'The sicker I was, the better.' Social media fuelled Katya's eating disorder, now she's demanding action.

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of disordered eating.

As a young female in today’s world, social media has a prominent influence on my life in many different ways, both positively and negatively. However, in relation to the development of my eating disorder at just 13, social media played a significant role.

What started as wanting to get fit during the COVID-19 lockdown quickly spiralled.

As my eating disorder started to progress, I found comfort in pro-ed forums that are easily accessible via social media. Essentially, these platforms are a space for people struggling with eating disorders to share tips, encourage each other to lose more weight, and post triggering pictures of their malnourished bodies to validate their illness and inspire others.

Watch: Ask Mia Anything | Overcoming My Eating Disorder. Story continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Being a young, impressionable teenager who just wanted a place to fit in, these platforms became all-consuming and my eating disorder severely worsened as a result.


Had I not been exposed to this sort of content, I wouldn't have been in as bad of a state as I was. I simply wouldn't have known about the competitive nature of the illness or that I could gain some sort of validation by showing others how sick my body was. I quickly learnt that the more malnourished I was, the more likes on my photos I received, which reinforced my own thoughts that the sicker I was, the better.

At 13, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I was first admitted to hospital at 14 for medical stabilisation, which began the cycle of what is known as a “revolving-door patient”. I was in and out of hospital for the next two years.

While I'm in recovery now, the trauma I received from enduring over three years of treatment from anorexia is something I will have to carry with me for the rest of my life. Trauma I never would have received in the first place had my eating disorder not escalated to the extent which it did.

Even in recovery, social media still proves to be a hindrance. Even though I am much healthier and happier, the content I see can be really damaging to the progress I have made. Videos such as “What I eat in a day” and accounts that pose as “in recovery” but are really someone still struggling, open up the door for comparison. I look at them and thoughts such as, “why am I not that skinny in recovery?” or “this person eats less than me, so am I eating too much?” become prominent. On a bad day, thoughts like these can have really detrimental effects and send a person in recovery into a downward spiral.


In addition, there is no way for me to automatically block out specific types of content. Instead, I have to see eating-disorder related content multiple times a day, despite me not interacting with it at all, and even selecting “I don’t like this” on each individual piece of content.

Some may think that this problem has a very simple solution: delete social media. This may seem like a great idea in theory, but if you consider the nature of social media, and the demographic that eating disorders most affect, it is not a feasible solution.

Image: Supplied


When 90 per cent of eating disorder cases are diagnosed before age 20 and 97 per cent of teenagers are using social media regularly, it is not practical to tell people that if they don’t like the content they are seeing, then they should just stop using it. 

Chances are, the young person would rather put up with the content than remove themselves from such an integral part of every teenager’s life. This is why the onus needs to be put onto the media companies themselves to help control the content that individuals, particularly those struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, are seeing.

So, what is the solution? This is a multifaceted problem and there are many things social media companies need to do to make their platforms safer, not just for those with eating disorders, but all young people.

Firstly, the minimum age needs to be better enforced on all platforms. Studies show, young children are having developmental setbacks and are experiencing symptoms such as increased irritability, increased anxiety, and a lack of self-esteem as a direct result of premature exposure to social media. They are not getting an opportunity to develop proper social skills that they would learn in typical day-to-day interactions.


Platforms should create a ‘shield’ so that users can automatically block certain types of content from their feed. Instead of me having to select “I don’t like this” multiple times a day, a more effective approach would be to have automatic filters that block out any content that is not of interest to the individual.

When it comes to a mental illness, people will often seek out content that is harmful to them in order to find comfort in their illness, as I did during the early stages of my illness. To combat this, social media platforms should identify when users are interacting with negative content for extended periods of time. They should then shift the type of content the user is seeing to something more positive.

While this is only one part of a much bigger problem, social media companies can and should do their part. They should make adjustments to the way their platforms run to protect users and make social media a more positive experience.

Katya Jaski is a Melbourne student. She recently sat down with Meta bosses in federal parliament to demand more protection for vulnerable young people.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation’s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673).

Feature Image: Supplied

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