Pushing Back Against the Social Media Challenge
By: Masha Sardari MS, RD, LDN
Published: June 27, 2024

Social media is a powerful entity in the eating disorder world. Here’s how to cut it down to size.

It’s quite possible we’ve made social media into a bigger, more influential deal than it actually is. If you believe the reports, the TikToks, Facebooks, and Instagrams of the world collectively control our thoughts, actions, and self-perceptions.

The way it’s described, we have become almost defenseless against these forces. As if we don’t control social media, rather it controls us, and therefore has the power to convince us we don’t measure up to others, we’re not good enough, we’re not attractive enough, and so on.

But here’s the thing: None of that is true if we don’t allow it to be true.

Reclaiming your power over social media, starting now

A great first step is to do an honest self-assessment of your social media use. To determine where you are with it, ask yourself the following sorts of questions:

  • How would you describe your relationship with social media?
  • Do you feel like you have a say about when and where you use social media?
  • What are your interactions with social media?
  • Which accounts, groups, feeds, or hashtags do you normally go to first when you use social media, and (importantly) where do you normally end up?
  • Are you satisfied with the amount of time you spend on social media?
  • How do you usually feel just before and just after you’ve been on social media? For example, do you often go on it when you’re feeling down?
  • If you often go on social media when you’re feeling down, does your social media use make it better or worse?
  • When visiting your favorite places on social media, do you feel better or worse once you’re there?

Taking control of your social media use

It may be that after doing your self-assessment, you feel good about your social media use. If that’s the case, that’s great news.

My advice would simply be to remain vigilant. Be intentional about your social media use, and be sure that it remains helpful to you, not harmful. Try to do regular self-assessments like the one above to help you stay on track.

If your self-assessment turned up a potentially worrisome situation with your social media use, it may be time to implement a turn-around plan. This may involve taking control of (1) the time you’re spending on social media, (2) the content you’re engaging with, or (3) the content you’re creating. Let’s take a look at these three areas:

  • How to cut back on social media use: If you’re spending more time than you’d like on social media, it makes sense to bring that down. There are several ways to do that, so pick the one that works best for you.

One option is to limit yourself to an hour in the morning, for example, and two hours in the evening—say from 8 to 10 pm. Or maybe it works better for you to set up no-use times, such as no social media allowed between 6 and 8 pm every evening. Some people like to put their phone in a different room from where they are, especially at bedtime. This sets up a nice “barrier.” It’s impossible to check social media without getting out of your quiet, comfortable bed.

  • How to take control of the content you consume: The key here is to be intentional about what you view, versus being passive about it. If the content is not helpful to your life, and makes you feel sad, angry, or anxious, just unfollow it. Like, right now.

Is an account affirming and helpful, and does it often make you smile and feel good? If so, keep that one in your favorites. There is so much good content on social media now—yes, cat videos are a personal favorite. Art, sports, travel, cultural commentary, celebrities with positive messages, inclusive fashion sites and influencers—these accounts can be great, and there are a lot of them you may enjoy. And let’s not forget, social media is a fantastic way to stay in touch with friends and loved ones.

Again, why go down rabbit holes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body? That just isn’t necessary, especially when there’s so much positive and affirming content out there to choose from.

  • How to change the content you create: If you post your own content or even make a living as an influencer, that makes you responsible for that content. Therefore, it’s important to take a step back and see your content through the lens of your viewers.

Is it helpful to people? Is it likely going to make them feel inspired and affirmed? What kind of message do you want to put out there?

For example, if you post a lot of photos of yourself in idyllic, highly stylized, over-the-top perfect contexts, you might want to consider adjusting that. Maybe it would be healthier and more helpful to your viewers and you to be more realistic about the content you’re putting out there.

My take on social media as a person working in the ED field

A lot of people, including those struggling with eating disorders, forget that what’s presented on social media isn’t real. It’s curated. It’s taken out of its natural context, manipulated and enhanced, then placed back into a new context that you literally view through a lens.

Because of that, the image has little to do with reality. It’s manufactured! So, if you’re a person who is comparing your body, your face, or your life to that manufactured alternative, it’s impossible for you to match up. My advice: Don’t bother trying.

Final thoughts on social media as it relates to eating disorders

We do ourselves a huge disservice when we make social media into an all-powerful boogeyman that constantly hurts us and makes us dislike ourselves. As if we are helpless and have no say in the matter.

The better option is to assert more control over the social media we consume. After honestly assessing where we are with our social media consumption, it is within our power to change it if it’s causing us harm.

A proposed plan? Get rid of the accounts, groups, and hashtags that make you feel less than, and keep the ones that interest, inspire, and empower you.

Those choices are yours to make.


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