eating disorders and the influence of Instagram


The study looked at how Instagram affects its users' eating patterns based on two forms of eating disorders, Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa. The study looked at 50 different adolescents who had eating issues. Twenty-five of the participants had active Instagram accounts, whereas the remaining twenty-five had no access to Instagram or were severely inactive and indifferent to Instagram. It was projected that Instagram usage would have a negative impact on their eating patterns and even lengthen the duration of the diseases. Therapy was critical in assisting the individuals in maintaining their normal lifestyles. Most of the risk factors for eating disorders mainly relate to the power of the mind. One risk factor that stands out is social pressure that either embraces a thin body frame or also a plus size body frame. Instagram being a social media platform that provides a platform for posting pictures facilitates social comparisons which bring with it the development of body image and consequently various eating disturbances. What is the way to go concerning the treatment of these adverse eating patterns? How best can these clients be readjusted to the real world with this platform in existence?

Literature Review

One theory that helps us in unpacking the answers to this problem is the social cognitive theory. This theory explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioral patterns (Bandura, 1997). Various developments have occurred in the study of this theory about eating disorders. A paper was published in 1997 in respect to this (Cooper, 1997). It revealed that these disorders revolve around cognition since cognitive therapy proved to be more efficient in treating these people compared to basic nutrition counseling. These people tend to evaluate themselves in relation to negative global standards and consequently develop beliefs and thoughts (Cooper, 1997). In addition to negative self-beliefs, these individuals will develop thoughts of having no control and devaluation of oneself. They also develop a fear that if they add or in other instances lose weight, they will not like themselves. All of these come alive when we look at Instagram since it provides a platform which allows social comparison, beliefs and social standards. Comparisons to images and thin confederates can lead to increases in body dissatisfaction – images which are prevalent on a social networking site with over one billion users (Smith, 2012)

Communication Systems and Social Mediation

Communication systems operate using two pathways: Direct pathway and socially mediated pathways. The direct pathway provides positive change. The direct pathway promotes positive change thanks to motivation and guidance. The socially mediated pathway, on the other hand, has media influences which link people to community settings and social networks which have continued customized guidance for a specific desired change. It is using this socially mediated pathway these people tend to create social comparisons on Instagram. They consequently strive to meet that slim shape or that plus size shape which could drive them to develop a habit of either eating less or eating more with respect to Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa. This could be worse in adolescents since they are at a critical stage in their lives where they are discovering themselves and have a tendency of being influenced mainly by their peers.

Study Objective

This study, therefore, is aimed at helping us understand how the usage of Instagram, particularly among adolescents, affects the severity of eating disorders. Specifically, those with active lives on Instagram were expected to perform worse than those who were indifferent to Instagram within a time span of 24 hours.



The participants involved included 50 adolescents who were high school student volunteers. 33 of the participants were females while 17 were males. 18 among the female students had active lives on Instagram while the remaining 15 had no interest in Instagram. Among the males, seven of them had active lives on Instagram while the remaining ten were indifferent to Instagram. Potential participants were excluded if they were ailing or taking special medication.


The severity of the eating disorder over 24 hours was measured using a 24-hour recall. This is a method used by nutritionists when trying to get details of the specific meals taken by their clients over the previous 24 hours including snacks. Diet forms were used when undertaking this task. There were also electronics needed since there are several unique software used for this process and one example of this was SPSS. In addition to this, questionnaires were also administered. These questionnaires contained questions which enabled us to get to know their beliefs and line of thought. Severity levels were determined using the extent of insubstantial meals that were taken during the previous day for bulimia nervosa and the extent of fewer meals and starvation for Anorexia nervosa combined with the responses from the questionnaires.


On the previous meeting, the participants were informed of the objectives of the study and its importance. In addition to this, they were assured of the confidentiality of any information that will be provided. After this, the participants were expected to give informed consent which would give us the go-ahead for the execution of the study. The consent forms contained a specific identification number unique to every participant and requested the participants’ telephone numbers. Next, the participants were informed of the venue and time of the next meeting. After that, they were let go. This was at 3.00 pm.

At 3.00 pm on the next day, the participants were gathered and divided into two groups. One group consisted of those who had an active life on Instagram, and the control group consisted of those who did not have an active life on Instagram. The participants were then taken into a room one by one where they were interviewed and a 24-hour recall taken on them by specialists. The reason why specialists were used is that they have been trained to recognize whether the information being given is correct. Apart from this, they also know how to do a 24-hour recall and analyze it.

Immediately after the individual had given a 24-hour recall, he or she was given a questionnaire. The individuals were required to fill the questionnaire and after that drop it into a box which was labeled according to specific groups namely; Instagram lovers and non-Instagram lovers. This was the routine undertaken for each participant. After this, each participant was debriefed and dismissed. After this, the responses from the participants were analyzed and the severity levels calculated.


The data from one participant were declared void because she had an emergency situation to attend to and hence she neither finished the 24-hour recall nor filled the questionnaire. The data from another participant from the Instagram lovers were also declared void since there were outstanding inconsistencies in his responses.

We predicted that in the Instagram lovers group the responses to the questions would indicate that they had a dislike for their bodies and had more concern with their weight and shape than the non-Instagram lovers. This came out to be entirely accurate as the following various issues were noted; Desire for a flat stomach, fear of weight gain, preoccupation with weight gain, and importance of shape. They also had a belief of how the perfect body shape is supposed to be. The participants in the non-Instagram lovers were not preoccupied with matters weight and shape. A few of them had concerns about their weight and their shape, but they were not preoccupied with them, unlike the Instagram lovers. The pie chart below summarizes the results.

In addition to this, the Instagram lovers were found to consume more insubstantial meals for those who had bulimia nervosa, unlike the non-Instagram lovers who had the same disorder who took insubstantial meals but at a lower level. The Instagram lovers, on the other hand, who had Anorexia nervosa struggled to cut down their meals more and were more concerned about the number of calories they took in as opposed to the non-Instagram lovers.


The objective of the study was to find out the influence that Instagram had on the eating disorders. We came up with hypotheses that were put to the test and determined to be true. The findings of the study are consistent with those of (Reiger, 2010) where poor self-evaluation is at most times fed by an interpersonal feature (negative social evaluation). Negative social feature is defined as "...actual or perceived negative feedback regarding one's value to another individual or group" (Reiger, 2010). In the study, it was noted that the participants who were Instagram lovers they had an idea of the perfect body thanks to the many likes and positive comments that people with that kind of body got on Instagram. They had idolized this body frame and made it their part-time occupation to work towards achieving it and in the process, they ran into eating disorders. On the other hand, the non-Instagram lovers were not exposed to all this hence they did not care much about them achieving a certain body or getting to a certain weight thus the disorder in them was at a lower level hence in treatment it would be a lot easier to readjust them to the real world.

Another possible explanation for this could be that the Instagram lovers with bulimia nervosa could have been negatively motivated by Instagram to maintain their state as is the case explained in (Cooper, 2004). They develop thoughts of being powerless over their disorders possibly due to the comments or maybe being urged to embrace either their plus size. They also gain permissive thoughts, e.g. (one extra steak won't hurt). The Instagram lovers with Anorexia Nervosa, on the other hand, could avoid eating as a way of preventing distress and emotions which could come about after they gain weight. (Waller, 2004)


In conclusion, this study provides fascinating insights as to how Instagram could have adverse cognitive effects in people with eating disorders. What you believe about yourself and say about yourself has an impact on your actions which are actually as a result of your thoughts and beliefs. This research will go a long way in materializing successful therapy of individuals with eating disorders.


Bandura A.1997, Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Cooper, M. J., Wells, A., & Todd, G. (2004). A cognitive theory of Bulimia nervosa. British journal of clinical psychology, 43, 1-16.

Cooper, M.J., Cohen-Tovee, E., Todd, G., Wells, A., & Tovee, M. (1997). The eating disorder belief questionnaire: Preliminary development. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35, 353-356.

Rieger, E., Van Buren, D. J., Bishop, M., Tanofsky-Kraff, M., Welch, R., and Wilfley, D.E. (2010). An eating disorder-specific model of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT-ED): Causal pathways and treatment implications. Clinical Psychology Review,30(4), 400-410.

Waller, G., Kennerley, H., & Ohanian, V. (2004). Schema-focused cognitive behaviour therapy with the eating disorders. In P. du Toit (Ed),Cognitive schemas and core beliefs in psychologicalproblems: A scientist practitioner guide. Washington: American Psychiatric Association.

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