Tips for navigating social media with eating disorders

BY: Tosha Woods Smith, PhD

DATE: February 15, 2017

In an increasingly connected world, it seems that everyone has multiple social media profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Kik – the list goes on. For those struggling with eating disorders, social media can be challenging. Here at Exchanges, we’ve talked before about how social media use can negatively influence body satisfaction. Indeed, research has demonstrated a correlation between social media consumption and eating disorder thoughts and behaviors – things like body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and comparisons with peers.

To make matters more challenging, in the past few years, social media become more visual. Image-focused platforms like Instagram and Tumblr have exploded in popularity, and even Facebook has re-engineered its newsfeed to be more visual. All of this image-centric media makes it easier for users to quickly consume many images – most of them perfectly crafted – without paying much attention to the context or story behind them.

While many people are reluctant to give up social media entirely, it is wise for those with eating disorders or susceptibility to body dissatisfaction to take extra good care of themselves by being mindful of their social media consumption and its effects on their mood and behavior.

For healthy social media consumption, we recommend the following tips:

Remove social media apps from your phone. Many of us carry our phones with us all the time. Keeping social media apps on your phone means that several social media networks are accessible 24/7. This makes it easier for social media consumption to be mindless and compulsive rather than mindful and intentional. Try accessing social media networks on a different platform other than your phone for one week and notice how it affects you. Spend time looking at your surroundings rather than looking at your phone screen.

Find body positive accounts to follow. A previous post here on Exchanges includes some great suggestions of body positive organizations and spaces to follow online.

Set a timer. Some research indicates that longer amounts of time on a platform in a single sitting might intensify body dissatisfaction. Set a timer on your phone or online (there are several free online timers) and allow yourself just 10 to 15 minutes at a time for browsing social media.

Follow accounts that are completely unrelated to body image.  When you choose who and what to follow on social media, you are essentially choosing the things that receive your attention when you’re online. We recommend finding and following a few social media accounts that are completely unrelated to fashion or fitness or body image. There are plenty of social media pages about hobbies like home décor, gardening, political causes, inspirational quotes, etc. You are more than how your body looks – let your social media followership reflect that!

Consider taking a break (even if it’s temporary). Even if you believe social media is only ever a positive force in your life, it never hurts to take a break every now and again. Consider this:  humans lived for thousands of years without social media, and we often take breaks from the good and necessary things in our lives like work and exercise. For me, Facebook is my primary social media network. A few times each year, I periodically ask my partner to change my Facebook password to something that only he knows. This is a nice way to enforce a brief break, and to give me some accountability to keep my browsing brief during the few times that I ask him to log me into my account during that time.

Again, many of us are reluctant to give up social media entirely, which is entirely understandable. Since so many of us use social media to connect with friends, follow the news, stay informed about causes that are important to us, and nourish our interests, it can be daunting to think about pulling the plug for good. The good news is that we can take good care of ourselves online, by being mindful and intentional with our social media consumption using a few of these tips.