I Had No Idea…

I had no idea… That social media could contribute to eating disorders.

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Self-confidence doesn’t come easily. Understatement of the year. But we all have those days when we feel good about ourselves. We feel strong, accomplished… just plain happy.

And then the inevitable happens. We see something, hear something, think about something that steals our joy. We begin to compare ourselves to others. You see how others are eating, exercising, dressing. And you begin to think, “Why can’t I be like that?” You feel more pressure to act a certain way or eat a certain way. But nobody’s life is how it seems online.

Sure, it’s easy to think that. But how often do we actually act like that?

Thank you for not talking about your diet.

Do we really spend all our time on the elliptical? Do we really eat nothing but chicken and protein powder? Of course not. But we don’t show every facet of our lives online. We pick and choose the best. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make us feel “the best.” In fact, it makes us feel worse. Suddenly, our best isn’t good enough. We have to one-up others and ourselves every time, playing a comparison game that never ends. Social media makes us present constructed versions of ourselves. Why would I post a picture of my late-night snack on chocolate when I could show a picture with my salad from dinner #cleaneating? Why would I upload a picture of myself lounging on the couch in wrinkled clothes on a Friday night, when I could just as easily post a sweaty image taken after my workout yesterday?

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A study from Florida State University reported that college women who looked through Facebook for only 20 minutes indicated increased body dissatisfaction. The girls also took a test to assess their disordered eating habits. Facebook has over 1 million users, yet users have noted increased self-consciousness.

In an article in Huffington post, associate director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt—Steven Crawford—told TechNewsDaily, “People are now constantly aware of their appearance, thanks to Facebook….Facebook is an influential factor in developing severe eating disorders.”

Social media doesn’t directly contribute to eating disorders, and it isn’t the only factor. Viewing one picture of your friend’s protein smoothie isn’t going to instantly lead to anorexia or bulimia. But, over time, if you constantly are inundated by everyone’s “perfect” lives, how long does it take for these messages to start influencing your actions?

To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others.

Eating disorders are a combination of biological, mental, and social influences. But social media is drastically increasing the amount of pressure we feel. It makes comparison to others that much easier. Makes links to the latest diets or exercise fads that much more accessible. Makes those images of #thighgaps or #thinspo that much closer to our fingertips.

We can find a community online that praises when we lose 10lbs or resist a piece of chocolate pie that we might not otherwise have access to. That could be one reason why participants in this study noted their eating disorder had become part of their identity, helping “feel more confident” and protected “from the outside world.”

Social media is addictive. It’s a virus.

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If you need to, stop looking at those sites. Take a hiatus from social media: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr… whatever it is that triggers you. Does that blogger on Tumblr fill your feed with pro-anorexia tips? Does that site on Instagram publish nothing but gym workouts that make yours feel inadequate? Just as viewing these triggers is as easy as clicking a “follow” or “like” button, it’s just as easy to unclick.

Old ways won't open new doors.

Stop the comparison, and you might just be one step closer to stopping disordered eating. For yourself, and maybe for others as well. I’m not going to lie. It’s hard. We can’t exactly become hermits from social media. (Well, you can, but good luck.) However, by celebrating what we can do—instead of what we eat or what our bodies look like—we can lessen the impact of social media on eating disorders. We can become free. Thoughts on eating disorders and social media? Do you find anything triggering on your own Twitter feeds or Facebook pages?

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