Eating Disorders and Social Media: Navigating Triggers and Promoting Positive Self-Image

Wednesday, May 17  •  


Social media has revolutionized the way we interact with each other and consume information. However, with its countless benefits, social media also poses a significant risk for individuals struggling with eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), studies, both correlational and experimental, have found a strong association between exposure to the “thin ideal” portrayed in mass media and negative outcomes such as body dissatisfaction, internalization of unrealistic beauty standards, and disordered eating behaviors, particularly among women. With the growing prevalence of social media, individuals with eating disorders face an increased risk of exposure to triggering content and unrealistic beauty standards.

The Impact of Social Media on Eating Disorders

Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are inundated with images of perfect bodies, filtered selfies, and curated lifestyles. For individuals with eating disorders, exposure to these images can be triggering and exacerbate symptoms. Research from Fardouly et al. (2019) has shown that social media use is associated with increased body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, and poor mental health outcomes among young adults. One study, as NEDA states, found a significant association between social media use and self-objectification, with as little as 30 minutes of daily use being enough to impact one’s body image perception.

Moreover, social media has created an environment where likes, followers, and engagement are the currency of self-worth. This pressure to present a perfect image online can fuel disordered eating behaviors and contribute to the development of eating disorders. The likelihood of individuals engaging in body surveillance and disordered eating behaviors was found to be higher among social media users who received positive feedback on their appearance.

Tips for Navigating Triggers and Promoting Positive Self-Image

Despite the negative impact social media can have on individuals with eating disorders, it is possible to use these platforms in a positive and healthy way. Here are some tips for navigating triggers and promoting a positive self-image on social media:

Curate your feed

Unfollow accounts that promote unrealistic beauty standards or trigger negative thoughts about your body. Instead, follow accounts that promote body positivity, self-love, and diversity.

Limit your screen time

Set boundaries for how much time you spend on social media. Take breaks throughout the day and engage in activities that promote positive body image and self-care.

Connect with supportive communities

Join online communities that promote recovery, positive self-image, and support for individuals with eating disorders.

Practice self-compassion

Remember that recovery is a journey, and it’s okay to have bad days. Be kind to yourself, practice self-compassion, and reach out for help when you need it.

Social media can be a double-edged sword for individuals with eating disorders. On one hand, it can provide a platform for recovery, support, and connection. On the other hand, it can exacerbate symptoms and trigger negative thoughts and behaviors. By curating your feed, limiting screen time, connecting with supportive communities, and practicing self-compassion, you can navigate triggers and promote a positive self-image on social media. Remember, recovery is possible, and you are not alone.