less of in their own journey. The competitive nature of eating disorders, along with the common characteristic of perfectionism, can mean that constantly seeing what others are consuming may impact how you nourish yourself or seek to make everything you consume “Instagram worthy.” When we obsess over food in any capacity, this may be a sign that the ED is not quite as gone as you had hoped.
Before and after pictures are another common feature on recovery accounts. Whilst these can be a way of visually documenting the change that has occurred for someone, it can also reinforce the idea that eating disorders have a “look”, or that you are not worthy of recovery until you “look” like a before picture. It is an incredibly complex issue, trying to balance everyone’s right to share their recovery journey, but also being mindful that eating disorders are not all the same and that a picture doesn’t capture the internal emotional landscape that is at the core of eating disorder recovery. Recovery is the culmination of many things, and physical changes are just one aspect. An aspect that is not universally experienced by all who are on their recovery journey.
Seeking validation is a fundamental part of social media. Whilst we share our lives for many reasons, validation is something most people seek at some point in their social media use. This is still the same when considering recovery accounts. It is very common to never feel ‘sick enough’ to warrant support or treatment, but social media can be a place where dozens flock to your comments, validating your distress and hardship. We all deserve to have our experience validated but seeking it from social media can amplify the ED identity and encourage you to only share your experiences online and not with your treatment team, as well inhibit your exploration of an identity outside of the illness. When we get validation, it is positive reinforcement to do something again, so of course we repeat and repeat!
Another complexity of social media is the accessibility of misinformation. This can come in the form of nutrition advice, natural remedies, or simply by accident through anecdotes! Whilst there is nothing wrong with exploring the information and advice put out by others, remember to clarify what this person’s qualifications on the topic are and ask yourself, why are they interested in this? Does it benefit them in some way? There are plenty of amazing eating disorder professionals now on social media, so sift through and find the people whose values align with yours, not the values of your ED!
Social media is a powerful tool when used appropriately, and when we engage in critical thinking to make sure those whom we follow are an acceptable influence on us. Here are a couple of tips to help you figure out what’s helpful and what’s harmful on your feed:
- Before posting, asking yourself “What is my reason for posting this?” be guided by your answer.
- When feeling influenced by someone else’s posts, think critically about how it is influencing you and whether it is helpful.
- Ask yourself, “Who will be seeing my posts?” and “How do I want my audience to feel after seeing my posts?”
- If you follow someone whose post’s elicit a negative, jealous or triggering response, unfollow them! If they are a friend or family member that you don’t feel comfortable unfollowing, then the mute option is always handy!
- Some helpful phrases to look for when looking for accounts to follow are: HAES/Health At Every Size, Non-Diet, Anti-diet, Body diversity & Body inclusive.
- When looking for appropriate wellness and recovery accounts to follow, head to the EDV Instagram and check out who we follow! It is always a good place to start!