The ambivalent role of social networks

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Like magazines, social networks promote an ideal of thinness that can contribute to the development of eating disorders such as anorexia. They also make it possible to create communities of support, with the risk of “locking in” patients to this pathology.

This phenomenon is not new: blogs in favor of anorexia (“pro-ana”) or bulimia (“pro-mia”) had a boom in the early 2010s. On the occasion of World TCA (Eating Behavior Disorders) Day, Thursday.

“Challenges” are challenges launched on TikTok or Instagram, mostly by teens, for other teens. It’s like the so-called “A4 sheet”: to win, the waist circumference only needs to measure 21 centimeters, the width of an A4 sheet of paper. We get there only by depriving ourselves of food for a long time.

Networks gather thousands of accounts that advocate weakness and can create complexes among adolescents.

According to Valentin Flaudias, a clinical psychology lecturer at the University of Nantes, the enthusiasm of the youngest for these descriptions of thin, healthy, and athletic personalities comes primarily from “the message delivered by society.”

– “Recovery” accounts –

“The call to combat obesity and physical activity underlines the trend towards these accounts,” he told AFP, adding WHO’s alarming statements about an “obesity epidemic” in Europe in May. reminded.

Nathalie Godart, child psychiatrist and president of the French Federation for anorexia bulimia (FFAB), says the ubiquitous “aesthetic question” on networks that pride themselves on filtered and retouched photos also has an impact on people who already suffer from TCA. .

Anorexia nervosa is the result of “several factors,” she recalls. Their “trigger can’t be summed up in social networks”, but they can be “a factor at the root of restlessness and low self-esteem.”

In addition to these aspects, young women, on average, between the ages of 15 and 25, now use the networks to share their hospitalizations and progress of their relationship with the disease by creating “recovery” accounts.

Mutual aid communities are formed among patients for later recovery. “This is a good thing, but it involves risks,” warns Mr. “Anorexia is often a relationship problem with others, and these accounts can be a risk of identifying oneself with the disease and thus locking oneself in”.

– Body focused –

Rather, the researcher notes an increase in the movement of “body positivism” (the fact of loving one’s body). “It’s always better than the + pro-ana + move, but (these accounts) once again focuses on the body. To treat anorexia, you need to detach yourself from it,” she notes.

Nathalie Godart believes that sometimes these explanations for “food coaching” lead to a “thought invasion” by food.

Suddenly, some patients have the impression that they are being treated but may develop a related disorder, orthorexia, or an obsession with healthy eating. They then lose weight – this is how they differ from anorexia – but they control what they eat excessively and this has consequences for their social lives.

Pauline Drecq, a psychologist in Paris, participated in the creation of a collective workshop at a day hospital in 2019 based on patients’ experiences with networks: these young people with eating disorders “consult networks in their rooms in the evening, when they are alone, sometimes in moments of agony”. During their workshops, they analyze an “Instagram post or a YouTube video” and analyze the positive or negative impact it has on their minds.

However, the psychologist notes that its relationship to content differs “depending on the patient and the stage of his illness.” One culinary account can “provide anticipation of recovery in one patient and increase dietary restrictions in another.”

More than demonizing networks, the goal is to make patients aware of the effects they have on their illness, “so that their use translates into care,” Drecq says.