Social media and Eating Disorders- does it have a connection?

Eating disorder describes conditions in which individuals engage in disordered eating. Eating disorders are not simply poor eating habits but are recognized mental health disorders in which emotional issues manifest in harmful eating habits. Eating problems in childhood and adolescence are very common.

It usually starts to be a problem in teenage years. It is not known for certain what causes them, but many factors could play a part such as Social pressure, particularly caused by the social media idealizing being thin, losing weight can make us feel good and in control, others include puberty, family problems, trauma, bullying, depression and low self-esteem.

The messages people get from society about how they should look, how much they should weigh especially western culture (particularly, the social media) promotes extreme thinness as the epitome of body perfection, success and happiness. Bullying others when they fail to be perfect since bullying others over the internet is easier due to anonymity so people do it without feeling guilty without worrying about the consequences. This leads people to become dissatisfied with their own bodies, their self-esteem suffers and they turn to dieting as they feel the pressure to be thin.

Our generation has become so obsessed with taking picture perfect selfies, having the perfect body and weight just like they see on the internet and thinking a person can only be happy if they have large number of followers and likes on social media that they fail to realize that social media only shows the good side of a person’s life and nobody knows what goes on the inside.

A lot of effort goes into becoming like those people or what we call “influencers” and not everything we see or hear on the internet is the truth and as the saying goes “comparison kills the joy” we see them and get disappointed with what we have when we compare ourselves to them. A lot of people start taking shortcuts just achieve those unrealistic goals like excessive dieting or starving and in turn ruining their overall health. Sometimes it leads into developing an eating disorder.

Eating disorders can develop from the desperation to live up to unrealistic cultural expectations, strained relationships within the family, other pressures arising from school or in the work place. Some people eat to curb their loneliness, anxieties and sometimes even to pass the time. A lot of people with eating disorders do not have other effective coping strategies, so, they turn to their eating disorder to help them cope and without even realizing it, many of these individuals actually end up harming their health and the quality of their lives.

The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

There are a lot of causes of eating disorders including stress from a variety of external factors such as some sort of crisis or disappointment to the individual. The loss of a loved one or life changes, lack of communication as people who are unable to communicate clearly and effectively often prefer to hold in their emotions, sometimes described as “swallowing” their emotions, many individuals choose to remain silent but express their feelings and frustrations in other ways, including through abnormal eating disorders.

Signs of Eating Disorders vary, but here are some of the signs and symptoms to look out for an eating disorder are only eating certain types of food, using the bathroom immediately after eating, making excuses not to eat at meal times, obsession with body weight/being overweight.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which an individual becomes so afraid of gaining weight and/or having body fat that they severely limit the amount of food that they eat or they exercise excessively in an attempt to burn off the calories that they do eat so that they will not gain any extra weight. Self-induced vomiting, the misuse of diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives is often found in them.

There are many health risks of Anorexia such as if weight becomes dangerously low, there is the risk of vital organs shutting down and anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate. Others include malnutrition and dehydration, anemia, amenorrhea.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa, which is more commonly known as bulimia, is an eating disorder marked by binges and then purges. During a binge a bulimic will eat a great amount of food in one sitting, then purge by either inducing vomiting or taking a laxative or diuretic to expel the food. For bulimics, bingeing and purging becomes a cycle but they may never lose or gain enough weight to make it obvious that they have an eating disorder.

Damage to the digestive tract, mouth, teeth, and salivary glands is common among bulimics and the constant bingeing and purging mean that bulimics rarely keep in enough vitamins and minerals to remain healthy. Others include changes in body chemistry, erosion of tooth enamel due to vomiting and, in extreme cases, stomach rupture and death.

People suffering with bulimia are often of a normal weight so it may go undetected for many years, with those close to them often having no idea they have the disease or that their health is suffering.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is a common eating disorder in which an individual regularly consumes a large amount of food in one sitting, or “grazes” constantly even when they are not hungry or become physically uncomfortable from consuming so much food.

Binge eaters do not purge after over-eating, nor do they routinely exercise excessively in an attempt to burn off the calories.

Binge eating disorder can occur in individuals of any gender, race, age and because binge eaters often become overweight or clinically obese, they put themselves at risk for a wide variety of health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease, kidney disease, fertility problems, high cholesterol, and some types of cancer.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

The type of eating disorder treatment that is most appropriate will depend on the severity and type of eating disorder and the length of time it has continued, as well as, the patient’s individual preferences about the type of treatment they would like.

Getting professional help is a good idea. Various therapies are available, including psychotherapy, family counselling, group therapy, and self-help groups, in which patients can explore their issues with food and learn to develop healthy eating habits. They might suffer relapses once eating disorder treatment has begun, but early treatment makes a far greater chance of recovering successfully.

Coping with Stress

Developing efficient coping skills may prevent the development of an eating disorder. Some of the simple coping skills include:

-Accepting that life brings disappointments

-Avoiding stressful situations. If reading fashion magazines makes people feel bad about themselves, then, they should stop looking at them and focus on another activity instead.

-Scheduling time for hobbies that are enjoyable and relaxing.

-Building a support system of friends and family who support their hopes and dreams, and accept them for who they are.

Family and friends can help individuals stay strong and prevent an eating disorder by praising an individual’s talents and strengths, listening to and discussing an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and fears, supporting an individual’s hopes and dreams, reminding an individual that a healthy body, not necessarily a slim body, is most important, barring unrealistic and unhealthy diets and excessive exercise regimes.

Overuse of social media can become an addiction which might lead to anxieties, damage to eyesight after staring at the screen for long periods of time, unhealthy sleep patterns leading to insomnia and other health problems so we should always keep a check on the content and the amount of our usage of social media. If it goes out of hand and you feel like its impacting you negatively you can always quit it, since you are in control of what should be a part of your life, take a social media detox. And always know that in whatever form and whenever you need help it is always available.