The Social Media Diet: Unmasking the Hidden Dangers of Orthorexia Nervosa

The Social Media Diet: Unmasking the Hidden Dangers of Orthorexia Nervosa

In the age of social media, where every meal can be a post and every post can be a statement, we are increasingly bombarded with images of 'perfect' meals and 'ideal' diets. But what happens when the pursuit of a healthy diet turns into an unhealthy obsession? Enter Orthorexia Nervosa, a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997, refers to an unhealthy fixation on eating 'pure' food.

Orthorexia Nervosa (ON) is not currently recognized as a distinct eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it is gaining recognition in the medical and psychological communities due to its increasing prevalence. Unlike other eating disorders, ON is not driven by concerns about overweight or body image, but rather by an obsession with the quality and purity of food.

The Rise of Orthorexia Nervosa

study published in the journal "Eating and Weight Disorders" in 2017 found a significant relationship between symptoms of ON and Instagram use. The more time participants spent on Instagram, the stronger their orthorexic symptoms were. This was not found with other social media platforms, save for Twitter which showed a small positive association. The study also found that 49% of the participants had a high tendency towards ON, a prevalence considerably higher than the general population.

This correlation between Instagram use and ON symptoms is likely due to several factors. Instagram, being an image-focused platform, is ideal for sharing food images. Users can selectively follow accounts that align with their dietary beliefs, leading to a curated feed of images portraying a certain diet or behavior. This limited exposure can lead to users believing a behavior is more prevalent or normal than it is, and may lead to perceived social pressures to conform to such behaviors.

The Dangers of Following the Wrong Influencers

The rise of 'healthy eating gurus' on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter has given rise to a new kind of danger. These influencers, often with no formal nutritional education(this includes doctors who recieve close to only 20 hours of nutrition education versus dietitians who spend years and at least 1000 hours of supervised practice on top of that!), peddle diets and health advice(eg. Seed oils are bad for you when every human study supports otherwise) to their followers. The problem arises when these followers, often young and impressionable, take this advice, usually based on their own fears of food, to heart and begin to obsess over the 'purity' of their food.

The study found that the prevalence of ON was not limited to eliminating specific food groups. This means that orthorexic behavior can manifest in any diet, whether it's vegan, paleo, high-protein, low-carb, or omnivorous. The key factor is not what you're eating, but how you're thinking about what you're eating.

Recognizing and Addressing Orthorexia Nervosa

Recognizing ON can be tricky, as it often starts with the well-intentioned goal of eating healthier. However, when thoughts about food, diet, and health begin to interfere with daily life, it may be a sign of ON. Symptoms can include obsessive concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns, distress over food preparation techniques, and avoidance of foods due to food allergies, without medical confirmation.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of ON, it's important to seek help. A healthcare provider or a mental health professional can provide guidance and treatment options. It's also crucial to critically evaluate the health advice you receive, especially from social media. Just because someone has a large following doesn't mean they're a reliable source of health information.

In the end, it's all about balance. Eating healthy doesn't mean obsessing over every bite, but rather making informed choices that contribute to overall well-being. Remember, it's not just about what you eat, but also how you think about what you eat.

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