TikTok has long been in the limelight for romanticizing unhealthy body images, diet, and criminal mindset. But, in recent years, the growing popularity of pro-anorexia and other eating disorders has been pushing thousands of teens to the verge of starving themselves for achieving an unrealistic body size. The major demographics of TikTok make the promotion of such a mental disorder more problematic.

So, what is an eating disorder? How is TikTok promoting it amongst teens? And how can it be tackled?

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorder, though associated with food, is much more than just-food. It is a complex mental health condition which, in severe cases, requires psychological and medical expert’s intervention. With an array of varied conditions, eating disorders mainly cause the development of unhealthy eating habits, which, if left untreated, could even lead to the death of the patient.

Staring with a minute to severe restriction of food binge, over-exercising, or purging behavior like vomiting. A study found that though eating disorders can affect people of every age, it is majorly reported in young and adolescent women. In fact, almost 13% of all the youth take up some type of eating disorder at least once before hitting their twentieth birthday.

The culturally excepted idealism of thin bodies presented in many areas of the world makes children, especially teens adopt extreme diets to weigh down, and fit into this mold of body idealism.

The Promotion of Eating Disorder

The craze around dieting and achieving the “perfect” body has been trending for decades, but the rise of social media has made it easy for people to share their fitness routine and diet with the world. The ‘What I eat in a day‘ trend on numerous social media sites is inspiring youngsters to follow extreme diets, leading to building an unhealthy relationship with their body and food.

Today, Anorexia has dominated the life of numerous youngsters for as early as the age of fourteen. Those who are in recovery, are threatened to be pulled back into the unhealthy relationship with food just by scrolling through some triggering pro-anorexia TikToks.

The Pandemic

The pandemic has further pushed teens deeper into the darkness, as with confinement they got to spend more and more time on social media sites. According to a survey of 2000 parents by Children’s Hospital of Chicago in the September of 2020, 63% of all the parents agreed that their teens have been spending major time of their day on social media while in quarantine.

According to Alix Timko, a psychiatrist at the Children’s Hospital, Philadelphia believes that more adolescents have developed eating disordered in their first confinement. In addition, a survey by the International Journal of Eating Disorders revealed that 62% of people already suffering or have experienced Anorexia developed more severe symptoms of the disorder during the pandemic.

Though the change in dietary habits to a healthier version of a food is usually a positive change, this transformation can be the starting point for people at the risk of developing various eating disorders. The serving in the food can keep falling, leading to cause a lot of medical and psychological complications.

The Entanglement of TikTok and Eating Disorder

TikTok is not the only platform where people can share videos of idealizing eating disorders. But, the major demographics of TikTok, make it an extremely dangerous platform promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. Although, the platform does not allow eating disorder content, glorifying and romanticizing self-harm behavior, but more on the pro-recovery content; Many times, the message of this positive message can also have negative side effects.

The way the platform’s algorithm works, users tend to see content from creators whom they don’t follow, thus putting the triggering TikTok videos again in front of the patient. The current promotion of an unhealthy lifestyle is like an extension of the blog site Tumblr that shared uncensored tricks and tips of maintaining and hiding an eating disorder.

The Dire Need of Critical Thinking

Recently, many disorder specialists and mental health experts have raised concerns about how TikTok should deal with these issues. Emphasis on the importance of social media literacy amongst teens has also been put forth by many. Practicing deeper, critical thinking while scrolling through videos on social many, can help teens get the right message, and block the wrong ones.

One way parents can help is by having clear communication with their kids about the unhealthy content available on the platforms. For those already suffering from eating disorders, therapy sessions must be the way to go.

Haley Collins, a survivor of an eating disorder says, “There is a side of TikTok where disordered eating and exercising habits are normalized. Just being aware of it and purposely engaging with content that makes you feel good can be helpful.”