You wake up, make breakfast and sit down at the table, smartphone in hand and you start scrolling through your Instagram feed, checking out all the pretty nature snapshots and drool-worthy food pics. You start clicking on the usernames of people liking the photos of those you follow–why not find some new people to follow? But not everything you find is so great. There are a lot of headless ab shots with comments like “I wish I had your body girly!”, and Quest bars galore and hashtags like #carbsafterdark and #iifym. Suddenly, you’re rethinking the bowl of oats you made for breakfast and wondering if you should start pouring Walden Farms chocolate syrup on everything you eat.
This is a situation I’ve personally encountered several times on Instagram, and sadly, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be ending any time soon. Instagram has become a new place for disordered habits to flourish, all under the guise of being ‘healthy’ and ‘fit’ and ‘intuitive’. Many of the girls (and guys, too) who post these questionable pics are often recovering from an eating disorder, or are trying to hide disordered eating. Some of them may have lost a substantial amount of weight by eating healthy, but may have taken it too far and are now too small for their body type and are clinging to certain foods in fear of any weight gain. Some are trying hard to recover from anorexia, but are becoming orthorexic instead, or trying out ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ and still trying to maintain control over the food they eat. Many of them are probably way more insecure than they come across in their smiling pictures, and maybe scared too.
Other than some of the pictures themselves, one aspect of Instagram that bothers me is certain hashtags. One I’ve come across lately is #carbsafterdark. I suppose it’s meant to show people that said user isn’t afraid of carbs, but all it really shows is that they actually are and often don’t know what carbs are. For instance, I saw this hashtag on a photo of Arctic Zero, the popular low-calorie ice cream substitute. I read the nutrition facts of Arctic Zero, and it has exactly 7 grams of carbs per serving, 2 grams of which is fiber. Ummmm, not so high in carbs! When I think of carbs, I think of oats, cereal, bananas, dates–all healthy, just more carbs than a fake ice cream. Just to be clear, I think it’s GREAT to eat carbs after dark, just don’t claim to be doing so unless you’re actually eating a decent source of carbs. I eat #carbsafterdark pretty much every night, in the form of banana softserve, but I don’t go around bragging about it because I don’t fear carbs anymore (at least most of them) and I think that’s why a lot of people use this hashtag, because they do still fear carbs.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but another thing that bugs me is when people claim to be eating ‘clean’ but post Quest bars, low carb tortillas (again with the carb fear!), Walden Farms and other fake shit. Listen, I’m not trying to be holier than thou, but clean eating to me means eating real foods. I’m not saying you can’t eat these things if you truly like them, but don’t call them clean. Some of these things are the furthest thing from actual food and you’d be way better off eating the real thing (like real maple syrup instead of sugar-free no-calorie pancake syrup). It all comes down to a fear of calories, fat and carbs that a lot of fitness IGers have. I know it’s hard to believe, but real sugar (in moderation, of course) won’t kill you. Especially more natural forms, like honey, dates, fruit, etc. You can eat those things and not gain a ton of weight! It’s all about balance.
The issue I have with all this is that a lot of young women, myself included, are really sensitive to these images. Even if there are good intentions behind the photo, that can get lost and make girls feel bad about themselves. For example, whenever I see super-ripped, 6 pack abs on Instagram (often on very young, thin girls still in high school), I wonder what I’m doing wrong because I don’t have defined abs. I still don’t have the most accurate body image, but I would consider myself pretty petite, and when women with abs are asked how they got their abs, they usually say “Abs are made in the kitchen” or “You have to eat clean!” I would also say that I eat fairly clean, maybe not as much protein as omnivores, but I eat very healthily so it bugs me that I’m not seeing the ab definition I crave. But here’s the catch: not everyone gets abs at the same weight as someone else. Some women can have ripped abs without much effort, while others struggle to get that definition, even at a low weight and body fat percentage. Everyone is different. So it’s dangerous to promote the message that if you get lean enough, or eat clean enough, you’ll magically look like the IG users you idolize. It just might not happen, and it might make you crazy unhealthy. It’s good to encourage healthy eating and fitness habits, but one thing doesn’t work for everyone, and one person’s body ideal may be unattainable to someone else.
I want to point out that I’m not calling out anyone in particular. For the most part, the accounts I follow on Instagram are positive, promote a healthy body image and post delicious-looking and non-disordered food. As with everything though, we have to be aware that the content we post may be taken the wrong way by someone else. I know I may be a little too sensitive, and having struggled with an eating disorder, disordered eating and poor body image may have clouded my views on certain subjects, but it’s hard for me not to take these things personally when I still struggle with accepting the person I see in the mirror every day, and when I still deal with disordered eating. I think we all have to take responsibility for our own content, and also what we choose to view. Not everyone is going to be as responsible with what they post, but I think taking everything with a grain of salt and training ourselves to be less sensitive is the best step to take.
Do you ever see disordered content on Instagram?