Social Media and Eating Disorders ~ by Gemma Bonner
Eating disorders affect up to 24 million people of all ages and gender in the US. They have the highest mortality rate of any mental condition, making greater awareness, early diagnosis and receiving treatment, vital. The most commonly known eating disorders include anorexia nervosa (which involves extreme calorie counting/starvation),bulimia nervosa (involving alternating episodes of bingeing and purging), though in the last few years, additional disorders have been identified, including binge eating disorder (in which bingeing is not necessarily followed by purging) and EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified, in which sufferers may display some, but not all, of the characteristic behaviors associated with another eating disorder).
There are many causes for eating disorders; recent has shown that they can include problematic family relationships, psychological issues and genetics. The media and the unrealistic body images they portray used to be blamed for the sharp rise in eating disorders in the 1970s and 1980s though researchers have since discovered that the causes of disorders are far more complex and difficult to identify. Moreover, each person with an eating disorder is a world unto his own, since a variety of factors can work together to cause or exacerbate the problem.
The media may not be solely to blame, yet pressure to conform to specific body types does cause its share of harm. The theme of the recently held 2015 International Conference for Eating Disorders was ‘Communication’, since studies have shown that Facebook use is linked to strong body dissatisfaction. There are many reasons why, despite the fact that social media do not cause eating disorders per se, they can exacerbate symptoms or even trigger a relapse. For one, social media leads to self-objectification and inevitable comparison. The media sexually objectifies women, note researchers of an important study on social media use and body image in women, because it focuses on looks instead of personality or accomplishments/ abilities. Women can learn to view their body as an object to be observed; indeed, research has shown that exposure to the thin ideal leads to greater self objectification in young women. This can lead to body shame and anxiety, which in turn can spur on depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders.
Social media sites like Facebook can make women feel objectified in very specific ways. Facebook is very image-dependent, with the site boasting an arsenal of 250 billion images in 2013 alone. Facebook is appearance-focused, owing to the tendency of users to upload photos, and receive Likes and comments regarding their appearance. Studies have shown that the more time one spent on Facebook, the stronger the tendency to objectify oneself. Moreover, the site not only exposes users to images of celebrities, but also to images of their friends and colleagues, which can promote even deeper degrees of comparison, since friends tend to have more ‘attainable’ body images than celebrities. Studies have also pointed to the tendency of Facebook users to compare images of themselves in the present and the past, which also contributes to self-objectification. Although most studies have focused on women, body objectification is also suffered by men, with studies showing that many males are underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, because of the false perception that eating disorders are ‘a female issue’.
The relationship between self objectification and a greater risk of eating disorders has been accepted by specialists in the field. This is an important step into understanding the nature of eating disorders, since it shows that how we feel about ourselves, our own feelings of inadequacy, shame, guilt and self blame, can become a block to full recovery. One of the top therapies used to treat eating disorders is Maudsley Therapy, which involves the whole family working together to support the person recovering. The first step in Maudsley lies in regaining lost weight. Afterwards, as the person gains more independence over what they eat, the key is to help them make the right choices. Yoga, mindfulness meditation and EFTapping are important complementary therapies which can help lower stress levels (thereby reducing the chances of relapse) and unblock powerful sentiments like anger, fear and resentment, which can impact those recovering on a physiological and psychological level. Because EFTapping helps us discover what body and mind need, it is an excellent way for those with eating disorders to learn the powerful, positive effect that good food can have on their lives.
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