Social Media, Body Image, and Diet

Written by Judy Crandall | Reviewed by Fit with Food Dietitians

Around 70% of Americans use some form of social media – and for good reason. Social media is entertaining, and it allows us to connect with friends, find inspiration, and learn new things. Unfortunately, social media can also be dangerous. 

A recent study of 620 adolescents found that those who used social media were less likely to have positive body image and more likely to display abnormal, unhealthy eating behaviors, such as purging. Teens are not the only ones at risk though! Anyone who uses social media is susceptible to being exposed to harmful, misleading content concerning weight, diet, and wellness, and according to the National Eating Disorders Association, just thirty minutes of social media a day can change how you view your body.

For many, these costs do not seem to outweigh the benefits of using social media. As a social media user myself, I get that. Thankfully, if you know which content to avoid and which to engage with, you can protect yourself without having to delete your favorite apps.

Content to Avoid

“What I Eat in a Day” Videos

These videos, typically posted to Instagram, Tiktok, and Youtube can be fun to watch, but they often lead to comparison. They lack greater context about the poster’s lifestyle and dietary needs and should never be used as nutritional guidance. If you can’t resist watching WIEADs, remember they should only be used for inspiration, not comparison, and that every individual’s diet is unique.

Promotion of Diet Products

There are no quick fixes that can magically make you gain or lose weight, so don’t waste your money on anything that claims to do so! Steer clear of detoxes, cleanses, weight loss teas, pills, etc. and remember that sustained weight loss is most easily and effectively achieved through a balanced diet and adequate exercise. 

Online Eating Disorder Communities

While the average social media user probably will not come across this content, it is important to be aware of online eating disorder (ED) communities. They can be found on Tiktok, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr and serve as a space where people with EDs can encourage each other to practice unhealthy eating behaviors by shaming each other, posting thinspo/thinspiration (thin ideal imagery), and spreading harmful “tips.” These pro-ED communities are incredibly dangerous, and should you ever have the misfortune of encountering any such accounts, the best course of action is to report and block. 

“That Girl” Trend

If you are not familiar with the “that girl” trend, it is a trend most prevalent on Tiktok, Youtube, and Instagram that promotes a certain image of wellness. Viewers want to be “that girl” because she is healthy and has her life together. A video in the “that girl” trend typically includes clips of a girl as she wakes up at five in the morning, makes the bed, journals, goes to pilates class, drinks lemon water, eats avocado toast, etc. 

While this trend is not inherently harmful and therefore does not need to be completely avoided, it should still be addressed as it promotes a narrow definition of health. It is important to recognize that you do not need to drink chlorophyll water or green juice every morning to be healthy. In addition, if your wellness goals are based solely on the rules and routines found in curated social media posts that show only the most perfect parts of users’ lives, your goals will likely become intimidating and unattainable in the long term. The trend has also been called out for promoting disordered eating behavior, though this can likely only be said of certain users posting to the trend, not the trend itself.

In short, it is okay to consume content from the “that girl” trend. However, when doing so, it is necessary to be conscious of the fact that such content does not represent the pinnacle of health and wellness, nor does it reflect the full reality of posters’ lives – you’re only seeing the best parts.

Red Flags

Following is a list of social media “red flags” – topics or phrases commonly used in posts that promote harmful misinformation about health and weight. If you come across any of these items, proceed with a healthy dose of skepticism.

  • “Lose weight fast”
  • “How I lost X pounds in just X weeks”
  • Anything that guarantees improved health or weight loss/gain
  • Diets, especially those that suggest cutting out entire food groups
  • Labeling of foods as good or bad
  • “Stop eating this food”
  • Summer/bikini body
  • Appetite suppressants (low-calorie alternatives to real food that lack nutritional value and stave off hunger rather than satisfying it)

Content to Engage with

Tired of social media making you feel bad about yourself? Want to ensure that health information you are receiving is trustworthy? Follow a few of these accounts and shape your feed into one that can improve rather than damage your body image, mental health, and eating behaviors. This is just a short list. Do not hesitate to comment some of your favorite trustworthy accounts!

Sources:

https://mashable.com/article/inclusive-fitness-anti-diet-culture-tik-tok

Social Media Fact Sheet

Click to access sap-29-208.pdf

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders

https://www.bravespacenutrition.com/blog/anti-diet-body-positive-instagram-accounts

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