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Can social media feed eating disorders?

The potential link between eating disorders and social media has received a significant amount of press coverage in the past few months, with many calling for websites to impose stricter moderation on eating disorder related content. Yet many in recovery argue that social media may not be universally damaging, potentially offering sufferers an important support network.

Social media has made the world a much smaller place. People can connect with each other from anywhere in the world and share thoughts, ideas, pictures and videos. This has created a new age of socialising and sharing.

Unfortunately, it may also be a catalyst in the rise of eating disorder diagnoses. Those with eating disorders are known for competing for the lowest weight, the least number of calories and the smallest amount of food eaten. Before social media there were very few places that eating disorder sufferers could meet other people with eating disorders outside of treatment centres. Now though, people with an eating disorder only need an internet connection and a browser to keep in touch with hundreds or even thousands of other sufferers.

What makes these new eating disorder communities especially dangerous is the fact that they can encourage someone with eating disorder tendencies, and turn a small problem with eating into a serious eating disorder.

These communities also have the power to help those struggling with eating disorders. Eating disorder charities and other groups fighting eating disorders have created support networks that help people start their recovery and find a safe place to share their feelings. Eating disorder helplines are also available. 

Help to beat an eating disorder

Many people fighting eating disorders are also going into the pro eating disorder communities and dispelling the myths and misinformation that these places spread. They are reaching out to individuals and offering to help them beat their eating disorder.

Other social media platforms are fighting back by banning pro eating disorder content and deleting groups. This may or may not be effective but it is a good start. What often happens is, a community is shut down and it simply changes its name and moves to another area. With more and more of the online community joining the fight against eating disorders, it's getting harder for pro eating disorder groups to disseminate their poisonous messages. But the fight cannot simply be won online.

Parents, more than ever, are going to have to educate themselves so they can spot the early warning signs of an eating disorder. It may not be easy, but with the saturation of connected devices and social media, restricting someone’s access to the internet is simply too difficult for many people.

Life Works has put together an infographic entitled 'Can Social Media Feed Eating Disorders?', to provide users with an accurate and impartial source of information on this subject. More information on eating disorders is also available online. 

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To discuss how the Life Works team can help to support individuals and families dealing with an eating disorder, or for further information on treatment programmes, please call: 01483 745 066 or click here to make an enquiry.

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