By CASEY N. TALLENT
What you are seeing and reading on social media may be impacting you in ways you never expected.
Social media usage is incredibly common across the world. In 2019, it is estimated that over 3 billion people will use social media. Time spent on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other forums can certainly help us stay connected with friends and family, but at what cost? Although it may seem harmless to scroll through your social media feeds throughout your day, what you are seeing and reading may be impacting you in ways you never expected.
The impacts of media on body image have long been researched and known to have negative impacts on both men and women. Many researchers have looked into the impacts of social media usage on body image. They have found time spent scrolling through your feeds is likely taking a toll on your body image and potentially contributing to the development of eating disorders.
Saunders and Eaton (2018) examined the impacts of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat usage on body surveillance and disordered eating outcomes. Their research concluded Snapchat and Instagram users with negative social media experiences had a greater tendency to engage in comparisons with idealized individuals and a greater tendency to compare their own bodies with others, which has also been shown to predict disordered eating tendencies. Regardless of the platform used most frequently, the links between body comparison with idealized individuals, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating were robust.
This means that even as we are mindlessly scrolling through our social media, seeing idealized body images in our social media feeds is having an impact on us whether we realize it or not.
Another study conducted by Turner and Lefevre (2016), found that high Instagram usage was associated with a greater tendency toward orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia nervosa was coined in 1998 and means an obsession with healthy eating. Those with orthorexia nervosa gradually become more and more fixated on “healthy eating” and more and more restrictive in their eating, resulting in malnutrition and a slew of serious medical complications. The “healthy eating” community on Instagram has a high prevalence rate of orthorexia symptoms, which presents risks for the psychological and physical well-being of users exposed to the information.
Is the answer to stop using social media altogether? Perhaps for some this may be the answer, but for others there are many options to make our social media work for us instead of against us. Unfiltered social media use poses a threat to our relationships with our bodies and food, but fortunately, we know that media literacy helps to mitigate the impacts.
Here are seven tips to mitigate the negative impacts of social media.
- Be the curator of your own social media gallery.
Create a social environment that makes you feel good. Be intentional about who you follow and what your feed looks like. If cute cat or puppy dog pics make you smile, make sure your feed is filled with them. Follow individuals or organizations who share uplifting quotes that make you feel good about yourself.
- Unfollow people and pages that make you feel bad about yourself.
Researchers have determined that following individuals who represent idealized body types or focus on “healthy eating” are more likely to make us feel bad about ourselves. Choose your own well-being and unfollow these people and organizations.
- Think about the funding behind the individuals you are following.
Even micro-influencers are typically paid for their social media contributions, so messages are being dictated by companies who are benefiting from the impacts of their messages (e.g., if you feel poorly about yourself, you’re more likely to spend more money on diet products, makeup products and clothing to help you feel better about yourself).
- Check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling.
Be intentional to see how you’re feeling after scrolling through your social media. Has your outlook or overall mood changed? Are you feeling depressed or less energetic? Enlist support from friends or family to share their observations of the impact on you as well.
- Limit your social media usage.
As hard as it may be, try to step away from your social media to be more present in your daily life. Experts estimate that people spend an average of seven hours of screen time daily and recommend limiting usage to only two hours per day. There are often more benefits in engaging in the social relationships and social opportunities in your non-digital life. Take some time to engage in things that are important to you that lift you up and make you feel great about yourself.
- Take social media vacations.
Although this may seem impossible to many, I suggest taking a social media sabbath. Choose one day out of the week to refrain from your social media. I recommend starting with a Saturday and fill your day with relaxation and life-enhancing activities (e.g., engage with friends and family, spend some time in nature, be a tourist in your own community). Once you feel comfortable with one day, try taking longer vacations from your social media accounts. Your connections will still be there when you return!
- Take a media literacy course.
The National Eating Disorders Association offers a Social Media Literacy Toolkit on www.nationaleatingdisorders.org, which can be downloaded for free. There are also other opportunities for social media literacy training available. Take some time to focus on being an informed consumer of social media.
Taking some time to curate your social media feed and think about the impacts your feed is having on you can be incredibly beneficial to your self-esteem, body image and relationship with food. Next time you start scrolling, take these tips into consideration and make some changes to your accounts — your well-being, both psychological and physical, is worth it!
Casey N. Tallent is the national collegiate outreach director for Eating Recovery Center and Insight Behavioral Health. In her role, Tallent focuses on outreach to schools, colleges and universities. She has conducted trainings for universities and schools across the nation on improving eating disorders treatment services on campus. She has also helped many colleges and school districts establish eating disorders treatment teams, guidelines and response plans. Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.