The headlines have told us that Instagram is ruining our self-esteem, Facebook amplifies eating disorders, and social media is a toxic mirror (whatever that means). And yes, researchers have found that social media can have a negative impact on body image. But many women with eating disorders say that these same platforms have helped them recover.
“I don't think I would have made it this far in my recovery without social media,” Amanda Tarlton, 25, who began her recovery in December 2013 and still considers herself to be recovering, tells SELF. “The girls I have met on Instagram through my journey have become some of my closest friends and my strongest support group. They are the ones that cheer me on, that pick me up when I need it, and that inspire me to keep fighting every single day.”
Research underscores the benefits of finding a community of people who understand what you're going through. In a 2016 study published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, researchers looked at transcripts from online eating disorder support groups. They discovered that online conversations help people build a new shared “recovery identity,” which they say helps them talk about their eating disorders and treatment.
“When someone has an eating disorder, they often think, 'I'm the only one who has this,'” Brenda K. Wiederhold, Ph.D., president of the Virtual Reality Medical Center, tells SELF. “But online, they can find people who understand the struggles they're going through and realize they aren't alone.”
They can also realize how different recovery can be for each person, adds Deborah R. Glasofer, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Columbia Center for Eating Disorders at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “Reading a diversity of stories helps people feel less alone in their recovery and can help them tolerate the common experiences of recovery that are really challenging,” she tells SELF.