Is social media connected to eating disorders?

Many of us either love social media or try to escape from it but cannot. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest are ways to connect with friends and society, which may influence the way we behave and think. One area of recent research is the connection between social media and eating disorders.

There are several different eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and eating disorders not elsewhere classified. Eating disorders have different physiological consequences and have psychological manifestations.

To simplify the definitions, anorexia nervosa is when a person has an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted self-image and obsessively controls foods consumed. Over-exercise can also be a part of this condition. Usually the person is very underweight due to depriving themselves from food.

Bulimia nervosa and when a person consumes a large amount of food at once and then induces vomiting, takes laxatives or exercises extensively and may restrict food at other times. In this condition, the person is usually normal weight but has low self-esteem and a poor body image.

A person who consumes a large amount of food at one time, cannot use self-control during eating, eats fast and hides food may have a binge disorder. The person usually feels guilty or depressed after the binge and has low self-esteem. This person is usually overweight.

There are other types of eating disorders that do not fit into one of these categorie, but involves aspects of one or several.

A recent study by Sidani and colleagues examined the use of social media in young adults and the manifestation of an eating disorder. The theory posed in the research was that peer pressure and visual images occurring in social-media platforms could possibly instigate an eating disorder.

The results of the study showed the average time the participants used social media daily was 61 minutes. More importantly, participants who had higher social media use time had a higher chance of having eating concerns compared to those who did not use social media as much.

So the question is: which comes first, social media or the eating concern? Does the use of social media lead to higher eating concerns or do young adults with eating concerns use social media more? Research suggests young adults who have lower self-esteem do use social media more often because they are looking for peer approval through this platform.

Social media has many positive attributes — it’s a way for people to connect and communicate as well as an easy platform for information dissemination. However, the user must be aware of ways it may contribute to a person’s self-esteem or self-image. One must guard oneself from negative messages, peer pressure and unrealistic body images.

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