Hungry for Likes and Shares: How Excessive Social Media Use May Lead to Eating Disorders

eating disorder
Undeniably, people’s lives became more interesting and enjoyable when social networking sites (SNS) came along. Sites like Facebook and Twitter, for instance, made it easier for people to connect with their friends and family members and share their experiences. Although there might not be anything inherently wrong with using social media, too much of a good thing is still, well, too much. For instance, a study claims that excessive use of social media can lead to eating disorders and issues with body image.

SNS and Eating Disorders

A research team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine conducted a study to determine whether social media played a role in the development of eating disorders. Dr. Brian A. Primack, senior author of the study, and his colleagues distributed questionnaires to 1,765 adults, aged 19 to 32.

The first questionnaire asked about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time of the study, namely Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, Snapchat, Instagram, Google Plus, and YouTube. The second questionnaire focused on identifying the participants’ risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The results revealed that participants who spent the most time logged on to social media were 2.2 times more likely to develop eating disorders and body image issues. Furthermore, participants who frequently checked their social media feeds on a weekly basis were 2.6 times more at risk. The study concluded that there was a consistent and strong association between SNS usage and eating disorders.

What Social Media is Doing to Address Eating Disorders

On the flip side, not all of social media contributes to the subtle push towards negative body image. There are, in fact, some social media networks that have taken note of the issue and have come up with ways to raise awareness and combat it. Pinterest, for instance, started reviewing and banning terms like “thinspiration,” which often directs users to pro-anorexia groups or accounts. Instagram, another social media site, banned certain hashtags and established new guidelines for self-harm images and accounts. Furthermore, Facebook has great pages that promote encouragement and recovery from eating disorders.

Managing Social Media Use

In an effort to promote a healthy use of social media among individuals, these tips can help manage SNS usage and, possibly, lessen the risk of developing negative body image and eating disorders.

Limit social media use

While social media does offer a supportive community, it still cannot beat real-world connections. Establish and nurture relationships with colleagues, loved ones, and friends. The support these people provide can help people overcome their issues, especially when combined with the professional treatment of these eating disorders.

Disable push notifications

It can be tempting not to find out what’s going on in the social media world when your phone keeps buzzing all day long. Instead of hitting the off switch on your phone and completely disconnecting from everything, go the settings portion of the social media app and disable push notifications. It’s a good way to train your mind into thinking that there’s nothing interesting going on in your social media feeds. You’ll be able to focus more on what’s going on in your immediate surroundings this way.

Get an accountability partner

Curbing social media use may be difficult to do alone. Thus, if you need help, have a trusted friend or loved one keep you accountable on your commitment.

The adage “everything in moderation” applies even to social media use. Thus, spending more time with actual people and less time on social media can really help lower the risk of developing eating disorders as well as manifesting unhealthy body image.