Starving for Likes: The Link Between Social Media and Eating Disorders

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Starving for Likes:

The link between social media and eating disorders

This blog is written in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 25 to March 3, 2019).

I know what you’re thinking, “Social media use linked to disordered eating? No way!”

Social Media

In the recent years, social media use has boomed. This means far more connection and access to other people’s images, thoughts, and lives than ever before. This comes with an obvious advantage--we have the amazing opportunity to connect with people from literally across the world! Plus, we have instant access to resources, anytime, anywhere (just like this blog here).

On the flip side, social media use isn’t always so great. Social media use, especially overuse, has been linked to several concerns, including body dissatisfaction and poor body image, lower self-esteem, and disordered eating behavior or even full-blown eating disorders.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders have become increasingly common in America, with at least 30 million Americans diagnosed with a clinical eating disorder annually (1). Eating disorders cover a variety of mental conditions, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

In the Research

Knowing this prevalence, researchers within the psychological arena took to studying what is going on and whether social media use plays any role in the development of eating disorders.

Here’s what they found:

  • There are significant relationships found between excessive social media use and restrained eating behaviors (such as restricting amount of food or certain types of food). (2)

  • There is a relationship between Facebook use on body image and disordered eating (3).

  • Social media use is connected to lower self esteem* (2,4,5,6)

  • And increased body dissatisfaction** (not liking how your body looks) (2,5,7,8,9)

* Low self-esteem has been identified as a risk factor for the development of mental illnesses (10)

** High body dissatisfaction has been identified as a significant risk factor for developing disordered eating behavior or eating disorders (2)

Pretty shocking, isn’t it? While many people are quick to point out some common good and bad things about social media, most of us don’t think about how it can affect the development of eating disorders.

What Can We Do?

The goal of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is just that--to spread awareness of eating disorders and be able to recognize and support those around us.

We can do this by:

  • Increasing our awareness of the risk that social media can have on developing an eating disorder.

  • Promoting a positive and healthy body image.

  • Seeking out professional help if necessary.

  • Having emergency resources on hand. These include the National Eating Disorders Association Hotline ((800) 931-2237) and the Crisis Text Line (text 741-741).

Please note: This blog does include both eating disorders and disordered eating behavior. Eating disorders fit the criteria for clinical diagnosis. On the other hand, disordered eating behavior is concerning and potentially dangerous, but does not meet all of the criteria for a diagnosis.

As another side note, the title of the blog mentions starving. Please be aware that not all individuals with eating disorders limit or restrict their food consumption.


1. National Eating Disorders Association (2018). Eating Disorders in Men & Boys. Retrieved March 21, 2018, from

2. Murray, M., Maras, D., & Goldfield, G. S. (2016). Excessive time on social networking sites and disordered eating behaviors among undergraduate students: Appearance and weight esteem as mediating pathways. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking, 19(12), 709-715. doi:10.1089/cyber.2016.0384

3. Frost, R. L., & Rickwood, D. J. (2017). A systematic review of the mental health outcomes associated with Facebook use. Computers In Human Behavior, 76576-600. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.08.001

4. Burnette, C. B., Kwitowski, M. A., & Mazzeo, S. E. (2017). 'I don’t need people to tell me I’m pretty on social media:' a qualitative study of social media and body image in early adolescent girls. Body Image, 23114-125. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.09.001

5. Cohen, R., Newton-John, T., & Slater, A. (2017). The relationship between Facebook and Instagram appearance-focused activities and body image concerns in young women. Body Image, 23183-187. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.10.002

6. Fardouly, J., Pinkus, R. T., & Vartanian, L. R. (2017). The impact of appearance comparisons made through social media, traditional media, and in person in women’s everyday lives. Body Image, 2031-39. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.11.002

7. Stronge, S., Greaves, L. M., Milojev, P., West-Newman, T., Barlow, F. K., & Sibley, C. G. (2015). Facebook is linked to body dissatisfaction: Comparing users and non-users. Sex Roles, 73(5-6), 200-213. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0517-6

8. Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2017). Facebook and body image concern in adolescent girls: A prospective study. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 50(1), 80-83. doi:10.1002/eat.22640

9. Sowislo, J. F., & Orth, U. (2013). Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 213-240. doi:10.1037/a0028931

10. Eckler, P., Kalyango, Y., & Paasch, E. (2017). Facebook use and negative body image among U.S. college women. Women & Health, 57(2), 249-267. doi:10.1080/03630242.2016.1159268

Therapists in Westchester County, NY

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