Eating disorders can affect anyone at any age and with any given amount of severity. Social media has created a vacuum where everyone has an opinion on everything all the time and sometimes you can be triggered by certain posts. Sometimes the information circulated on these platforms can be deeply harming to certain groups or individuals.
You may argue that surely you can filter what appears on your timeline in order to protect your peace and to make sure that you don’t get caught up in the vicious cycle of shaming and mocking. For decades representation has been something which has either had a positive or a negative effect on many of us for different reasons.
What to do when you’re triggered by social media?
The importance for children, in particular, to see positive and notions of healthy living and eating reinforced in the media, at home, and at school is super important as this informs the relationship that a young person has with their body. It also has ramifications for their journey into adulthood.
Dr Nkokone Tema is a psychiatrist and a member of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and his expertise lie in the assessment and management of the following: substance abuse in adolescents, bipolar disorder, elimination disorders (enuresis and encopresis), eating disorders, suicidality, deliberate self-harm, psychotic disorders, tics and trauma.
We interviewed Dr Tsema and he has unpacked eating disorders for males and females and gave us tips on what one can do to tackle online triggers relating to it.
Eating disorders are not a new thing, however, there is still a lot of stigma around having a disorder. Why is this and who is most susceptible to this?
Dr Tema: Eating disorders have for the longest time been thought to be a problem for females only. This kind of stereotype is possibly a barrier for those males that might be affected. It’s true that eating disorders are most common in females but they can also occur in males. Males can present with the same eating disorders as what females do although binge eating disorder has been reported as the most common in this population.
There are certain groups that are more at risk than others and these include athletes (jockeys, body builders, marathon runners etc.) and homosexual males.
There is, however, one particular presentation which is specific to males. This is the preoccupation with muscularity. This would be a pathological preoccupation with a well-toned physique.
In a similar manner to females with anorexia, there would be compensatory behaviours e.g. a rigid preoccupation with a very strict diet and excessive exercising in pursuit of a lean and well-toned muscular physique. The other compensatory behaviours like the use of laxative and diuretics are not so common in males as one would find in females.
What are some of the causes of these preoccupations and how can one deal with being triggered by references to eating disorders online?
Dr Tema: This type of preoccupation would be driven by mental tendencies where one evaluates self largely based on their body shape (and weight – mainly a feature for females) to the exclusion of other important areas of one’s life. There is also a tendency to compare and compete with others.
Triggers that would precipitate compensatory behaviours could be any comments or pictures from others about body shape. Social media platforms are flooded with all sorts of pictures and comments that can easily form triggers.
Once the mental tendencies of an eating disorder have set, it is usually difficult for the person to recover on their own. My recommendation would be to seek help from a professional (GP, psychologist, psychiatrist etc.) with expertise in treating the disorder. Failure to do so timeously can be very detrimental to one ‘s life and livelihood.
Join #COSMOMentalHealth in partnership with SADAG on 10 October for World Mental Health Day as we do an Instagram live. This will be the opportunity to talk to an expert who can help you work through any mental health issues or questions you may have.
Mental health does not have to define you – let’s get the conversation going.
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