Like magazines, social networks promote an ideal of thinness that can contribute to the development of eating disorders such as anorexia. They also make it possible to create communities of support, but at the risk of ‘locking up’ patients in this pathology.
The phenomenon is not new: blogs in favor of anorexia or for bulimia experienced a boom in the early 2010s. They were removed by the hosts but are finding new forms on social networks, note specialists on the occasion of World TCA Day (Eating Disorders), this Thursday, June 2.
“Challenges” are challenges launched on TikTok or Instagram, usually by young people to other young people. Like the one called “the A4 sheet”: to win, their waist circumference must only be 21 centimeters, the width of an A4 sheet. We only get there by depriving ourselves of food for a long time.
The networks bring together thousands of accounts advocating for leanness and can create complexes in adolescents. For Valentin Flaudias, lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Nantes, the enthusiasm of the youngest for these stories about slim, healthy and athletic personalities comes first of all. “message conveyed by society”†
“The fight against obesity and the call for exercise amplify the tendency to turn to these explanations that correspond to the ideal of thinness”he says, recalling WHO’s alarming statements in May about an “obesity epidemic” in Europe.
“The aesthetic question, ubiquitous on the networks that give prominence to photos with filters and retouching, is also impacting people who already suffer from TCA.”
Nathalie Godart, child psychiatrist and president of the French Anorexia Bulimia Federation (FFAB).
Anorexia nervosa is the result “multiple factors”she remembers. “The trigger cannot be summed up in social networks”, although they may be a “factor underlying malaise and low self-esteem”†
In addition to these aspects, young women aged 15 to 25 on average now use the networks to share their hospitalization and the evolution of their relationship with the disease by creating ‘recovery’ accounts.
Mutual aid communities are then created between patients to get well. “It’s a good thing, but it comes with risks”warns Mr. Flaudias. “Anorexia is often a relationship problem with others, and these accounts can put you at risk of defining yourself by your illness and thus locking yourself in.”
Focused on the body
Conversely, the researcher observes a boom in the movement of ‘body positivism’ (the act of loving your body). “It’s still better than the pro-ana move, but these reports are focused on the body again. To cure anorexia, you have to detach yourself from it”he notes.
Nathalie Godart believes that these reports, sometimes focused on… “nutrition coaching”, lead to an “invasion of the mind” by food. Results Some patients have the impression of being cured, but they may develop a related condition, orthorexia or the obsession with healthy eating. They then detach from their weight, hence the difference with anorexics, but they over-control what they eat, affecting their social lives.
Pauline Drecq, psychologist in Paris, participated in 2019 in the creation, in a day hospital, of a collective workshop based on the experience of patients on the networks: these young people with eating disorders “consult the networks in their room at night, when they are alone, sometimes in moments of fear”† During the workshops they give comments “an Instagram post or YouTube video” and analyze their positive or negative effects on their minds.
However, the relationship to the content differs”depending on the patient and the stage of his illness,” notes the psychologist. Culinary account ‘may give one patient the prospect of recovery and increase dietary restrictions in another’†
The aim is not to demonize the networks, but to make patients aware of the impact they can have on their condition, “so that their use turns into care”says Mrs Drecq.