Have you curated your Instagram feed?
I have — that is, I've chosen to follow people around a certain set of subjects: Boho home decor, ethical fashion, herbalism, and nature and travel photography make up the bulk of what I'm most interested in. Of course I have some friends thrown in there, and a couple randoms (who doesn't love Bodega Cats of Instagram?), but that about covers it.
Why the edit? I noticed sometime last year that looking at certain stuff on Instagram left me feeling lousy about myself. As someone who struggles with an extra 20-30 pounds, it made me feel crummy to look at super-fit, very slim women — women who seemed to be the only ones populating the world of "healthy" Instagram. I also got rid of some of the feeds in which the emphasis was on calories, with a lot of mentions about "good" and "bad" foods. Those images weren't helping me exercise more (I already work out most days) and they were doing the opposite of inspiring me to eat in a healthy way, which was the reason I followed those accounts in the first place. (A great exception is the positive-vibes-only HealthCleanTimes, shown below, which I kept around.)
Avoiding the negative
I'm not the only one. Plenty of studies have found that social media use can affect mood, negatively affect body image, and exacerbate depression.
A new study of almost 700 social media users from the University College London, gets even more specific. It found a connection between Instagram and eating disorders. Among those who used the platform, the prevalence of orthorexia nervosa was 49 percent, versus less than 1 percent of the regular population. Orthorexia nervosa is defined as "obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet" and is associated with anorexia nervosa, which is an eating disorder that celebrates extreme thinness, to the extent that many of its sufferers land in the hospital and some die from starvation.
"Our results suggest that the healthy eating community on Instagram has a high prevalence of orthorexia symptoms, with higher Instagram use being linked to increased symptoms," the researchers wrote in the abstract for their article. "These findings highlight the implications social media can have on psychological wellbeing, and the influence social media 'celebrities' may have over hundreds of thousands of individuals."
Why would a photo-sharing platform influence people's eating habits and obsessions? Well, every time you look at photos of someone else's food — especially if it's someone you admire — it reinforces your beliefs about it. You also might feel badly about what you just ate, even if it was a healthy meal, because it's not as "perfect" as the picture of someone else's food. Eating healthfully is important, but obsessing about it isn't.
Looking for inspiration
When I realized that many of the women I followed on Instagram were making me feel worse about my body instead of inspired, I thought about what I really wanted to see every time I opened the app. Mostly, it was images that inspired by sense of adventure, my appreciation for the natural world and plants, and art. I even added a few body positive 'grammers — women who showcased strength exercises and talked up exercise, but who were more my size — like Bo Stanley, shown above. I figured I could always refollow anyone if I felt like I was missing something.
After a couple weeks, I noticed I liked how I felt after checking out my Insta feed — I was more excited to go for a hike or a run, instead of feeling frustrated about how my legs looked in my running shorts after watching videos of a size 2 woman doing burpees. I made sure that I was choosing genuinely healthy messages for myself — not just those that claimed to be healthy.
I highly recommend you do the same.