As I write this blog on a chilly and dreary March 1, I’m hopeful that the groundhog was right in that we will enjoy an early spring later this month. I’ve written before on finding purpose in the seasons, particularly trusting that winter is a time for strengthening our roots in preparation for the pruning, and then blooming that comes later, both literal and metaphorical. For Christians, this is the liturgical season of Lent, a time of spiritual preparation for Easter which may involve reflection, repentance and fasting. In a traditional biblical sense, fasting implies abstaining from food for a period of time to focus more on prayer and drawing nearer to God. As a Christian I can see the value in this spiritual discipline, and as an eating disorder professional I can see the potential for misuse. February 26 – March 3 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and I wanted to give some attention to this topic. For someone who is struggling with disordered eating or is in early recovery, fasting can be dangerous. In these cases, abstaining from food would only enable the eating disorder to steal someone’s spiritual freedom to appreciate the body which God created and the food which sustains it. The purpose of sacrifice during Lent is to be set free from the things that enslave us and keep us from enjoying intimacy with God. Therefore, there are many other things besides food which may be starving our spirits and keeping us from true fulfillment.

This year I became aware of how much social media use was stealing my time and attention, often keeping me from being present. For example, in an attempt to get just the “perfect” photo to post I missed out on fully enjoying the moment. I want to nurture the relationships right in front of me and feed my spirit, and that little 3” x 6” device was starving me from those things. I made the decision to do a modified social media fast during Lent. Because I didn’t believe that I could realistically completely abstain for 40 days, I focused on some intentional limits. I removed the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone and committed to only checking those sites from my computer. This prevents the endless “dooms scroll” and keeps me focused on using my time on it more wisely in ways that support my business and personal life, not detract from it. For example, you’re reading this blog because it made the cut for my intentional social media usage.

While I had my own personal reasons for choosing this kind of fast, avoiding or limiting social media usage may be very appropriate for someone struggling with disordered eating and body image. The constant supply of photo edited bodies, diet ads, before and after photos and pro-eating disorder content (i.e. #thinspo) can keep someone feeling not enough. There are now multiple scientific research studies which show a direct correlation between social media use and eating disorders, which are cited below. In a 2019 study,76% of girls and 40% of boys who used social media heavily experienced eating disorder behaviors. Teens who encountered pro-eating disorder content on social media were twice as likely to develop eating disorders. Furthermore, a meta-analysis of 50 studies in 17 countries done between 2016 and 2021 revealed that, “social media usage leads to body image concerns, eating disorders/disordered eating and poor mental health” via social comparison, the thin / fit ideal, and viewing oneself as an object rather than human being.

Regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs, choosing to temporarily abstain from something that has the potential to bring both pleasure and harm can be beneficial in putting that something in its proper place. If you’re thinking about modifying your social media usage to protect your mental health, here are some tips:

  1. Clean up your feed by unfollowing accounts that promote diet culture.
  2. Set and honor time limits for social media apps.
  3. Consider removing social media apps from your phone for a set amount of time and/or completely avoiding social media for a few days. See what you notice.
  4. Choose to follow accounts that promote body positivity/ body neutrality and Intuitive Eating.
  5. Provide feedback on diet ads by clicking “Hide Ad.”

 

 

References:
https://zipdo.co/statistics/social-media-and-eating-disorders/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10032524/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31797420/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003636/



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