Instagram has spurred a trend among those struggling with eating disorders — one that encourages recovery rather than glorifying “thinspiration.”
According to The Atlantic, recovery accounts are growing in popularity with the majority being created by young women and girls who document their progress by posting pictures of their meals or before-and-after “body progress” photos. The accounts also have become a forum in which the creators and followers share their anxieties and successes when it comes to body image and food issues.
As BuzzFeed notes in its anecdotal research about these accounts, the focus of many of these posts have become centered around the presentation of the food equally as much as the food itself. The meals — which primarily consist of “superfood” breakfast concoctions — are displayed as colorful bowls heaping with raw, vegan ingredients.
Lin’s story is just one of the examples that BuzzFeed shares. The 16-year-old in Singapore started an Instagram account while recovering from an eating disorder and says it has helped her to discover “newer ways to nourish myself back to health.” Now, when she’s tempted to begin stress-eating, she instead makes a “comforting bowl of lovely hot chocolate oatmeal, a giant splodge of [peanut] butter because why not, fruit, slivered almonds, and cacao nibs.”
Though the accounts may be touting well-intentioned motives, others worry the constant documentation of one’s food intake (even if it’s being categorized under “recovery” and features healthful foods) creates a gray area: Is recovery actually in progress or is a new obsession with eating habits developing instead, especially when every artfully prepared meal is being tracked?
“Certainly we know that social media doesn’t cause eating disorders,” said Claire Mysko, the director of programs at the National Eating Disorder Association, told The Atlantic. “But it can amplify a lot of the thoughts and behaviors associated with one.”
Andrea LaMarre, a PhD student in Canada who herself struggled with an eating disorder and who now studies young women in eating disorder recovery, has mixed feelings about the Instagram trend. Though she sees the value in getting support from those sharing similar experiences, she stresses that recovery from an eating disorder involves more than just focusing on food.
“The problem with taking a picture of everything that you eat is this kind of real emphasis on the presentation of everything and making sure that everything is absolutely beautiful," she said. “And I feel like that fixation can make it a real performance that can maybe possibly obscure some of the challenges that could be going on underneath,” LaMarre told CBC News.
LaMarre would like to see more recovery accounts featuring pictures of daily life, such as going for walks or being in nature, “something that involves just being and just living life to show people that eating disorder recovery is about a lot more than just making a perfect meal,” she said.
But as 17-year-old Claire told BuzzFeed, the trend — in her opinion — seems to be more positive than problematic as it provides a sense of liberation from the pressures and constrictions of calorie-counting.
“As a comparison to other trends, I think this lifestyle really resonates with other people and stands out because it is finally something that seems realistic for everyone, and doesn’t involve restriction,” Claire said. “Life’s too short for restrictions and we all deserve to be nothing but happy.”
Top photo courtesy of Tumblinbumblincrumblincookie’s Instagram account