Eating disorders are serious conditions that can affect anyone—regardless of age, gender, or background. While there are many genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder, social media can play a significant role. It can expose individuals to harmful messaging under diet culture and fatphobia, contributing to disordered eating patterns, body image distress, and even eating disorders.
A recent study conducted in six paediatric facilities across Canada revealed a 60 per cent rise in EDs following the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the study, this spike can be attributed at least in part to increased exposure to social media, especially during isolation periods.
As a parent, it can be challenging to ensure that your child has a healthy relationship with social media. Here are our tips:
Have conversations about social media
Have an open and honest conversation with your child about how social media can influence body image and eating habits. Let them know that social media is not real life—the images and messages they see may not be accurate or advisable. Encourage them to question what they see and to develop critical thinking skills.
Acknowledge also that the intersection of social media and eating disorders is complicated. While social media can provide a platform for positive messaging and community support for those struggling with disordered eating, it can also serve as a breeding ground for harmful attitudes and behaviours surrounding food and body image. For instance, social media platforms that promote wellness or “healthy eating” can be a double-edged sword. While they may be helpful for some, they can also contribute to the development of orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with “healthy eating” that can lead to emotional distress and physical problems.
Monitor your child's social media use
Remember that diet culture is everywhere—from TV to books and conversations at school. For this reason, monitoring your child’s exposure to social media may be more effective than cutting it off entirely.
You can set limits on screen time and encourage them to take breaks from social media, and even ask them to spend time on social media together. For example, you can scroll through their Instagram explore page together. You can help them practice engaging with content critically, and talk about how the posts they see make them feel.
Curate your and your child’s social media feeds
Encourage your child to identify and unfollow or mute accounts that spread harmful messaging about food and body image. Guide them in finding accounts that promote body positivity, self-love, and healthy habits for you and your child.
As a parent, such accounts can also give you the tools to debunk harmful ideas about food and bodies. Below are some accounts that can provide a starting point:
Christy Harrison - Journalist, anti-diet registered dietitian, author of “The Wellness Trap”, and the host of the podcast “Food Psych.”
Megan Jayne Crabbe - Body positive influencer who promotes body acceptance, advocates for body diversity, and challenges fatphobia and diet culture.
Aubrey Gordon - Fat activist and cultural critic, author of “What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat” and “You Just Need To Lose Weight and 19 Other Myths About Fat People”, and host of “Maintenance Phase”, a podcast that debunks the junk science behind health fads, wellness scams and nonsensical nutrition advice.
Emily Jeanne - Creator who shares her experiences and insights for other parents to promote positive body image and self-esteem in their children. A relatable and inspiring figure for many people who are navigating the complex and often challenging terrain of body image and self-esteem.
Virgie Tovar - Lecturer, author, and activist who promotes body positivity, challenges fatphobia and weight stigma, and encourages people to reject the narrow beauty ideal promoted in the media.
Tracy Moore - Canadian TV host that encourages body-positive self-talk.
Mikayla Nogueira - Makeup influencer who regularly talks about her own disordered eating journey and body issues she faces.
Chrissy King - Chrissy is a fitness trainer, author, and body positive advocate who promotes inclusivity and diversity in the fitness industry.
Alok Vaid-Menon - Non-binary writer, performer, and activist who advocates for gender and body diversity. They challenge harmful beauty standards and promote self-love and acceptance.
StyleLikeU - Features “stripped down” interviews with individuals about their personal style and body image journeys, fashion shoots that showcase diverse body types and identities, and podcasts and videos that delve into topics related to self-love, identity, and mental health.
Model positive behaviours offline
You can also encourage your child to pursue activities outside of social media, such as after school programs, that help them express themselves, build confidence, and improve their self-image.
As a parent, it's essential to model attitudes toward food and body image that aren’t centered around shame or judgement—this will help your child develop the same outlook. Avoid making negative comments about your own body, exercise habits, diet—or those of others.
You can encourage beneficial activities, such as physical activity and balanced nutrition, without promoting perfectionist attitudes toward health.
Know when to seek help
It is understandable for parents to feel guilty or responsible when their child develops signs of struggle with food and body image, but it is important to recognize that eating disorders are complex conditions. While parents can play a role in preventing the development of eating disorders, there are many contributing factors that fall outside of their control.
In addition, it is important for parents to be kind to themselves and to recognize that they are doing their best in a difficult situation. Parents should prioritize their own mental health and well-being as well, as preventing or addressing eating disorder symptoms can be emotionally taxing. Seeking support from friends, family members, or mental health professionals can be beneficial for both the parent and the child.
If you notice that your child is struggling with disordered eating patterns or negative body image, it's important to seek professional help. Eating disorders can be challenging to overcome, and early intervention is key. Talk to your child's doctor or a mental health professional if you have concerns about their health.
A note from our team
At the Kyla Fox Centre, we believe that a comprehensive approach that addresses eating behaviours, tackles the underlying emotional and psychological factors—and includes families in the recovery process is key.
Families play an active role in empowering their child during recovery. Helping to heal children, regardless of age, means helping and involving families overall. We believe education and support for parents and families about eating disorders and expectations of recovery allow for more clarity in the process.
If you or your child are experiencing symptoms of eating disorders, we invite you to reach out to us to ask questions, share part of your story, and determine if the Kyla Fox Centre is the right place for support.