The eating disorder dangers of Instagram
From bountiful breakfast bowls of colour co-ordinated fruits in ordered neat lines, to puddings beautifully decorated with super seeds, social media has turned food into fashion. Instagram is now bigger than Twitter with 400 million regular users, and you only have to flick through recent uploads to see the endless photos of users’ new recipes. But what impact is this obsession with meals presented as art and so called ‘healthy eating’ advice from self-appointed ‘diet gurus’ having on your child’s relationship with food? The bombardment of diet advice and images of fashionable food can have an unhealthy influence on impressionable children and teenagers or those already struggling with an eating disorder.
I work with many young adults to help them develop a healthy relationship with food. In today’s world we are just a click away from seeking advice on the internet about diets and lifestyle, but the information available is not always helpful or accurate.
Deciphering the legitimate guidance of qualified nutritionists from the bad advice of wannabe professionals can be tricky. There are so many inexperienced bloggers advocating their own health stories and tips, which can put easily influenced youngsters at risk of ill-advice, particularly where diet is concerned. I believe many new food trends have stemmed from a large following of ‘eat clean’ leaders, who have released recipe books and run websites claiming to promote a healthier way of eating.
Health bloggers who post on their own websites and on sites such as Instagram are idolised for their dietary choices and perfect images to a level that is becoming unhealthy. As a registered nutritionist and eating disorders specialist, my concern is that a lot of their advice is often wrong. For example, promoting a vegan or raw diet to young girls can be extremely dangerous because without proper management it can quickly result in a lack of nutrients, leading to problems with bone mineral density, increased risk of neurological diseases, fatigue and muscle weakness.
It may sound extreme but I am seeing more and more cases of body dysmorphia where people become obsessed that their body is flawed in some way and orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. People see these perfect photos of food, using quirky healthy ingredients or surrounded by flowers, and try to replicate these meals. But this is time consuming and not representative of real life.
While we have seen social media acting as a positive space for peer support during recovery from eating disorders, when the overarching emphasis is placed on supposedly healthy diets and good and bad food, it is obviously an example of where this kind of influence can have a negative effect.
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses with no single cause. We can’t blame this trend for sharing images of food for the development of an eating disorder, but for individuals already struggling with an eating disorder, who regard food as their enemy, it’s likely to exacerbate the problem.
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