Smartphones have propelled us into the digital age and opened the window for instant communication. Social media apps, such as Instagram, are proven to play a significant role for those susceptible to eating disordered behaviors, anxiety, and depression, but now research is showing dating apps can also be a key influence. A recent Harvard research study revealed that of 1,700 US adults (men and women) between the ages of 18-65, those using dating apps are 2.7-16.2 times more likely to have an eating disorder or use other unhealthy weight management practices such as laxatives, vomiting, fasting, or diet pills. Women proved to be the most vulnerable, being 26.9 times more likely than men.
How can a dating app contribute to an eating disorder?
Dating apps are a booming business, as the 9 most popular dating apps exceeded over $5 million in gross user spending during the first quarter of 2019. One of the most popular apps, Tinder, has an estimated 50 million worldwide users and earned more than $120 million in revenue in the US alone in Q1, while Bumble was second with $37 million.
While experts could not establish a direct cause and effect between dating apps and eating disorders, many agree that as the popularity of the appearance-focused services of dating apps grows, so does the negative effect they can have on a person. Since most dating apps are based on a first impression, it is easy to see how body image becomes an issue. Individuals who use dating apps are often engaged in a cycle of evaluating profile pictures, but at the same time are also subjecting themselves to scrutiny. Experts wonder if the swiping left or right to approve or disapprove of someone provokes an unhealthy obsession with their appearance or encourages individuals to have an unforgiving attitude of their own.
While many of these apps are designed to provide social connections, they also are vehicles for discrimination and body shaming due to the emphasis placed on physical appearance. Just as we have discussed with social media apps, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem can ultimately be the cause to engage in dangerous behavior. For women, the desired outcome to feel better about their body leads them to take extreme measures. In the Harvard study, 44.8% of the women said they fasted, 22.4% admitted to self-induced vomiting, and 24% said they used laxatives to manage or lose weight.
If you are going to use a dating or social media app, it is important to choose media that supports your values and helps you to build self-esteem and body confidence. Research has found that the more time we spend in the digital world, the more we become vulnerable to comparing ourselves to unrealistic body standards.
How do I improve my body image?
It isn’t easy to just automatically feel better about your body, but there are ways to introduce you to a healthier way of looking at yourself.
- Self-Compassion. Appreciate all that your body can do. Self- Compassion is the antidote to shame (Gilbert, 2005). Your body serves so many functions and we want to celebrate all that it does – breathing, running, thinking, laughing, dreaming. Appreciate what your body does for you daily.
- Look at the whole person. When you look at yourself in the mirror, see the whole person, and embrace you! If you can’t get to positive yet, start neutral with noticing what makes you uniquely you, your eye color, the arch of your eyebrow – the idea is to not start the negative talk when you look at yourself. If you do, no more mirror time!
- Shut down negative thoughts. Don’t let negative thoughts about your body overpower the positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a positive affirmation. Imagine what you would say to a small child, we wouldn’t scold a child or restrict food from one, all we would most likely do is give love. Give yourself love!
- Surround yourself with positive people. Having people around you that are supportive can help you recognize the importance of liking yourself for exactly who you are. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Then spend time with people who inspire you and make you feel good and you like their attitudes and behaviors.
- Critically view social media messages. Or take a break from social media for the ENTIRE day. Give yourself the day to just have a break. Notice how much quieter our mind can be when we aren’t filling it up with comparing, liking, tagging all for the attention or validation of the outside world. All that matters is you. Can you give yourself that for 1 day? (there’s 355 other days to be concerned with everyone else ????) When you are on social media, pay attention to images, slogans or attitudes that make you think negatively of yourself or body. You have the choice to turn it off, turn away; empower yourself today to do something different. If you choose to use dating apps, be mindful of the negative effect it can have on your body
Want more tools? Check these out:
- Living with Your body and Other Things You Hate by Emily Sandoz, PhD
- The Body Image Workbook: An 8-step program for Learning to Like Your Looks by Thomas Cash, PhD
- The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
What do I do if I have an eating disorder?
Although eating disorders are a serious mental illness, they can be treated. Getting a diagnosis and determining the level of care needed is the first step in recovery. At Magnolia Creek, we offer two levels of care for eating disorder treatment – residential and partial hospitalization.
Residential care is our highest level of care that offers the greatest amount of supervision and support. It is a structured, stable environment where clients can focus on restoring their physical and mental health. Clients work with there treatment team to establish goals that will help them transition toward life beyond their eating disorder.
The Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also known as Day Treatment, is a step-down from a more intensive residential level of care. Clients attend daily programming and can prepare meals and engage in individual and group therapy. As part of PHP, clients also begin to reintroduce responsibilities and activities they enjoy which helps with the transition from treatment to independent living.
As we recognize the societal pressures around us, talk openly and honestly about body image and encourage others to feel confident about themselves. If you or a loved one needs help, please contact Magnolia Creek today at 205-409-4220 or complete our contact form. Our admissions team is available to discuss our evidence-based treatment and levels of care that can help you walk in freedom from an eating disorder.