Story by Quinn Manzo
Illustration by David Sohn
This article contains descriptions of disordered eating that some may find disturbing.
Eating disorders are common, life-threatening psychological illnesses of varying severity that result in abnormal eating habits. They stem from a need to regain control — a common outcome of depression, anxiety, stress, and/or insecurity in one’s physical appearance.
Insecurities that drive eating disorders can often be attributed to social media’s promotion of the one “ideal body type” — skinny. Instagram models lie about plastic surgery, clothing brands photoshop their models, and influencers constantly advertise juice cleanses, restrictive diets, workouts with unrealistic time frames, and dietary supplements. This collective messaging can drive false ideas/exaggerations of what one’s body actually looks like, also known as body dysmorphia.
The drastic change in routine and utter lack of structure brought forth by quarantine is causing many to fall back into detrimental eating habits in an effort to regain control while causing others to take up disordered eating habits for the first time.
Depending on one’s financial situation, quarantine-induced panic buying has also created scarcities or surpluses of food, which is proven to increase the risk of relapsing or developing an eating disorder. A scarcity in food from understocked grocery stores can cause binging out of fear that food won’t be there when it’s needed. Having too much food is just as harmful, making it difficult for one to compartmentalize (a defense mechanism to avoid conflicting values and emotions), a common way of coping. To further complicate things, many stock up on non-perishable fear foods, such as pasta and rice, which are more challenging to eat and cause discomfort as well as anxiety because they are associated with weight gain.
Social media can be dangerously competitive and one of the driving forces of insecurity and eating disorders. It’s difficult to distinguish whether social media has gotten worse in promoting the “ideal body standard” during quarantine, or if people are just being exposed to it more. Nevertheless, people on social media are definitely making more of an effort to display their weight loss accomplishments. This can bring forth detrimental comparisons.
In order to combat eating disorders in general, the root must be removed. Companies and celebrities devoid of empathy should not exploit people’s insecurities in order to market their brands and fallacies. For those struggling, take baby steps to create a reliable schedule, like waking up at the same time every morning or planning all of your meals ahead of time. Seeking help for an eating disorder is the first and arguably the most difficult step.
Call the National Eating Disorder Helpline at (800)-931-2237, or text NEDA to 741741 for 24/7 crisis support.