Trying to navigate an eating disorder, and understand where those emotions stem from, is difficult as it is. When you factor in social media, a place where life and bodies are often falsely represented, it can be even more challenging to establish and sustain a healthy body image. However, there are some aspects of social platforms that can help someone coping with an eating disorder, or negative body image, feel less alone. That’s why Instagram and NEDA’s #ComeAsYouAre campaign is encouraging you to contribute to the conversation by opening up about how you feel in the skin you’re in.
For those who are unfamiliar with the abbreviation, NEDA stands for the National Eating Disorders Association. Each year, NEDA dedicates one week to raising awareness and educating people on this category of mental illness. For 2019, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week kicked off on Monday, Feb. 25, and will run through Monday, March 3, taking that time to focus on inclusivity with the theme #ComeAsYouAre. The video campaign is in partnership with Instagram, and it shares stories of individuals at all stages in their respective eating disorders. By challenging the stereotypes that often come with eating disorders, the hope is that this campaign might inspire more people to tell their stories, too.
In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily to discuss the campaign, CEO of NEDA, Claire Mysko, says that #ComeAsYouAre felt like an important call to action. Per NEDA's official website, 20 million women in America alone will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives, and according to Mysko, NEDA regularly hears from individuals who feel alone in their struggles, and that what they’re going through "doesn’t matter."
“They don’t see themselves reflected in mainstream coverage of eating disorders,” Mysko explains, “and they often spend a lot of time comparing themselves to highly curated and sometimes downright toxic images that further entrench their eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.”
Social media platforms, Instagram included, can be a main source of toxic images like the ones Mysko describes. “Perfectionism, comparison, and people-pleasing get played out on social media through streams of glossy, filtered photos and the measurability of likes and hearts,” she says. But, Mysko continues, social media can also offer “positive, supportive connections” for individuals living with an eating or body image dysmorphia. That’s where the #ComeAsYouAre campaign comes into play.
“With this campaign, we want to break through the stereotypes and invite everyone to show up as they are today, no matter where they are in their eating disorder recovery and pursuit of body acceptance,” Mysko tells me. To do so, in addition to the video campaign, which highlights the stories of five individuals and their unique eating disorder stories, NEDA also teamed up with Instagram to create a guide for creating a positive experience on social media that includes tips on how to set boundaries, block negativity, and be more mindful of the content you’re consuming.
While Misko says it’s important for someone who has an eating disorder, and who may feel triggered by certain images, to be mindful of the content they’re consuming and to create a feed that includes positive messages, she also feels it's important to point out that social media does not cause eating disorders. “[Social media] can amplify the traits and behaviors that are common in people who struggle with disordered eating,” she tells Elite Daily. But, she explains, you can create a positive experience on social media by using these platforms to curate a space filled with messages, pictures, and personalities that inspire you to accept and love your body.
Acceptance really is key here, though. There’s a common misconception that to accept your body, you have to love it, when in reality, acceptance has to come first. In fact, according to Rebecca Berman, LCSW-C, CEDS, MLSP, a clinical training specialist for The Renfrew Center, the shift for those struggling with an eating disorder is often gradual, with the individual typically transitioning from a place of hate, to tolerance, and when they begin to embrace their imperfections, that’s when love, and finding beauty, can come into play.
“At the Renfrew Center, we talk about how accepting your body goes further than just recognizing your body is what is it is, but really embracing what it can do for you, how resilient it has been, and doing things that honor your values, rather than waiting for your body to look a certain way,” Berman tells Elite Daily.
So, for instance, if you enjoy spending time with your family and you love beautiful summer weather, Berman says taking a day trip to the beach with loved ones could be a great opportunity to practice body acceptance. By allowing yourself to be in a bathing suit, to feel the sunshine on your face and the breeze in your hair, all in the presence of people you love and trust, this kind of activity encourages you to acknowledge any uncomfortable emotions you might experience in a supported space, but at the same time, it's a way of saying, "I'm not going to let this get in the way of enjoying my life."
If you think about it, this same concept can be applied to social media. When you scroll through Instagram, for example, you never really know what you’re going to see, what your friends or the influencers you follow are posting that day. But you do have control over the way you respond to what you see, and how you let these images and messages affect you moving forward.
Rather than harp on the negative emotions that a picture on social media might bring up for you, think about why you follow that particular account in the first place. Ask yourself whether the majority of the images they post bring you joy, make you feel uplifted, or cause you to feel down about yourself. By eliminating these images from your feed, you can make room for more positivity to shine through, and free up more time to spend building yourself up, rather than tearing yourself down.
Outside of social media, Jaclyn DiGregorio, founder of Cusp It, bestselling author of The Cusp Method, and speaker on eating disorder awareness, tells Elite Daily that incorporating mindfulness practices, positive self-talk, and self-care into your daily routine can also help you establish a sense of body acceptance. She suggests doing things like “writing kind messages to yourself on your mirror and repeating positive mantras in your head throughout the day, like ‘I am enough,’ or ‘I am beautiful,’” especially in those moments when an image or comment on social media negatively affects the way you see yourself or your body.
Once you get to a point where you feel you can accept your body and appreciate all that it's capable of doing, then you can start to build from that foundation to get to a place of love. According to Katie Wilcox, founder of Healthy is the New Skinny and Natural Model Management, authentically loving yourself means manifesting that love into “actions and habits that care for your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.” In other words, if you take care of your mind, your body will follow.
So what are the steps you can take to transition from accepting your body to unconditionally loving and appreciating it for exactly what it is? Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, vice president of clinical outreach at Newport Academy, suggests experimenting with soothing, body-positive yoga practices, as well as other forms of exercise to physically experience your body’s impressive strength. Making authentic connections with family and friends can also play a role, Wilson tells Elite Daily, as she says “positive relationships enhance our overall self-esteem,” which, in turn, can influence your body image.
Above all else, however, the most important thing you can do for your body and mind when coping through an eating or body image disorder is to remember that you are never truly alone. “The women you see on the covers of magazines [or on social media] go through the same body changes as you or me,” pharmacist and wellness expert Dr. Lindsey Elmore tells Elite Daily. “The thinnest thighs, biggest breasts, smoothest skin, and a tummy completely devoid of any curve is not reality,” she says. Reality is your body in this very moment, she explains, unfiltered.
So focus on the body-positive accounts on social media. Post uplifting messages of your own, and don’t harp on the content that makes you feel anything but happy, or beautiful. Instead, take advantage of the communities that encourage recovery, and joy, and that want you to feel heard and worthy, because you are.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.