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How TikTok Became a Platform for Eating Disorder Awareness

TikTok-Eating-Disorder-Awareness
TikTok-Eating-Disorder-Awareness
Photo: Courtesy of Solen Feyissa

A subculture surrounding mental health has existed online since the beginning of social media, and continues to propagate triggering content to young users. Tumblr was one of the most popular platforms used to romanticize and glorify mental illnesses, and this form of online activity has now found its way to one of the newest and most used social networks today: TikTok. 

In December of 2020, TikTok launched an investigation into the triggering material being posted. Examples of this content include videos with the hashtag #whatieatinaday where users inadvertently encourage dangerous calorie deficits and over exercising. Although TikTok worked to ban videos promoting weight loss products, unhealthy weight loss methods and the like, users still found ways to continue posting by using misspelled hashtags; For example, the hashtag #eatingdisorder is banned but #ed and #eatingdisorder are still able to be used. 

Because of how the TikTok algorithm is set up, once a hashtag is searched or a video is liked, similar videos begin to flood that user’s “For You Page,” which can lead to the exposure of extremely harmful content. Trending sounds have been used to put eating disorders further on display. TikTok stars such as Addison Rae have danced to songs such as “Prom Queen” by Beach Bunny––written about a girl who has an eating disorder––and other sounds without realizing the effects that the audio may have. This type of content can be dangerous for those in recovery or contemplating an eating disorder, as well as those who have, or are currently struggling with mental health and body dysmorphia. 

On February 22, 2021, TikTok announced a partnership with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to encourage against searching for harmful content. Now, when a user attempts to search for hashtags such as #proanorexia or #eatingdisorder, there will be a popup that includes the contact information of NEDA as well as a list of resources to seek help. 

Although social media can be a dangerous place with potentially damaging content, it can also bring together communities aiming to lift each other up. Several TikTok users have risen to fame over documentation of their eating disorder recoveries. 

Jen Growing (@jgrowing on TikTok) is a British TikTok influencer who now has over 100K followers. Jen is known for making videos where she eats her fear foods––individuals with an eating disorder can develop anxiety around several foods or food groups. Jen’s content has not only helped herself in her recovery process but others as well; Her openness to share her journey has created a community of people who promote positivity as they work through their own individual struggles. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with mental health or an eating disorder, please use the resources below:

  • Academy for Eating Disorders (AED): “AED is a global professional association committed to leadership in eating disorders research, education, treatment, and prevention.” One of their priorities is to promote effective care to those struggling with an eating disorder.
  • National Assoc of Anorexia Nervosa & Related Disorders (ANAD): “ANAD is the leading nonprofit in the U.S. that provides free, peer support services to anyone struggling with an eating disorder, regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or background.”
  • Focus On Recovery-United, Inc. (FORU): Focus on Recovery-United, Inc. provides easy access to resources such as nearby treatment centers, counseling services, community care, and more to those who seek it. 
  • National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA): NEDA is a nonprofit organization that aims to help individuals and families affected by eating disorders. NEDA’s programs are designed for people to find the help they need. 
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