Can Social Media Exacerbate Eating Disorders?

Can Social Media Exacerbate Eating Disorders?

Pro-eating disorder groups promote unhealthy mindsets and share outrageously thin pictures

Social media is an important part of modern culture. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus are all sites where people of all backgrounds connect over shared histories or interests. It’s no surprise that most social media websites also have eating disorder groups. Whether through social pressure or outright pro-eating disorder groups, these sites can exacerbate and encourage dangerous eating disorders.

Pro-Anorexia and Pro-Bulimia Groups

While it may seem unbelievable, there are groups of people who support each other’s eating disorders and other unhealthy behaviors. These pro-anorexia groups (also known as pro-ana groups) began with the very first discussion boards and chat rooms in internet history. Formerly known as .alt or alternative groups, these groups use to be much more secretive than they are today.

Pro-eating disorder groups occur when unhealthy mindsets join force and share outrageously thin pictures, often depicting unhealthy and ill women as examples of ideal beauty. These groups may also impact men with emphasis on muscles, brawn and even steroid use to create a perfect body. Groups often share ideas for starving, purging or over-exercising. In some cases, these group suggestions encourage the use of stimulant drugs (amphetamine abuse) or illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin to help create extreme weight loss. Other groups may give tips on how to vomit or purge, often through the use of laxative abuse or other substance abuse.

The biggest problem with these eating disorder internet groups is that they are easily accessible, and they create a community that allows the person with disordered eating to continue the behavior and normalize their extreme eating issues. Families are often baffled when loved ones continually come up with new ideas to engage in dangerous behavior, behaviors and ideas that are actually generated in these private online eating disorder groups.

Pro-eating disordered groups are also on Instagram. Constant pictures of emaciated figures and drastically photoshopped bodies motivate disordered eating behaviors on any cell phone device. With the increased use of smartphones, people are never far from this kind of reinforcement. If a person with an eating disorder feels tempted to eat a normal amount of calories or make a healthy decision, a very unhealthy group of supporters is just a click away to keep the mental health crisis of anorexia or bulimia alive.

The Impact of Peer Pressure and Social Conformity

Everyone wants to fit in. We all want to be a beautiful and vibrant member of society. We all want to feel attractive and have our clothes fit us well. The problem is most of our media offers drastically photoshopped and unhealthy women and men as examples of the perfect body. Social media offers a way for people to show their very best qualities, and most of us believe the lovely stories we see on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be absolute truth. But the real truth is that happiness lies in accepting yourself and being comfortable in your own skin.

If you or someone close to you is struggling with an eating disorder or a substance abuse issue, we can help. Please call our 24-hour helpline to speak with someone who cares and can help you find treatment, counseling, family support, intervention services and more.