By Rachel Seeland-Scott
Since the creation of social media we have all had the dangers of its use hammered home to us, whether it be at school, at home or in class. The stories we hear about social media are also presented negatively, with a common thread of cyberbullying or trolling. Even so we all use it in our everyday lives to share certain moments, show for something or just to generally show people how we live.
On Instagram, the most widely used network for those recovering from eating disorders, members of the community share not just their lives but their physical and emotional rollercoaster of a journey through recovery. It is notable Instagram that is favoured for the creation of this online community, for its ability to keep profiles private and post pictures along with a wordy text, unlike that of other social networks. Of course, there are those often criticized ‘pro ana’ (promoters of anorexia) or ‘thinspiration’ accounts which promote unrealistic and unhealthy motivation for those suffering from eating disorders. Whilst these will try to worm their way into the community, accounts are quickly crushed by BEAT professionals who police the community, or warned of by those who have recovered and are looking to help others. BEAT is an eating disorder charity which works to support people as they recover. As well as this, the sheer number of posts coming from this community, which has active members from many parts of the world, simply outweighs those of the trolls or ‘pro ana’ accounts. People recovering from an eating disorder face a long and difficult road ahead of them, but social media brings the comfort that they aren’t going it alone- there’s a whole load of other people who are going through exactly the same thing!
This sense of togetherness is what brings this community of eating disorder recoverees, well, together, and they are able to put all differences aside to help each other if they see someone struggling. Most of the people posting on these accounts usually post their meals throughout the day, with the occasional exception of a selfie, serving as a food diary and mood monitor for how they feel afterwards while also just a general update on how their recovery is going. And if or when someone seems to fall off the road to recovery, their fellow recoverees are quick to correct them and leave positive comments, which may not seem like much, but can mean a lot depending on their situation. Members of this community have said it was ‘amazing to be surrounded by people who understand what you’re going through’ and that they didn’t have to ‘worry about being judged or hold anything back.’
There are some helpful campaigns: hashtags ‘fearfoodfriday’, in which so called ‘fear foods’ are faced each week and ‘nourishtoflourish’ in which the recoveree is encouraged to carry on in their journey. However, some are more questionable, such as ‘#pintparty’. This involves the users eating a whole pint of ice cream and tagging others who are doing it with them, which professionals and experts have cited as harmful to attempts of recovery since it’s just moving from one extreme to another. However pint partiers have hit back on critics by saying that since they are on the rocky road of recovery, they ‘want to at least enjoy it’. Another issue some have found with this online community is that it can actually set people back in recovery, and some have said they felt ‘envious’ of those who were ‘more ill’ or just starting their recovery. This is understandable, as the brain chemicals in those with eating disorders are out of balance, with dopamine levels soaring, increasing competitiveness and so leading some to compare themselves too much with others. Still, it is important to remember it is dependent on the person, and many others have said they love ‘being able to chat to people and get help from those who understand’ and ‘the encouragement and motivation you get to challenge yourself.’ Some have even gone as far as to say it is ‘the best thing I’ve ever done’. Instagram may be blamed as one of the worst offenders for promoting mental illness, and to some extent it does, however it is important not to demonise social media in its entirety and to applaud those who try and work against this status quo.