I have been a part of the eating disorder recovery community on Instagram for a couple of years now but for the past few months I have been noticing the less helpful aspects of the community and following a recent conversation with my psychologist I have began to wonder if it is really a recovery community after all?
Recovery accounts on Instagram often post pictures of food, of their intake. This in itself could be considered quite disordered. I think it’s great to document your journey and your recovery to show others that recovery is possible, but there can be negatives to posting pictures of everything you eat. People with eating disorders often feel self conscious about what they eat and may seek approval over what they are eating and I fear that photographing food leaves people open to restriction and therefore feeds their eating disorder and keeps it going. I know there have been times where I have photographed food and put it on Instagram in a healthy way, particularly at the start of recovery after a relapse but how do we know who is reading it and what our posts are making people feel? Yes, it is their choice to follow and to read but by posting online we have a certain responsibility to keep it safe. For all we know a child could be reading our posts and clinging on to our comment about how a yoghurt that wasn’t fat free made you feel guilty or how pizza is a fear food and they may stop eating those foods. We may be recovery accounts but we have to be aware that the photos we are posting and the things we are saying can actually be feeding one another’s eating disorders.
Few recovery accounts on Instagram can actually be truly recovered, we wouldn’t be posting the things we post if we are well and you have to ask yourself, “Is this healthy? Is it healthy that we are all unwell people following unwell people?”
I use Instagram because I find it supportive, particularly as I am quite an isolated person. I find it can be helpful to have people to talk to who understand but at the same time, is the community as a whole supportive? The other day I posted a picture of an item of food I had bought and aim to try one day and received comments that have put me off trying it, saying that it tasted horrible and was disappointing and so on and it made the alarm bells ring. Were they discouraging me to eat it?
I feel things are not as they seem on Instagram. I mean you see all these pictures of food but never empty plates, how do you know that these people are in recovery and are eating what they say they are? There tend to be ‘fashionable foods’ that everyone posts such as oats, protein bars and whole pints of icecream. Is it healthy to be in a community that has fashionable and unfashionable food when you are suffering from an eating disorder? Probably not. Is it healthy to spend your days scrolling down your Instagram feed looking at pictures of food? I know from personal experience that it fuels my obsession with food.
I see so many accounts posting body pictures, sometimes in underwear, sometimes in clothes. Body checking is a common eating disorder behaviour but by posting it to your 2k audience on Instagram it makes it dangerous. I understand that people are seeking approval but the comments of “Tiny hun” and “You look ill, I’m worried” will push the person further into their ED and the hateful comments telling the person that they are fat will obviously fuel the ED. Sometimes they are body pictures, other times I feel they are disguised as ‘progress pictures’. People with eating disorders often compare, whether that be their intake or their body. Instagram is the perfect environment for those behaviours.
There is also a lot of meanness that goes on, particularly on ask.fms that are linked to accounts where many of the asks will be about various accounts in the community and are full of hatred and criticism which will further fuel people’s illnesses. The deliberate triggering of commenting on people’s photos, “I wish I could eat that.” or “How did you eat that?!” which will ultimately cause a huge amount of guilt and anxiety in people.
I know the community that I am a part of on Instagram is recovery motivated and that there are some positives to being a part of it but I often wonder if it is another thing that keeps us stuck in our eating disorders. Our mind once again tricking us that we are getting better when in fact, we are not.
I am finding it hard to leave the community, I do not want to delete my account and leave that bit of support and understanding but I am going to try to be aware of how the things I post may impact others and hopefully one day soon I can use my account to document the parts of recovery that are not food based and use it in a different way because being recovery isn’t just about food, it’s about so much more than that.