Eating Disorder Recovery – Responsible Use Of Social Media

It was through Instagram that my ‘Recovering Nomad’ identity began, later developing into this website as well.  I started the instagram account initially as a way to track my recovery and link in with the eating disorder online community.

Now having been a part of that community for a while, I have found that it can be a source of great connection and support with others from all across the world who are also going through the difficult and often painful process of eating disorder recovery.  We are all at different stages but connecting together because for us, there are so few who really do understand what living in this illness is really like and just why our recovery journey is so darn hard.

Like any form of community though, even an eating disorder recovery community through social media will have problems.  With a community for which the connecting factor is a mental illness, it is perhaps more important than in any other community, that those within it find it supportive, inclusive and safe.

Within an eating disorder online community, there are going to be some incredibly vulnerable people and because we cannot see each other face to face, we cannot truly know one another beyond the online presence we choose to display… And many also merely sit silently in the community, reading and watching but not involving themselves in any other ways, which is absolutely fine but as a community, we must remember we have a responsibility to everyone – those that post and comment and those who are silently observing from the sidelines (but hopefully still feeling included!).

People with eating disorders, particularly when still at the early stages of recovery, can find things that are posted – images or words ‘triggering’ to their own illness.  Of course, we cannot ever know everything that another person might be triggered by – some things are unique to each person but there are some things that we can all be aware of when we are posting on social media or starting discussions with other community members.

The last thing any of us want is to be posting in what should be a supportive and caring community but end up making others feel less safe or wobbly in their own recovery journey.

Therefore, earlier this week, I asked the eating disorder community through my Instagram ‘story’, what they found unhelpful or ‘triggering’ to see or read in posts from others.

There were several responses that were given time after time and a few less common but also perhaps worth considering.  I decided to share the responses I received here in this more accessible post on my website because I also felt that, although I asked this question of people on Instagram, the replies really are applicable to how or what we post on all forms of social media when speaking about eating disorder recovery – be that Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or Pinterest!

So – here are the responses I received to the question,

‘What Do You Find Unhelpful Or Triggering In Social Media Posts?’

  • Before and After Photos / Transformation Pictures (even if celebrating progress).
  • Small portion sizes, particularly if being celebrated as a big win or claiming they are eating to extreme hunger or ‘all in’.
  • Body Checking.
  • Details of the number of hospitalisations a person has had, ‘how sick’ they were / are.
  • Lowest BMI numbers or weights given.
  • Any posts depicting exercise, advocating it or in this current Covid-19 climate, on how to exercise indoors (don’t).
  • Images of slim bodies as ‘recovered’ – implying that everyone has a set point recovery weight that is still super slender.
  • Sharing details of losing weight on high calories.
  • Showing health foods and diet products.
  • Vegan, restrictive or measured foods.
  • Videos by young people in recovery who still appear very unwell, claiming to be qualified to tell others how to recover.
  • Portraying activity rather than stillness as productivity.
  • Showing evident movement compulsions.
  • Saying ‘this was only part of lunch’ – leading to comparisons and competitiveness.
  • Photos of people in their undies!
  • Full Day Of Eating posts or videos.
  • Comments such as ‘I have eaten too much’, saying how long it has been since they have eaten x type of food, stating feelings of guilt for just having eaten something like an apple.
  • Negative comments about their own body image.
  • Posts by people not in recovery.
  • Photos posing in ‘active wear’ or in a gym.
  • Any images of emaciated bodies.
  • Flexing bodies, sports bras!
  • Implying in posts that eating disorders are just about food, looks and weight.
  • Implying small bodies are indicative of how sick a person is – invalidating others illness based on their body size and shape.
  • Underweight people posting about ‘how to manage weight gain’.
  • People barely into recovery, claiming to be recovered and training to run marathons.


As you can see, quite a lot of food for thought there (sorry, couldn’t resist!!).

I tried to share the responses that I received, in no special order and as they were provided, linking common replies.  Please remember, these responses are not all necessarily my thoughts or ideas but the comments of people in the wide eating disorder community, so don’t shoot the messenger!

One thing I would also say though, is that we must also remember that within the eating disorder communities – be they online, social media or even in person, everyone is at different stages of recovery…. some are right at the start at the contemplation stage, others might be coming out the other side and the recovery journey for most of us is one of great transition, not just in terms of how and what we eat or how much we move or our body size or shape, but regarding how we think and feel too.  Sometimes, when we have a strong emotional response to what another person has posted, it might be worth digging a little deeper internally and asking why.

Our own individual permission to eat and rest or gain weight is ultimately our responsibility… we should not be using social media and what another person is posting or saying there to give or take away our permission to do what we all know we have to do to get better ourselves.  The recovery community is an amazing space to use for support and to support others but as I posted on Instagram a day or two ago – make your eating disorder recovery your business no matter what!

Having said that though, it is worth using the responses collected above to also all ensure we are posting responsibly and not posting anything that could trigger others or make recovery harder for anyone else.

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