Instagram posts encouraging eating disorders are 'spiralling out of control,' psychiatrists warn
- Psychiatrists have warned that the amount of content posted on Instagram which encourages eating disorders is "spiralling out of control".
- Although the social network doesn't officially allow posts promoting disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, people are getting around it by creating new hashtags.
- Some people team up with an "ana buddy" to help them reach a dangerously low weight.
- A registered nutritionist who specialises in eating disorders told INSIDER she has seen an increase in clients whose struggles have been exacerbated by Instagram.
- A spokesperson for the platform told INSIDER Instagram expects to "make some adjustments to our policy enforcement", and she stressed that Instagram is also used to encourage eating disorder recovery.
Psychiatrists have warned that the amount of content posted on Instagram which encourages eating disorders is "spiralling out of control."
Although Instagram doesn't officially allow such posts, and removes them when flagged, there are still numerous images, videos, hashtags, and comments which promote eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia on the social network.
Posts range from photos of emaciated bodies to instructions for how to disguise and hide your eating disorder from parents, according to a BBC investigation.
People often team up and make "ana buddies" to help them reach their (usually dangerously low) goal weights.
In response to the investigation, Tara Hopkins, head of public policy for Instagram, told INSIDER: "We do not and have never allowed content that encourages or promotes eating disorders and will remove it as soon as we are made aware of it."
However, psychiatrists have warned that vulnerable people are finding these online communities with damaging outcomes.
"It's deeply worrying and to some extent the situation is spiralling out of control," Dr Goldin, vice-chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' child and adolescent faculty, told the BBC.
"It glamorises eating disorders."
He continued: "Young people with eating disorders are quite vulnerable, they are often socially isolated, they don't have friends and they are looking for a peer group."
Research suggests that eating disorders are on the rise, with NHS Digital figures obtained by the BBC revealing an increase of more than 130% in English people aged under 20 being admitted to hospital for eating disorders since 2011.
And experts are concerned about the role sites such as Instagram are playing.
"It's not surprising that young people today are turning to social media," Rhiannon Lambert BSc MSc RNutr, a registered nutritionist and spokesperson for The Association for Nutrition, told INSIDER.
"We now have research that suggests that 21% of youngsters, that's teenagers, would now go to social media and influencers to get their health advice rather than consulting a health professional," said Lambert, who specialises in eating disorders.
"This is really worrying for me as a registered nutritionist and health professional with an online platform because I can see that it gets very confusing knowing who to trust. And of course with disordered eating people can pick up bad relationships with food from Instagram and it doesn't reflect the real world."
Lambert believes teaching young people how to manage their social media is essential.
"I think what we need for mental health is to start teaching people how to control the content they consume, just as much as regulating the people putting out the content," she said.
"I've definitely seen a rise in my clinic [of people struggling with disordered eating] over the years and nearly always it's pointing back to social media and especially use of Instagram."
The social network, which is owned by Facebook, officially brought in regulations banning hashtags linked to eating disorders in 2012, and said last year that it was "cracking down on the anorexia community."
However, this had reportedly just led people to create different hash tags.
What's more, the algorithm means that people are suggested similar posts to ones they've already liked, meaning they can end up falling down a rabbit hole of damaging content.
Instagram has been under increasing pressure from the public to crack down on pro-eating disorder posts and police its content more.
"As a result of the ongoing expert review into our approach to all self-injury content - which includes eating disorders - we expect to make some adjustments to our policy enforcement, including classifying more content as promotion, so more is removed," Hopkins told INSIDER.
She also pointed out that many people also use the platform to highlight their recovery from eating disorders and help others do the same.
One of these people is Manchester-based influencer Victoria Spence, 24, who regularly posts about her recovery from anorexia.
"Repeat after me: 'I was not put on this earth to shrink myself!'" she wrote in a recent post.
"I was the girl who was obsessed with perfect. Who thought that sharing my problems meant I was weak. Who fell for the idea that a smaller body equals more beauty. All of which might fit in with what society is trying to mould us into, but it is truly self destructive.
"With letting go of perfection came a fuller and happier life. With more openness and vulnerability came my true purpose and passion. With my fuller figure came this sense of unconditional self love; which no matter what anybody throws my way will always continue to grow."
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