Social media and you loved one's recovery - Eating Disorders Victoria
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Caring for someone with an eating disorder can be an isolating and at times overwhelming journey, and we here at EDV are committed to supporting you on this journey. The content in this article is written by carers who have lived your journey, and survived! To subscribe to receive a monthly newsletter for Carers, please see here.

Social media and you loved one's recovery

In this newsletter, we’re talking about a topic that comes up frequently for carers – social media. We acknowledge that social media has many benefits. It helps create online communities with others and build social networks.  These networks can be very beneficial and provide positive mental health supports, especially for those who experience exclusion or have disabilities, chronic illness or live remotely. We recognise that not all social media content is harmful.

We also know that eating disorders are caused by a complex set of factors and that social media can have an impact within this (but is not the cause). A study by NEDC, 2021, identified social media as one of the common external contributors to body dissatisfaction.

What is the problem?

Studies have observed links between high levels of social media use and depression or anxiety symptoms as well as poor sleep quality.

Social media generally tends to show the highlights of people’s lives and as such our loved ones, who are already suffering with poor body image, perfectionism or low self-worth as part of their eating disorder, tend to judge their inside self from someone else’s outside image.

A 2022 study showed that TikTok hosts an eating disorder community with over 13.2 billion views. TikTok has also been shown to push harmful content into users feeds and actually bombard teens with body image and mental health content every 39 seconds (Centre for Countering Digital Hate, “Deadly by Design”, 2022)

So how can we manage social media time?

Every family will differ in their approach to boundaries with their loved one. You know your loved one best! As it stands today, social media is often how people connect with their friends. A blanket ban on social media to prevent the negative elements of social media also excludes the good elements, including the opportunity to remain connected to their peers. This may be especially important if they are not currently well enough to attend school or work.

However, research does show that social media use is associated with increased body dissatisfaction. This may occur when a teen is viewing and comparing themselves to social media images and reading the appearance related comments and feeling like they want to achieve the “ideal” images presented.

Here are some of our top tips for navigating social media engagement
  • Be aware. Know what platforms/hashtags your loved one uses and who they are following.
  • If age appropriate, regularly viewwhat social media sites are being used.
  • Open communication. Have the conversation with your loved one. Ask them what they feel they are getting from their social media engagement. Do they feel better or worse about themselves after engaging in certain feeds. Respectfully, let them know what you notice after they’ve spent time on social media.
  • Educate each other!Notice how you use social media yourself. Is there some content that affects you negatively that you could disengage from thereby modelling this for your loved one?
  • Encourage your love one to be a change agent& buck the trend. Maybe it is just one app or stream to start with.
  • Discuss with your loved ones how some images arefiltered, edited and promote an unrealistic ideal that cannot be achieved in real life
  • Be cybersmart (learn more from the eSafety Commissioner)
 Some strategies to support more positive social media use
  • If age appropriate, limit the time they spend on social media
  • Get them to use the ‘hidden words’ feature, where they can choose words and phrases to edit out of their comments.
  • Encourage “real life” contact and activities
  • Have a whole family challenge to go without social media for a month/week/day. See how everyone copes!
  • Have a family rule with all devices left on the kitchen bench at night, rather than in their bedrooms
  • Encourage your loved one to disengage with sites or unfollow people that make them feel worse about themselves or trigger negative body image thoughts and feelings. Perhaps have a family challenge where everyone unfollows an unhelpful site!
  • Encourage your loved one to follow positive body imagesites or good news sites so that their feed is dotted with more of these and less of the negativity.
Some sites to follow (taking care to use the exact text as harmful sites can insert a symbol or letter to “look” like the original site)

@frankiemagazine (no diets, no body shaming, no fashion advertisements)

@harnaamkaur (body shaming, cyber bullying, LGBTQIA issues)

@thegirl_withthecurlyhair (ASD coping)

@i_weigh (radical inclusivity)

@arod_dietitian (male ED survivor and dietitian)

@colleenwerner (a +size ballerina and counsellor) (helpful recovery affirmations)

@thehappynewspaper (only good news!)

@ipandachannel (because yes – watching pandas is fun!)

It can be difficult to disconnect completely from social media, even for a short time. Therefore, it is important to have conversations and critically review your loved ones exposure to it and the content that may be having a harmful influence on their recovery. This is a protective boundary, not a punitive one. Some sites promote unhealthy thinking and eating disorder behaviours so as support people we need to ensure we are protecting our vulnerable loved one.

Looking for further guidance?

Find out how EDV can help

We have a range of services that provide practical and understanding support to Victorian parents, care givers, other loved ones and support people.

Learn more
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