Humans long to be a part of a group of people who understand their experiences. The age of the Internet has connected people around the world and made it much easier to find people with similar experiences. The positive impacts of these connections are undeniable. For example, those struggling with rare conditions could now find others fighting the same battles.
At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the darker side of these connections. Online eating disorder communities have been around since the use of the Internet became widespread more than 20 years ago. Back in 2001, Yahoo removed more than 100 pro-ED websites from its servers for promoting and sharing “tips” for anorexia and bulimia.
Now more people are online than ever before. The birth of social media made it even easier to discover these like-minded communities. Image sharing sites like Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest are notorious for connecting individuals battling active eating disorders. Though most platforms banned popular ED-related hashtags like #thinspo, it’s done very little to address the problem as a whole.
How have online eating disorder communities evolved over the years? What kind of impact do they have on the individuals trapped in the darkness of their disorder? And where can users turn for help when their algorithms keep them locked in an endless scroll of thinspiration day after day?
The Spread of Social Media and Eating Disorders
Image-sharing platforms like Instagram and Tumblr are hotbeds for girls seeking inspiration to continue pursuing their goal of thinness. Combining the words “thin” and “inspiration,” thinspo refers to content that persuades viewers to maintain their commitment to their disorders.
Thinspo consists of many types of content. Images of smiling women whose skeletal frames are seen beneath their skin. Food diaries outlining the minuscule amounts of nourishment users consume. Weight logs tracking “progress” to ever-decreasing “goal weights.” Girls battling EDs spend hours poring over feeds featuring hundreds of posts like these.
According to a 2012 exposé release by HuffPose, a treatment facility reported 30 to 50 percent of their adolescent patients are a part of ED communities on social media. They share tips for burning extra calories and ignoring the gnawing hunger pains. Whenever they feel tempted to give in to the discomfort, all it takes is a quick message to an online friend for encouragement to stick it out.
Social media platforms try to regulate the millions of images uploaded by users daily, but it is a daunting task. The endless barrage of thinspiration posts, masquerading as support, only serve to slash self-esteem, affirm negative body image, and keep girls locked in their disordered eating habits. Unless they find an alternative source of support, the outcomes are potentially deadly.
Breaking Free From Online Communities
The heartbreaking reality is that many of these girls find the community they so desperately need, but it’s in the wrong places. #Thinspo is a dangerous mentality to chase after but detaching from the ideology is no easy task. It’s not as simple as logging out of social media or deactivating accounts; overcoming the thinspiration mentality of eating disorders often requires intervention and treatment.
Thankfully, there is far more understanding and knowledge surrounding eating disorders today than ever before. Girls and women struggling with the severity of their disordered eating have many different resources available to them.
Intensive eating disorder treatment programs offer the support they strive for with a life-saving goal rather than a life-taking one. Treatment addresses the intense self-esteem issues and severe body dysmorphia that develops after spending time in these online ED communities. They help girls challenge the false beliefs they hold about food, exercise, body image, and especially themselves.
Treatment facilities use a combination of treatment methods including individual counseling, group therapy, nutritional education, and holistic methods to initiate recovery. Challenging and controlling old ideas is a daunting task and eating disorder treatment makes it possible.
If you’re looking for an informed, compassionate eating disorder treatment program for you or a loved one, Shoreline is available. We understand the complex and severe ways that eating disorders infiltrate a person’s life and are here to offer hope and solution. Give us a call today to let us know what we can do to connect you with the support you need.