Navigating Instagram While Recovering From an Eating Disorder

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As today's fastest-growing social media platform, Instagram gets a whopping 500 million unique users a day from their growing base of one billion active monthly accounts. These numbers are only expected to rise, as more and more businesses and influencers take to the platform to promote themselves, different products, or their advocacies. Communication strategists from Maryville University confirm that there is currently an influx of content online, especially given the relentless pace of digital marketing campaigns across countries, industries, and online platforms. Unfortunately, not all of these strategies are good for your mental health, with some being downright damaging to those recovering from eating disorders.

Indeed, influencers are constantly reinforcing unrealistic beauty standards or are outright promoting eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, which can be extremely harmful to those who suffer from these illnesses. These detrimental posts are only the surface of a deeper problem on Instagram. In fact, a worrying BBC investigation revealed that even young children would exchange graphic images of weight loss, on a platform where they can easily search hashtags and posts that glamorize eating disorders. Despite the platform's attempt at blocking certain search terms, users would find ways to post using alternative spellings of the disorder. Indeed, research from the University of Exeter found that a staggering number of accounts continue to promote eating disorders on the site.This glamorization of eating disorders on Instagram is dangerous, and makes navigating the platform risky for those recovering from their own illnesses.

If you cannot avoid going on Instagram during your recovery, here are some useful tips that can help you use the app in a healthy manner:

Fill your feed with diversity:

Instagram is essentially a community made up of all shapes and sizes! Curate your feed by following body positive influencers, or healthy inspirations that have realistic and uplifting posts. The power to change what you see on the app is in your hands, so it’s time to unfollow anything that makes you feel bad.

Find a supportive recovery community:

There is a myriad of recovery accounts on Instagram, and recovering individuals have created groups and made friends with others suffering from eating disorders. You can try to find your own group of friends online, as they are in a unique position to understand your journey towards wellness. However, The Atlantic recommends being cautious when following or communicating with owners of recovery accounts, as some still promote eating disorders. It's also worth noting that the path to recovery is not linear, which means that these accounts may have posts that talk about setbacks or slip-ups. While it may be good to see that other people are struggling in a similar manner, these posts can also trigger unwanted thoughts or delay your recovery. Be careful to avoid people who promote ‘healthy eating habits’ that are still too restrictive, as this is a false representation of what a healthy diet should look like.

Share your own story:

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Social media can be a liberating tool when used properly. Even if you’re not exactly an influencer, it may help to share your own recovery story on Instagram. If you don’t want the publicity, you can keep your account private to control who will be able to view your posts. Having an outlet and a community to rally around the progress you make is an excellent way to boost your esteem and your efforts.

All in all, Instagram can be a dangerous or empowering platform, depending on how you use it. However, know that even if you follow these tips, you may still encounter some unpleasant triggers on the site. What’s more, Project HEAL National Ambassador Rebekah Wheeler points out how easy it is to spiral downwards when using Instagram, as you can’t help but compare yourself to everyone else on it.

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It may be best to avoid the platform and other social media platforms altogether during your recovery. Instead, opt to get some quality face time with friends and family, who are undoubtedly your strongest supporters in the journey to recovery.

By: Ruby Freya