Instagram Causes Eating Disorders!?

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Have you heard this proposition: Instagram causing eating disorders!?

Reading only the headline, what is your first thought?

I’ll tell you what mine was…

“Well, that is a bit ridiculous!”

I was recently at a doctor’s office and saw just that headline flash across the screen of a television in the waiting room. The words were flanked by pictures of delicious food; images sourced from Instagram. The sound was off and I was distracted by caring for my child so I couldn’t pay attention to the news.

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Still, the title stuck with me through the day and, although I was skeptical, my curiosity peaked.

Before gaining any facts, I scoffed at the report and thought to myself, “How can a claim like that be substantiated? Sure there are various components to eating disorders (and addiction in general), but placing blame on one outside source goes against all I hold true. Instagram can cause an eating disorder as much as working in the restaurant industry can cause alcoholism! Come on people, let’s have some accountability!” I was miffed.

I searched the internet later to see what all the hype was about. To my surprise, there are quite a few articles on the subject. This is a growing epidemic.

The articles are NOT alleging that eating disorders are CAUSED by Instagram, as the headline implied. Rather, in my findings, it is specified that food and body issues are AGGRAVATED by Instagram’s content.

They are saying that by sharing in the wellness communities available through social media, healthy aspirations easily slide into detrimental behaviors. What starts out as a desire to be healthy can quickly turn into bad habits. There is even a new eating disorder to meet this classification. It is call “Orthorexia Nervosa” and is defined as “an illness and obsession with eating healthily.”

😮😕🤔 (Wow! What!? Hmmm…)

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Somewhat surprisingly, research does not suggest that “liking” pictures of delicious food can drive one to a binge (although I know this to be true). Scrolling through social media at times can make me want to eat my face off!

On the contrary, researcher suggest that “over exposure to food (through looking at it or taking photos) makes you bored of the food before you’ve even began eating it, with the eating becoming secondary to the perfect filter online.”

If this is the case, perhaps I need to start a food-blog diet. 😉

Basically, Instagram provides a forum that allows people to fuel their anorexic tendencies…

The application has hooked it’s claws into the fleshy part of our thighs and is vainly trying to gnaw them off.

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It is widely reported that social media is becoming a breeding ground for disordered eating. However, Instagram is in a class of its own because its design is so visually focused.

A scroll though social media can be a knock to our self confidence, or more seriously, fuel for a mental illness. All the posts you see are from people you follow (or similar, on the explore page). Following tons of the #fitfam crew or slim food bloggers will expose you to a bombardment of extreme health messages, allowing for normalisation of behaviours which users may feel pressures to conform to.

As I read more about this phenomenon, I find myself understanding the headline that I initially chastised. I can now shake my head in agreement with some of the warnings about these “virtual” habits.

Perhaps the reason that the headline irritated me so much is because it struck a cord of legitimacy even in my own life. I am currently mid-way through my induction month of the “Whole 30” regimen. I have found great inspiration from two of my real-life friends on this journey. Yet, an even greater wealth of encouragement exists on-line.

From menu planning to sheer motivation to stick with the diet, social media has the cheering section on lock-down.

Following Instagram accounts like @whole30 and @whole30recipes, I easily gain nutritional education and great ideas for meal planning. That notwithstanding, when I look at pictures from @rebeccalouisfitness and other fitness gurus that I follow, I am given a vain jolt of incentive. Yes, I want to give up sugar and I have (had) a nasty gum chewing habit, but simply being healthy is not always reward enough. Sometimes I need extra help in slaying my habit dragons. That impetus comes on the form of itty-bitty bikinis on impossibly beautiful figures.

The motivation from these “models” is great as short-term craving busters, but when I start to compare my body (or my life, for that matter) to what I SEE in their pictures, trouble begins. The ease with which I can compare my insides (realities) to other people’s outsides (perceptions) is a common booby trap in regards to all social media. Within minutes I can see someone’s diet, workout routine, lifestyle, and body. I acknowledge that I am only getting the highlight reel of their life, yet I still can’t help but feel bad about my own deficiencies. It is obvious how teenagers or anyone with an unhealthy body image (i.e. EVERY WOMAN I KNOW) could be swayed by unrelenting accessibility of guilt. Especially when the guilt come wrapped up in such pretty packages.

And guess what… I’m not even touching the psychology associated with participating in these communities. Sculpting the perfect picture and in turn receiving “likes” creates an addictive cycle of obsession fueled by serotonin! It is sounding more and more like Instagram is a legalized drug (virtually).

Admittedly, I am one with a slightly addictive personality. I too take heed from the warnings for which I am now aware. Before I started writing this post, I had never heard of Orthorexia Nervosa… Now that I have learned more about it, I made add that to my list of qualifications. 😉 Seriously though, technology is ever expanding its grip on our conscious and subconscious lives and I am glad to be made more aware of its influences.

The most important thing is to be conscious of what you are thinking’, says Jacqueline Hurst, a hypnotherapist, life coach and specialist in emotional eating/body image issues and weight management. ‘If you’re not aware of what you’re doing, it’s very hard to change the behaviour. After going on Instagram, ask yourself how you are feeling when you look at people fitter or thinner than you. Or whether you feel good enough if you aren’t making avocado on toast every day. When you make your breakfast, do you question if you are doing it wrong? If you think it is effecting you, come off for a few days and see how you feel.’

Arguably, social media is an incubator for all sorts of disorders and yet I’ll choose to keep it as part of my diet (for now). Other than helping me to connect to the world, there are two main reasons that I appreciate the applications:

  1. I did a bit of damage to my brain functioning in the past and my memory is often flimsy. Taking pictures and sharing events helps me to hold onto precious memories.
  2. As a stay at home mom, framing pictures for social media gives purpose to the mundane.

What do you love and/or hate about social media?



Categories: My Vibe House (Where all my issues live)

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