What role and influence does social media have on eating disorders?

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Overview

Eating disorders are one of the most dangerous psychological disorders, with over 10,000 deaths in the United States a year. They’re extremely serious both mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all different genders, ages, races, religions, body shapes, and weights. While impacting your body’s ability to get appropriate nutrition, the majority of eating disorders surround the idea of eating in a manner where there is an attempt to alter your body size, weight, or shape. Eating disorders frequently develop in the teen or adolescent years; however, it is still possible to develop one at any stage of your life. Some of the most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Anorexia involves the strong desire to achieve or maintain a certain body weight, while people with Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa frequently feel that they lose control over what they eat. While the cause of eating disorders is unknown, there are different factors affecting the rise of an ED. All of the biological, cognitive, and sociocultural factors play into where this illness begins. As I explain further in detail later, social media has been proven to be one of the sociocultural factors affecting the cause of an eating disorder. As my research developed, I learned more about the dangers of both social media and eating disorders. So, continue reading to find out how they’re connected! 

The Dangers of an Eating Disorder 

Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening. When someone is consuming too few calories, particularly for an extended period of time, they can do serious, permanent damage to their bodies. When you aren’t getting enough nutrients, your body must break down its own tissue for energy. Malnutrition can have very serious consequences such as slowed-down heart rate, immune system failure, anemia, possible kidney failure, and more. Your cardiovascular system suffers immensely because purging can cause a sufficient amount of electrolytes, a lowered ability for the body to conserve energy, and a reduced pulse. The gastrointestinal system can experience side effects such as severe stomach pain, vomiting, blood sugar fluctuations, infections, blocked intestines, a possible ruptured stomach, and more. While I only named a few, there is an extensive list of eating disorder side effects and all with possibly life-threatening situations.

Take my short quiz testing your knowledge!

https://forms.gle/1T3TdEyZErcJrYdE7

So, how does social media play into this?

With an average of 7.5 hours a day on social media, according to NEDA, National Eating Disorder Association, teens have been spending more time than ever on social media. And according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 75% of kids from ages 13-17 are active on social media. NEDA states that there is a direct correlation between exposure to the thin ideal to body dissatisfaction. A thin ideal has been internalized specifically among women. Of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of ideal body shape, which is only getting worse with the frequent rise of social media. And 47% of elementary school girls say that the pictures inspire them to lose weight (Martin, 2010). Social media is clearly an impactful part of many people’s lives so it’s extremely important to become aware of the possible outcomes and consequences. The stigmatization around eating disorders and body positivity awareness has only made this problem worse.


I know, trying to get people to leave social media is near impossible, particularly with my targeted audience being teenagers on social media. However, with the right education and awareness, we can minimize the negative impact social media has on its users. On social media, I want there to be more body positivity shown. More importantly, I would love for the consumers of sites like Instagram to understand the dangers and risks of eating disorders. Everyone’s body is different and that is a message I hope to spread as far as I can. Intended for my community and anyone else who would come across it, I would love to create a social media account advocating for body positivity. Social media is filled with toxic, harmful content and I feel that creating a positive space would benefit not only myself but many others. As my research findings have shown, the more time you spend on social media, the more harmful it is for your self-esteem. If any of the content people are seeing is changed, possibly social media wouldn’t be as harmful as it is to the mind.

How can you help? 

Please answer these questions in the comments below: 

  • How can you work to go against the ideal body image created on social media? 
  • Can you help people around you remain healthy? How? 
  • How can you educate others around you about the dangers of eating disorders?

Here are my citations. Thanks for interacting! https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WEhSLNQJgu7RzLrUtRRkeQUhvYuA3pbitbZjdIqCj7A/edit?usp=sharing

15 Comments

15 comments

  1. Maria Micaela_257

    Hi Cristina! Really good job. I think this is something that isn’t talked about as much today and it should because it is a serious problem in today’s society.

    1. Cristina_213

      I agree, thanks so much for your comment!

  2. Layla

    Hey Cristina! Your project is really well done, and this is definitely an important issue that needs to be talked about more. To answer some of your questions, I think one of the best ways to promote body positivity on social media is just to be real. Being able to acknowledge that not everything you see on the internet isn’t real can be hard, but it’s so important. I think although helping the people around you stay healthy is not always easy, just being there for support can go a long way. As you mentioned, social media has a big influence, so I think that using social media to spread positive messages and information as well can be very influential!
    Again, awesome project!
    -Layla

    1. Cristina_213

      Hey Layla! I totally agree, I think being honest and real is one of the best ways to break this pattern. As you said, social media should be used to send positive messages rather than harmful, negative comments. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Erika P

    Hi Cristina! This is such a cool and informative site! I was wondering what you think about the impact social media has on eating disorder on the opposite side of anorexia or bulimia, such as binge eating. Do you think that binge eating is worsened by social media in the same way? With this, I was wondering if you knew why some people respond with anorexia or bulimia versus responding with binge eating? In response to your first question, I think one big way is to stop editing my pictures. I have begun to edit pictures less and less, but still struggle with being able to post something on instagram without editing it. I also think that posting pictures that may not make me look as skinny could help others feel confident to post the same.Great project!

    1. Cristina_213

      Hey Erika, thanks for your questions! Not solely focusing on anorexia or bulimia, I think social media can perpetuate binge eating disorder as well. Social media can cause unhealthy eating habits regardless of the outcome in which eating disorder their symptoms would fall under in the DSM-5.

  4. Kathleen Brandimarte

    Hi Christina! I love your project! Social Media has such a big impact on eating disorders and this page allowed me to learn even more information about the topic. I love all the images you used and the quiz was really helpful for me to test my knowledge. To answer one of your questions I think a way I can work against the ideal body image on social media is by not being too critical of myself in pictures and to not worry about what others think about me.

    1. Kathleen Brandimarte

      sorry I just realized I spelled your name wrong I’m so sorry.

      1. Cristina_213

        Hey Kathleen! No worries about the spelling : ) I think when trying to keep yourself healthy on social media, remembering that so much is fake and posed is important. There is a lot more to people’s lives than what they post on social media and I hope people keep in mind that it’s all a facade while they think about comparing themselves.

  5. Avatar

    Hey Cristina! I think your website is super informative and engaging! To answer your first question, I think that it’s always a great eye-opener when you see women posting more realistic images of their bodies unposed on their social media. It just reminds you that most of what we see on social media provides an unrealistic expectation for girl’s bodies. I think this is a great way to lessen the negative impact of social media on eating disorders.

    1. Cristina_213

      Hi Alaina! I agree, I think posting realistic posts is so interesting to see because it really broadens your perspective. It truly makes you remember that so much on social media are posed and possibly edited. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Jake

    I think a good way in order to avoid being influenced by social media is to get rid of it or limit your use when you can. Although it is hard in this day and age, I myself have noticed a drastic change in my mental health when I removed myself from unnecessary social media

    1. Cristina_213

      I definitely agree and I’m glad time away from social media has benefited your mental health. thanks for your comment!

  7. Kelsey

    Hi Cristina! I loved reading about your research and project! Similarly, I too focused on eating disorders and body positivity. I think a great way to work against the ideal body image on social media is by posting or reposting body-positive messages on your story. It would work as well to interact with content that works against the ideal body image. It is also a good idea to educate yourself and be aware of how what is posted on social media is only what people want you to see and that this is not a reality for anyone. I can help people around me remain healthy by encouraging acceptance and making sure I notice if a friend seems off or is not eating at lunch, and alerting someone if I am concerned about my friend’s health. If you make the body-positive account, please let me know so that I can follow it and promote it on my own Instagram account!

  8. Darby

    Hi Cristina, I think that your project covers a really prominent topic in our world today, especially, as you stated, with the more or less constant influence of social media. I really liked how you included some of the different types of eating disorders as well as how everyone can be impacted by them. To respond to some of your questions, I think that one of the things that I can try to do is talk to my younger siblings and friends about the harms of edited images that are commonly idealized in social media. Once again, great work!

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