Eating disorders: The media contorting facts and your body image

‘How to lose a stone in ten days’…’These celebrities have piled on the pounds’…’Tricks to INSTANT weight loss’… these are just some of the headlines you may see on the front of a magazine.

From a very young age people, particularly women and young girls, are bombarded with images of thin fashion models and told that this is the ideal form of a woman. This ideal is prolific within the mass media. It cannot be said that the media causes eating disorders, rather that they promote and exacerbate pressure to look a certain way.

A study by Thomsen and McCoy of Brigham Young University found that an increased viewing of women’s magazine was associated with idealising a specific body type. This, in turn, was linked to the development of eating disorders.

The odds of using extreme weight controlling behaviours such as vomiting and laxative use are 3 times higher in people who regularly read articles about dieting and weight-loss compared to those who don’t.

Therefore, it is no surprise that eating disorders will affect up to 5% of the population at some point in their lives with females accounting for 93% of total eating disorder admissions.

Eating disorders commonly start in adolescence however they can occur at any age from 10 to over 70. It is estimated that there will be 1800 new cases in Ireland each year. But what exactly is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders involve extreme disturbances or obsessiveness in eating behaviours and patterns. People with eating disorders often have distorted, self-critical attitudes about their weight and body image which therefore fuels damaging behaviours.

However, they are far more complicated than just unhealthy diet habits. The World Health Organisation recognises eating disorders as mental health disorders. Someone with an eating disorder could be using destructive and disordered eating behaviours as a way of coping with emotional or psychological stress. An eating disorder can be thought of like a coping mechanism.

For example, food restriction may be used as a way to feel in control, while bingeing or overeating may temporarily soothe anger or sadness.

The three main eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder

A multitude of factors go into the development of an eating disorder and it is often a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental components that may contribute to an individual’s eating disorder.

As previously mentioned social media and media exposure is not going to be the sole cause of a person’s disordered eating. However, it is important to note that the harmful effects of social media do exist. A direct link between Instagram and body dissatisfaction among women aged 18-25 has been found in study by an Australian university.

While a study involving 114 female college students found that those who were more exposed to beauty or fashion magazines, exhibited a higher risk of eating disorder tendencies and an overall dissatisfaction with their appearance.

Another form of social media that can be particularly harmful is pro-eating disorder websites. Though the majority of these sites claim to not promote eating disorders, that is exactly what they are doing.

Whether it be through the sharing of tips on how to lose weight more rapidly, the use of ‘thinspiration’ photos or through a forum where users encourage each other to continue with their disorder and avoid recovery.

In an effort to combat these websites, Eating Disorder hope launched their Pro-Recovery Moment. This movement encourages people to embrace their recovery and to learn how to live their life free from their eating disorders.

So although mainstream media and social media will not be the sole cause of an eating disorder, it can fuel an individual to engage in disordered eating patterns and has a strong influence on a person’s body dissatisfaction.

According to some research, social media has been described as “a casual risk factor for the development of eating disorders”. Social media has encroached upon our everyday lives and people often feel the need to constantly compare themselves to their peers, models, and celebrities and therefore feel inadequate about their own body and image.

If you’re concerned about your body image, or find you feel unhappy with yourself, you need to ask yourself, ‘Is my perception of people and beauty distorted after media exposure that glorifies a thin ideal, that is not only unrealistic for most people, but also more often than not, photoshopped or edited?’

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or negative self-image issues and find you feel worse after a quick scroll through Instagram, unfollow the individuals who are obsessed with posting their perfect bodies while making you feel bad about yours.

Unfollow the accounts that often edit and change their images without being honest with their followers or themselves. Block the body shamers and the negativity and escape from the constant images that tell you what your perfect idea of beauty should be. Follow the accounts that motivate you while also encouraging you to value and respect yourself and your body.

To escape the negative effects of social media, put away your phone or computer. Do something else that is enjoyable with supportive friends or family and try to be free from the digital world, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

However, the most important thing you can do is recognize and acknowledge your feelings and seek help. Once you acknowledge there is a need to change, you can start the gradual process of healing yourself and allow yourself to live your life free from the control your eating disorder has over you.

Support Services and Resources

Helpline: 1890 200 444

Youth Connect Online support group

BodyWhys Connect support group


Visit the following websites for more information and support

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