‘Healthy eating’ can be a mask for restrictive eatingAmber lamoreaux

Content note: this article contains detailed discussion of eating disorders and eating disorder recovery

‘Health’ related Instagram accounts are not necessarily as healthy as you might think. ‘Low carb’ and ‘gluten free’ this, ‘refined sugar free’ that – I mean what even is ‘refined sugar’? Yet, these phrases fill the Instagram feeds of food bloggers the world over and I believe they can potentially lead young and vulnerable minds down the wrong path. We must not perpetuate the idea that it’s healthy for a young, still developing person to cut entire food groups from their diet.

Anorexia is all about food rules – what you are allowed to eat and what you are not. This is not helped by the fad for Instagram diets that put the bad label on certain foods. The idea of ‘Low carb’ translates to courgette pasta rather than normal pasta, quinoa not white rice, a salad rather than a sandwich.

In fact, a sandwich may be higher in calories, but as part of a flexible and social diet they are perfectly acceptable. Adhering to dietary rules risk isolating oneself. Your friends might all be going out for dinner and grabbing ice cream after – but wait, you can’t because it contains ‘refined sugar.’ Diet blogs give young people a way of hiding an underlying problem using the phrase: “Oh but it’s healthy.” I say this from personal experience, and once the rules begin they often only escalate until you have no flexibility around eating at all. The rules can never be broken. Even as a small part of your brain is screaming at you asking why your friends can eat a certain thing and you can’t.

To make matters worse, fuelling this toxic Instagram culture are advertising companies who send money and free items in exchange for a promotional post about their healthy-eating product. Some Instagrammers, if you read between the lines, have some kind of restrictive mindset – some kind of disordered eating. But if you’re sent free items as a reward for your lifestyle, why would you attempt to get better?

“We must not perpetuate the idea that it’s healthy for a young, person to cut entire food groups from their diet”

When I was ill I followed countless food blogs, always on the search for recipes with less than 200 calories that I could allow myself to eat. A young developing person should be eating 2,000 calories a day, not less than 600 - what an indictment that I could find these recipes promoted and even glorified by teenage girls whose main following is other teenage girls.

These same food blogger accounts generally also promote doing ridiculous amounts of exercise on top of already very low calorie diets. Again, not a bad thing in general but when you’re exhausted from weeks of under eating and have been running every day, all these posts do is make the eating disorder inside you squirm, making you feel guilty for not pushing yourself as hard as the person you see on the screen.

I distinctly remember one post of a skinny, blonde, Californian Instagram blogger whom I avidly followed. She posted a series of photos explaining how ill she’d felt – a cause for rest and food you would think? No, the next thing she is posting is how she went on a long power walk and ate a salad for dinner, because even though she was feeling ill, she couldn’t bear not to have moved from the hospital all day. It sounds crazy but your brain starts to think that this is what you should be doing too. In truth, these people you follow on Instagram are strangers to you. All I knew about them is how little they’d eaten. We can’t live our lives through these screens.

During my eating disorder recovery one of my therapy sessions involved detoxing my Instagram. Any account that posted pictures of food or fitness, I unfollowed. Bikini clad models and photo-shopped pictures were removed from my feed. I didn’t think it would help me as much as it did, and if you think that following all these picture perfect people is not damaging for your own self-confidence, then you are kidding yourself. As soon as they disappeared from my instagram I didn’t have the constant reminder every time I opened my phone that I wasn’t good enough.


Mountain View

What’s therapy like?

Bloggers can seem perfect in one carefully curated snapshot, but is there anyone who you know really really well in person who is beautiful both inside and out and yet doesn’t also have some imperfection? I bet you there isn’t. So why are we continuing to compare ourselves to a screen? Instagram can be amazing. It’s beautiful to see how a different person from across the world lived the same day as me and yet lived it in a completely different way. But, I don’t need to know if these people ate a sweet potato brownie rather than just a normal brownie or that they ran 15 km today when I was exhausted and didn’t leave my house. Before Instagram we lived without these constant comparisons, and we lived without them perfectly happily, so why can’t we now?

If you have been affected by any of the content of this article, B-eat Eating disorders provides useful information and resources, as well as a helpline at 0808 801 0677. The Students’ Union Advice Service provides a more comprehensive list of support resources.