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Social Media: “Social media can be a trigger for eating disorders”

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Social Media: “Social media can be a trigger for eating disorders”

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Page 1 — “Social media can be a trigger for eating disorders”

Page 2 — What are the benefits of abstinence from social media? A study examined it

Two recent studies provide evidence of a connection between the use of social media and the development of eating disorders. Psychologist Katrin Giel from the University Hospital of Tübingen explains what this means, who is particularly at risk – and how young people can be protected.

TIME ONLINE: Ms. Giel, according to a recent study, those young people in particular are restricting themselves more when eating and are more dissatisfied with their bodies, for whom the number of likes and followers on social media is particularly important. So does social media use lead to eating disorders?

Katrin Giel heads the Translational Psychotherapy Research Section at the Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital of Tübingen. Her area of ​​expertise is eating disorders and body image disorders. © Tübingen University Hospital

Katrin Giel: It can be said that there is a connection between the use of social media and problematic eating behavior.

TIME ONLINE: Would you go so far as to say that using TikTok etc. could cause an eating disorder?

Yellow: There are no studies that clearly prove this, nor does the study you mentioned. And I think that’s a bit too simplistic, because eating disorders are very complex illnesses. A number of factors have to come together over a long period of time for someone to become ill with it. But social media use can be a trigger – one factor too many that then acts as a trigger.

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TIME ONLINE: What factors have to come together for someone to develop an eating disorder?

Yellow: These are complex biological, psychological and social factors. Gender is a risk factor: girls and young women in particular suffer from eating disorders. Personality structure is also important: young people who are at particular risk of anorexia are those who interact anxiously with their environment, and young people who are perfectionists, meaning it is very important to them to do things very precisely, who find it difficult to be flexible, and find the rituals very important. Age also plays a big role: Anorexia usually first occurs between the ages of 12 and 19.

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TIME ONLINE: Why is age so important?

Yellow: We assume that complex biological processes that are related to brain maturation and the influence of sex hormones play a role during puberty. Adolescence is also a phase of change and reorientation. Young people develop their own personality and are very vulnerable. It’s a lot about self-worth, the problems with it and the need to belong to certain groups and be recognized there.

TIME ONLINE: So also groups on social media in which young people with certain personality structures in particular are triggered so that they develop an eating disorder?

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Yellow: Exactly. Many young people spend a lot of time in these communities. They perceive what they see as real and important. These are their friends there or at least people who are close to them. And when someone suggests that you only belong if you fit into size zero jeans or only eat 500 calories a day, then some young people emulate these role models.

TIME ONLINE: Such role models have been around for a long time – for example in women’s magazines or at Germany’s Next Topmodel. What is different about social media like TikTok or Instagram?

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Yellow: You can put down a magazine, turn off the television. But young people always have their cell phones with them, they always have it to hand and they use it to constantly exchange information. In addition, the processing in social media is different, the visualization. On TikTok, for example, videos are highly tailored to the user; on Instagram, the images are sometimes heavily edited and enhanced.

TIME ONLINE: Pictures in magazines are also edited to make women look better.

Yellow: But in social media it’s a completely different league, also because influencers play a big role here, i.e. young women who are almost like friends for many girls who always accompany them. However, young users often do not understand that they often have financial interests at the same time and only therefore convey certain topics or values.

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TIME ONLINE: Social media can also apparently promote an eating disorder in the opposite way – if young people want to be a kind of role model and post posts there. At least that’s what the study mentioned at the beginning suggests.

Yellow: Correct. This study shows it, and other studies also suggest: Young people in particular who find it very important to receive positive feedback for their posts on social media and want to be popular there have an increased risk of being dissatisfied with their bodies and actively change their eating habits.

TIME ONLINE: Does the intensity of social media consumption influence the risk of an eating disorder?

Yellow: Yes, that seems to be the case. Large reviews show a connection: the longer and more intensively young people use social media, the higher the risk of developing symptoms of an eating disorder and being dissatisfied with their own bodies.

Two recent studies provide evidence of a connection between the use of social media and the development of eating disorders. Psychologist Katrin Giel from the University Hospital of Tübingen explains what this means, who is particularly at risk – and how young people can be protected.

TIME ONLINE: Ms. Giel, according to a recent study, those young people in particular are restricting themselves more when eating and are more dissatisfied with their bodies, for whom the number of likes and followers on social media is particularly important. So does social media use lead to eating disorders?

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