Women posting 'fitspiration' Instagram posts are more likely to be at risk of eating disorders, study suggests

Eating disorder charity B-eat says 'while fitspiration posts alone cannot cause an eating disorder – they’re much more complex than that – poor body image and low self-esteem can be triggering factors to these serious mental illnesses'

Olivia Blair
Monday 30 January 2017 16:59 GMT
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Louise Thomas

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A study has suggested a link between ‘fitspiration’ Instagram posts and eating disorders and compulsive exercise.

The fitspiration hashtag currently brings up over 10 million posts on Instagram and is usually used to accompany pictures and videos of both women and men working out in the gym, eating very healthy food or showing off their toned physiques.

A study published in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders and carried out by researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia studied 200 women. They compared 100 women who regularly posted fitspiration images and another 100 women who regularly shared images of travel. The two groups had a similar Body Mass Index yet varied slightly in the average age.

The study used categories from the Eating Disorder Inventory to assess Drive for Thinness, Bulimia and Body Dissatisfaction of the participants to identify if any were at risk of clinical eating disorders. They also tested participants’ compulsive exercise using a four-item emotional element scale which measured feelings of shame and depression when they missed an exercise session.

Women that posted fitspiration images scored higher on the drive for thinness and bulimia scale than those who posted travel images as well as higher on the compulsive exercise scale and the drive for muscularity scale. The difference on the body dissatisfaction scale was not found to be statistically significant.

Almost a fifth of the women (17.5 per cent) who posted fitness inspiration photos were found to be at risk of an eating disorder.

“Women who post fitspiration images on Instagram are more likely to engage in eating and exercise behaviours that are potentially harmful to their physical and mental health,” the authors wrote. “Of particular concern is the finding that almost a fifth of the women who post fitspiration were at risk for a clinically significant eating disorder.

“It seems likely, at least for some women, that even though they may present as fit and healthy, regularly posting fitspiration is a culturally sanctioned way of rationalising dietary restriction, disordered eating and over-exercising.”

Thomas Quine, the director of external affairs at the eating disorder charity B-eat told The Independent: “We are concerned about the impact social media can have on individuals currently battling or vulnerable to an eating disorder. While fitspiration posts alone cannot cause an eating disorder – they’re much more complex than that – poor body image and low self-esteem can be triggering factors to these serious mental illnesses.

“The internet can be a wonderfully positive tool; at B-eat it forms a large part of the services we are able to offer people in recovery. However, we must all be aware of the potential harm and damage it can do.”

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