October 1, 2022

Taylor Daily Press

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Young people with eating disorders find support on social media, but they are also at risk there

Young people with eating disorders find support on social media, but they are also at risk there

“It’s so crazy: I’m now eating potato chips without feeling guilty about it, which makes me instantly believe I don’t have an eating disorder. While I was still crying for 45 minutes this morning because my parents wanted me to eat a sandwich,” Sophie wrote ( 16 years old) in English on her Twitter account.

Her selfie is a drawing of a rabbit with pink blush on her cheeks, staring happily at a plate of croissant. In her Twitter bio, she mentioned “Ultimate Target Weight” and Height: 50 kilograms, 177 centimeters.

Sophie is one of many young people with eating disorders who search for fellow sufferers on social media with the hashtag. #ed (eating disorder)† Undiagnosed as she has yet to seek professional help, but is obsessed with food. In March of this year, she joined the so-called online community with an anonymous account.ED- Twitter(Twitter eating disorder).

She was previously part of the ED Communities on the blog site tumblr And the social mediator tik tok† Its goal: to find, provide support, recognition, and ultimately recovery from your eating disorder. “I feel like I can always talk to someone who understands me without being judged,” she said in a private conversation on Twitter.

From “pro-Anna” to pro-payback

The exact size of ED communities is not entirely clear. On TikTok, videos with hashtag #tiktok It has been viewed at least 71.5 million times. Instagram reports that 4.6 million posts have been created with the hashtag #ed. But anyone who searches for this hashtag on this social medium will see a white screen instead of images. Instagram has “blocked” the hashtag #ed, making the ED community less visible.

Online eating disorder communities have been around for about as long as the internet has been available to the general public. But while promoting eating disorders was the norm in online forums in the 2000s, a shift has occurred in recent years, according to research by Stevie Chancellor.

She is an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota and conducts research on risky behavior in online communities, including ED communities. “There is a growing group of people calling themselves recovery advocates and rebelling against pro-Anas,” she says.

The term “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) refers to a group of people with anorexia who believe that anorexia is not a disorder, but a lifestyle. They often promote anorexia online, including in ED communities on social media. Sophie does not want to be associated with them and says she belongs to the pro-healing group.

On her Twitter account, Sophie posts information about her weight and diet, posts her disturbing thoughts about food and her body, and shares so-called thinkspo content (photos of extremely skinny girls that serve as inspiration). But she also shares photos of healthy meals and a desire to recover from an eating disorder.

Secrecy through stigma

Of the dozens of young Dutch people contacted online who are striving to recover, only Sophie has allowed her name to be published. Most of them refuse a call.

“Most people with eating disorders don’t want others to know they have an eating disorder, and this is reflected in the fact that the accounts are anonymous,” Chancellor says. “Eating disorders are one of the most stigmatized mental disorders in our society. This is reflected in harmful stereotypes and misunderstandings about eating disorders, such as the assumption that a person “just needs to eat more” in order to recover.”

In ED communities, young people with eating disorders are finding recognition among like-minded people from all over the world. Counselor: “These online communities provide social support for people who are unable to talk about their experiences with others around them.”

Enter Pro Anna

But in ED communities, young people seeking recovery also face dangerous messages about eating disorders. From #edtwitter, #edtiktok or #tumblr On social media, you will also see pictures of very emaciated people and messages with advice not to eat anything.

Despite the fact that young people in the pro-healing group sometimes share photos and messages that match those of pro-Anas, such as those of skinny girls posted by Sophie, they rebel against people who promote anorexia online. “In my group, we don’t make negative comments about others and often encourage each other to eat.”

Sophie is no longer shocked by the violent images of Anas supporters that she still encounters online, she says. “But with the spread of images like this, I think ED-Twitter may be harmful to people without eating disorders who come across our online community.”

paradoxical disease

In the pro-healing group, young adults do not directly encourage eating disorders, but many negative comments about their bodies and diet have been mentioned. Pictures of low-calorie meals are shared, as well as “ugw” (end goal weight), which is almost always an unhealthy low weight.

So the young people in the pro-healing groups have the desire to recover and the desire to be thin at the same time. “This is because eating disorder is a very paradoxical disease,” says Erin Van Arle, an expert at Proud2BMe, an online support platform for people with eating disorders. Van Arle himself also had an eating disorder. “Many people want to recover, but don’t dare or they can’t yet.”

According to Sophie, this is why many, including herself, call it the ultimate goal of losing weight. “Most people say, ‘When I reach my ultimate weight loss goal, I will recover.’ But the eating disorder in us doesn’t want us to recover at all. That’s why we came up with an unattainable goal.”

harmful thoughts

Sophie believes that the emergence of eating disorder thoughts from a pro-recovery group can negatively affect people without an eating disorder. Sophie: “Almost everything that happens in our brain is harmful. So sharing our thoughts can be harmful to others. But that doesn’t mean we want others to think the same about themselves. We know how bad that feels.”

Experienced expert Van Arle agrees. “If you don’t have a predisposition to an eating disorder, you won’t get it just after seeing content about eating disorders. But if you do, then surely such content can fuel an eating disorder.”

Strength and pitfalls

ED communities can also negatively impact young people in the same pro-recovery group. Because they see each other’s eating disorder thoughts in their online diaries.

Assistant Professor Counsel: “When someone shares their thoughts about an eating disorder in detail, it can worsen another person’s eating disorder. This is because these thoughts contain ideas about how to maintain an eating disorder. It does not mean that someone intends to harm others. But the result may be.

“These online groups have both a strength and a dilemma,” Van Aarle says. “You can discover that you are not alone and learn to talk about your eating disorders more easily. But you can also take a lot of pictures and stories about eating disorders, which actually reinforce your eating disorder.”

That’s why Van Aarle believes social media should provide more warnings and refer users to help sites for people with eating disorders. This is currently only happening on Instagram and TikTok. The advisor says the “worst of the worst”, such as pictures of emaciated people and advice about eating too little, should be removed from all social media.

professional help

According to Van Aarle, it is important that young people in ED communities seek professional help. “Social media can lower the barrier, but it can’t replace that help,” she says.

The counselor also believes that professional help is the most effective. “But for some people, online help is the only kind of help they can get,” she says. “Some can’t afford treatment. Others can’t tell their families about their eating disorder because that would have serious consequences for their relationships.”

In addition, some people recover from their eating disorders with online help, the counselor says. “But that doesn’t mean online advice is always good.”

When Sophie is ready, she wants to tell her family and close friends about her eating disorder and seek professional help. “When I recover, I won’t be on ED-Twitter anymore,” she says. “I’m going to really miss the people I met and became friends, but I hope they recover too and get out of ED-Twitter.”

Sophie’s full name is known to the editors.

How should you interact with social media if you have an eating disorder?

Social media can quickly flood you with posts about potentially harmful eating disorders. When you click on such messages, the algorithms ensure that you see similar messages. Experience expert Erin van Arle: “Instead of clicking on such content, you can consciously search for other types of messages. And sometimes putting your phone away for a day or a few hours gives you peace of mind.”

For professional online help with an eating disorder, you can visit the Proud2BMe website, which allows anonymous supervised communication with fellow eating disorder, experimental, and expert experts. Help and professional information for people with eating disorders are also made available on the 99Gram online help platform and the Kim Foundation website. And for a listening ear, you can always call Luisterlijn (088 0767000).

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